Transforming Traditional Arts for a Digital Generation

Preserving Culture for Future Generations

We were excited to be invited to bring the show to Guangzhou, but alas, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was all not meant to be,” lamented Ms Sally Low, playwright and performer with Chinese Opera Society (Singapore).

The new show, Tiger Tally: Saving Zhao Kingdom, was invited to a regional operatic arts festival in Guangzhou, China in November 2020 before the pandemic disrupted the plan.

These days, operatic arts audiences are on the decline. Opportunities to create and perform works are also limited. However, with the global pandemic situation, alternative opportunities also began to appear, shedding some light in the dark days. Thanks to the availability of digital technology, local arts groups were encouraged to turn to digital presentation and live streaming of works. 

For the Chinese Opera Society (Singapore), traditional scenic set-ups gave way to green screens and computer-generated effects. Operatic gestures had to be adapted for the screen, and collectively, a new hybridised performance language was born. The script also had to be tailored for web broadcast, making it suitable for the film medium, while retaining Cantonese opera conventions. 

Green screens and computer-generated effects were used to enhance the recorded performance

Talents from across the world can exchange tips and experiences via the Internet. That makes me excited about the future possibilities of Cantonese opera,” Sally said.

Similarly, Era Dance Theatre and Apsaras Arts Dance Company also had to pivot and adapt to the changing situation, as they planned for their respective landmark events – the Muara Festival and the Dance India Asia Pacific (DIAP) 2020.

We felt strongly that it was important to keep up the annual ritual of the Muara Festival that our community has grown to look forward to,” said Zairin Abdul Latiff, one of the lead choreographers with Era Dance Theatre.

As such, the dance festival became a fully digital event. The performances were live-streamed to audiences across the region, and has been archived on a dedicated website for new audiences to enjoy the performances.

A performance from the Muara Festival by Era Dance Theatre that was fully live-streamed, and reached audiences from across the region.

For Apsaras Arts Dance Company, their annual meeting of Indian dance enthusiasts in Singapore – Dance India Asia Pacific (DIAP) 2020 – became a hybrid event, with a range of conferences and masterclasses taking place both physically and via the web.

This opportunity allowed more people with an interest in the art form to participate in the events.

It’s wonderful that a hybrid format is born out of these unprecedented times of a pandemic. DIAP 2020 shows the stability of the future of Indian classical dance and arts,” said Mohanapriyan Thavarajah, a faculty member at DIAP 2020.

One of the performances by Apsaras Arts Dance Company during Dance India Asia Pacific (DIAP) 2020

With Temasek Foundation’s support through the National Arts Council’s Sustain the Arts (stART) Fund, traditional arts groups like Era Dance Theatre, Apsaras Arts Dance Company and Chinese Opera Society (Singapore) were able to make the switch to performing to online audiences. The stART Fund aims to conserve traditional arts and make it accessible to a wider audience.

Despite the challenges posed to the performers such as not being able to see the facial expressions and respond to a live audience, the digital experience helped these groups to introduce the art form to other countries. For Era Dance Theatre, audiences from countries like Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia were now able to catch the performances without travelling to Singapore.

Chinese Opera Society (Singapore)’s Tiger Tally also broke new grounds and made its way to audiences in China, and also the rest of the world through digital platforms. Agreeing that there is now a new world of opportunities, Sally added that “Talents from across the world can exchange tips and experiences via the Internet. That makes me excited about the future possibilities of Cantonese opera.”.

And these are just some ways traditional arts companies have changed from their usual formats of physical presentations, connecting with a wider audience.

Watch the performances here:

Muara Festival performance highlights from Era Dance Theatre
Dance India Asia Pacific (DIAP) 2020 performance highlights from Apsaras Arts Dance Company
Tiger Tally from Chinese Opera Society (Singapore)

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