A leap from tradition

Published on 14 September 2018

To attract younger audiences to its Mid-Autumn festival celebration, the Esplanade’s festival programme includes a shrink art activity inspired by legendary figures such as Ji Gong and the Monkey King Sun Wu Kong. Photo: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

By Huang Lijie

It is no longer just mooncake retailers who are getting creative for the Mid-Autumn festival, upping the ante year after year with fantastical flavours (beetroot gula melaka, or foie gras and truffle oil, anyone?). Arts and culture groups are also getting into the act, offering fresh, tantalising ways to mark the celebration and have modern audiences connect with the occasion.

For example, homegrown music group TENG Ensemble plans to dazzle audiences with its East-meets-West rendition of lunar-themed songs at its Mid-Autumn festival showcase at VivoCity. Its programme includes the King of Pop’s Moonwalker theme song and other popular tunes such as Fly Me To The Moon, and The Moon Represents My Heart.

The festival, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month – 24 Sep this year – coincides with a full moon. Its roots stretch back to a legend about Chang’e, a woman who ascended to the moon as a goddess after taking an elixir of immortality, and whom people later worshipped for good fortune.

The festival is traditionally celebrated as a time of family reunion, over mooncakes and activities such as lantern carrying. However, the distant cultural origin of the festival has made it seemingly less relevant to audiences today. Indeed, some people regard the celebration as a purely gastronomical one, given the ubiquity of mooncakes during this period.

Inspired by the customary practice of moon-gazing during the Mid-Autumn festival, the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre worked with the Science Centre Singapore to present a planetarium show. Photo: Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre

To bring alive the cultural aspects of the festival in an appealing way, while still honouring tradition and heritage, the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre is offering as part of its Mid-Autumn celebration programme, a mass escape game, as well as a planetarium show and astronomy exhibition.

The centre’s programmes director Lee Ee Wurn says it was inspired by the popularity of escape games to turn the mythology surrounding the celebration into an interactive activity. Its Mid-Autumn themed escape game will have visitors play the role of celestial timekeepers on a mission to restore the trail of destruction wrought by the demigod, Feng Meng, who was believed to have caused Chang’e to consume the elixir.

The centre was also inspired by the customary practice of moon-gazing during the celebration, and it worked with the Science Centre Singapore for the first time to present a planetarium show and astronomy exhibition. The planetarium show has proved so popular that its 10 half-hour shows have all been fully subscribed.

To attract younger audiences to its Mid-Autumn festival celebration, the Esplanade’s programme includes an interactive hand puppetry performance, The True Monkey King. Photo: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

The Esplanade, on the other hand, aims to keep Mid-Autumn traditions alive by offering visitors more than the usual festive-related cultural offerings. Its Mid-Autumn festival programme features performances by premier musicians and puppetry theatre makers, which it hopes will help audiences “rediscover and appreciate the intrinsic beauty of traditional Chinese arts,” says programmer Desmond Chew.

For The TENG Ensemble, celebrating the festival with a blend of East-West styles and songs is apropos. Its creative director, Dr Samuel Wong, says: “Why be confined to only one culture when there are so many songs about the moon to be explored, and more so with our unique blend of instrumentation and sound? The varied repertoire themed around the moon allows us to create a contemporary sound whilst still paying homage to a festival we hold dear.”

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