Review: She’s A Great Way To Fly presented by The Substation

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A five course meal of in-flight entertainment.

Resplendent in her batik sarong kebaya, the Singapore Girl is perhaps one of our nation’s best known and recognizable icons worldwide. The Singapore Girl goes far beyond her status as a simple air stewardess, having come to signify beauty, elegance and is essentially an Oriental fantasy at its peak, whether she’s serving up a glass of orange juice and going through the emergency exit strategy. Through She’s A Great Way To Fly, presented as part of The Substation’s ongoing programme deconstructing and explorating such an icon, producer Tan Kheng Hua gathers a group of bright young local talents, and presents their work as a variety show that both criticises and celebrates this svelte figure.

She’s A Great Way to Fly opens with New York-based designer Leonard Choo’s ‘costume performance lecture’, ‘The Kebaya 101’ on the iconic sarong kebaya donned by the Singapore Girl. An appropriate start, Choo uses the lecture to give a brief history of the Peranakan sarong kebaya, noting that the SQ uniform bears in fact, little to no similarities to the traditional garment. Yet, Choo admires its ability to maintain form and functionality while exuding the air of allure, a garment one notices immediately from across the airport to stand out from the countless jackets and pencil skirts of other airlines. Through his lecture, we find that the uniform might in fact, be taken as a costume – but if anything, it’s an effective one that has incredibly managed to withstand the test of time. One might even see this as a parallel to Jacqueline Chang’s installation just outside of the Substation space, in which she breaks down the behavioural aspects of the Singapore Girl in ‘It’s Like That’.

From here, the show segues into the true performances, beginning with ScRach MarcS’ Singarella, a dance duet where a Singapore Girl (Rachel) performs her service through contemporary dance. Here, her movements are like a well-oiled android, robotic yet precise in the way she settles her passenger (Marcus) in his seat before ‘shutting down’. From mopping the floors to even massaging her passenger, everything about the sequence suggests the Singapore Girl’s utmost dedication, choosing to reject emotion and feeling and placing duty above self. It is not until her passenger falls in love with her that both dancers launch into an imagined duet set to ‘L.O.V.E.’, representing the odd contrast between the dream of dating a Singapore Girl to the reality of her untouchable-ness, a dream that can only leave one person hurt by the end of the fantasy.

Next up, Audrey Teong, Shirin Leshvani and Alysha Chandra reflect on the impact the Singapore Girl has had on their lives growing up in a play appropriately entitled (Singapore) Girls. Opening with an endearingly laugh out loud ‘Singapore Girl Workout’ tutorial while each dressed in a sarong kebaya (‘the one for tourists that fits all sizes’ Shirin informs audiences), the remainder of the play is told through a series of personal anecdotes from each of the girls as they recount growing up with certain expectations in mind, as well as their own views of the Singapore Girl and what it means to be a girl growing up in Singapore, from their individual neuroses to knowing that they will never be a New Paper New Face Finalist (not for the fame – to use as a platform to go rogue and talk about the toxic standards of beauty) A little raw but always sincere, (Singapore) Girls offers up the voices of youth as they navigate the perils of girlhood and growing up in the Lion City, and perhaps, how sometimes, you don’t need to be a Singapore Girl just to be a great way to fly.

In the penultimate segment, Jana Ann and Joy Alexis Ng perform ‘Three Songs Which Should Be On Air’ (written by local musician Joie Tan) – easy listening songs that suggest the inferiority complex undergone by many girls as they see the Singapore Girl as an unattainable icon, songs which speak of dreams of being ‘up in the sky’, as if escaping from the confines bearing down from society to stay high and above it all, while Pure Yoga instructor Yen Then performs a ‘Keba-Yoga Flow’ sequence in tandem with the music. Dressed in an official Singapore Girl uniform, Yen showcases the surprising flexibility the costume offers as she bends and stretches into fantastically flexible positions.

The variety show ends off with filmmakers Andre Chong and Lim Zeharn’s short film Sarah, which presents a look at the relationship between Sarah, a young Singapore Girl and her Filipino domestic helper. Both finding themselves far from home due to their respective jobs, they face different, yet parallel fears and loneliness. Essentially a mood piece, Sarah’s pastel palette aids in elevating the emotions felt throughout, culminating in a surprisingly warm reaction from us to the eventual bond both women find in each other, despite her initial spoilt behaviour, redeeming herself somewhat over the course of the film.

As we approach 2019’s year of the bicentennial, questioning the various icons and the way and reasons we celebrate them or view them seems to be an inevitable part of our thought process. With She’s a Great Way To Fly, Tan Kheng Hua has collated a worthy display of young talents showcasing their craft and surprisingly,  come together to be in conversation with each other and how the Singapore Girl has undeniably permeated aspects of our lives, as much as we do not want to admit it. And above all, it’s probably some of the most heartwarming, sincerely presented and fun pieces of in-flight entertainment we’ve ever watched. 

Photos from Substation’s Instagram

Performance attended 27/10/18

She’s a Great Way to Fly runs from 26th October to 4th November at The Substation as part of Singapore Girl, or Heritage Deployed. Tickets are SOLD OUT

Singapore Girl, or Heritage Deployed runs from 6th October to 4th November 2018 at the Substation. For a full list of programmes, visit The Substation website here

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