In the past week, the world lost one of its greatest minds with the death of Stephen Hawking. Beyond his sheer genius alone, perhaps one of the most significant things about the physicist was his motor neurone disease, which rendered him unable to speak and confined him to a wheelchair. But throughout his life, Hawking never let it define him, instead overcoming it with the power of technology and willpower.
It thus stands that in light of this, the inaugural True Colours Festival feels more important than ever, re-emphasising the need to treat the ‘disabled’ as simply ‘differently abled’, and just as worthy a member of society as an able person. But unlike Hawking, the festival chooses to celebrate the arts, as opposed to the sciences, shining a spotlight on the many international disabled artistes from around the world who’ve made their mark through sheer talent in a single, mega concert featuring over 20 artiste groups from all over the world.
Even before the main event of the night, the Singapore Sports Hub was already buzzing with activity with the Festival Village, with a plethora of booths and programmes set up. Over at the main stage, exhilarating performances were already happening such as a riveting dance piece from brilliant Japanese duo Kazuyo Morita and Natsumi Sadayuki, whose elegant moves left us enchanted, while busker and music teacher Robert Tan charmed audiences with his voice.
Part outreach programme, visitors to the village could even get a taste of what life might be like for a disabled person, with booths such as a ‘Para-sports Tryout’ station set-up, where visitors could try playing basketball from a wheelchair. Others included stations from Dialogue in the Dark and the Singapore Association for the Deaf, both of which simulated the daily experience for a blind and deaf person respectively through sensory deprivation methods. In addition, the visitor centre transformed into a gallery for disabled visual artists to showcase their works, alongside becoming a space for thespians from VSA and No Strings Attached to present new devised works.
The concert itself was a grand affair, attended by President Halimah Yacob herself, along with Professor Tommy Koh and co-presenter The Nippon Foundation president Yohei Sasakawa. In their opening speeches, the guests-of-honour emphasised the need for equal opportunity, not just in Singapore but all around the world, and the intent of tonight’s concert – not to shine a light on the performers’ disabilities, but the talent behind each and every performer.
Gathering over 20 international performers for a single concert is certainly no easy feat, and through the night, we bore witness to acts ranging from tightly choreographed dance numbers from opening Japanese act BOTANxDAZZLE to intimate, digital orchestral pieces (from Drake Music Scotland) that touched us in unexpected ways with the sincerity and enthusiasm with which they performed.
Amongst the artists, a standout was India’s We Are One, who seamlessly wove choreography that involved wheelchairs into traditional Indian dance. Displaying strong upper body strength and control, male dancers bound by wheelchairs sped across the stage and formed visually arresting shapes and formations, while a single female dancer takes centrestage. Also impressive were Chinese dancers Ma Li and Zhai Xiaowei, who charmed the audience with their elegant romantic duet, as well as internationally acclaimed B-Boy troupe ILL-ABILITIES, whose energetic, exhilarating sequence got the crowd whooping and cheering as each member got their chance to show off their skills through solos.
Local pianist Dr Azariah Tan, whose childhood condition left him with only about 15% of his hearing, stunned in a moving duet with Canadian violinist Adrian Anantawan, both of whom played with stirring emotion and skill equal to or even better than an abled musician. But the vocal star of the night was without a doubt Alienette Coldfire, a self taught French speaker who placed 3rd on the 2016 season of La France a un incroyable talent (France Got Talent). Singing Mariah Carey’s ‘I’ll Be There’, it’s no wonder she’s accomplished as much as she has, with the voice of an angel and a unique personality and power she channels that reverberates with each note she sings.
At the end of the night, as the performers gathered onstage once more for a medley of group numbers, each and every one of them had changed into full white outfits. Why you ask? Because, according to artistic director Hossan Leong, it’s the colour of light when all the colours come together. And with the spectrum of talent we’ve seen tonight, these artists filly deserved the standing ovation they received.
Seeing these performers put themselves out there with genuine talent and skill brought tears of joy to spectators, and it’s testament to their strength as a united front to continue to encourage the disabled from all walks of life to shine bright, and show the world that being disabled should never be an obstacle, when within each and every one of them, ability is in so much abundance. Long live the True Colours Festival, and may their flame burn ever brighter in the years to come.
True Colours Festival 2018 takes place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from 22nd – 25th March, while the concert itself takes place from 23rd – 25th March. Tickets available from SportshubTix. For more information, visit their website here