Review: The Golden Record 3.0 by Edith Podesta and NUS Centre For the Arts
The arts and sciences collide in this successful lecture-performance about quantum physics.
While multiple Bicentennial plays this year have focused on questioning the past, the NUS Centre For The Arts has chosen to go in quite the opposite direction, looking into the future with The Golden Record 3.0
Marking the third and final part of a trilogy of plays inspired by the 1977 Voyager launch, which carried two golden records deep into space, The Golden Record 3.0 is a brand new theatrical piece from Edith Podesta and NUS Stage tackling themes of identity, time, art and faith. This is in line with the launch of the NUS Centre for Quantum Technologies’ latest satellite, SpooQy-1, where the external surface was engraved with words by Cultural Medallion recipient Mrs Santha Bhaskar, now orbiting the earth.
We open the performance with the audience set in a space control station, as we hear the sounds of the spacecraft over the speaker. The lights dim, and the show begins as Chithrabhanu Perumangatt, Research Fellow at the Centre for Quantum Technologies enters. Lighting designer Tai Zi Feng’s lights appear like a row of light sticks, rhythmically fading on and off like stars blinking in the night sky. Accompanied by a replica of SpoooQy-1 onstage, Valerio shares with us the story of the satellite and how it was launched on 17th June, its name surprisingly apt given how close the performance today was to Halloween. Explaining concepts of quantum entanglement, it was clear Perumangatt knows what he was talking about, our attention held and a great way of approaching a topic like this, with an expert in the field addressing us and knowing exactly what he wants us to know.
We are embellished with details on the process of communication with the satellite, with how it revolves every 90 minutes, and the scientists having only 10 minutes to communicate with it each time via radiowaves, requiring them to stay awake and get the job done. As he tells us all this, the lights above flicker in time, as if they too are attempting to communicate with him and the audience.
Shirin Keshvani then comes out, taking on a moderator role onstage and acting as Meenakshy Bhaskar (daughter of Santha Bhaskar), and talks about the parallels between dance and music, sharing what they were going to talk about. We are then introduced to young Indian dancer Malini Bhaskar, the granddaughter of Santha Bhaskar, ready to perform for us. The elder Santha herself comes onstage, explaining how in Indian dance, one always gives praise, thanking their teacher, their parents, and even mother Earth for allowing them to step on her. She explains concepts of how Indian dancers look to the stars a lot in choreography, almost as if letting the light shine down on them and imbue them with knowledge, as Malini demonstrates. It’s all very fun to see how all three generations of the Bhaskars are onstage as they engage in candid conversations with each other, enjoying the learning process.
Joined by Principal Investigator at the Centre for Quantum Technologies Valerio Scarani, they begin a dialogue between the arts and the sciences. Scarani talks about the Big Bang, and how all the stars are connected in some way, while Santha then questions – if atoms have rhythm, then when a dancer moves, will it affect that rhythm, alongside discussion that segues into topics as surprising as our own pledge.
Santha raises the concept of the Hindu god Shiva as a representation of balance between good and evil, the masculine and feminine and how that is represented in dance – the forceful and heavy tandava balanced with the graceful lasya. Performed by Malini, we hear the soft tones of the tabla and romantic music, maintaining eye contact with the audiences as she dances, as if telling us a story with every movement.
We learn about the sound of ‘om’, the first and last sound one hears during meditation, and the sound of the universe. Luke Ooi (playing sound artist Bani Haykal) comes out, and sends a child’s voice into the universe via satellite. We hear a discussion suddenly touching on the topic of the queerness of the Merlion, referred to as female but with the mane of a male lion. We reflect on how much strange love there is for our little red dot, invisible on our maps yet proud of having made it so far.
What then is a dance to showcase both fish and lion? Malini performs moves that represent fish and lion individually through dance and bringing them together, her moves fierce as a lion yet graceful as a fish in water, and a tribute to Singapore itself.
With The Golden Record 3.0, NUS has finally found the right formula to present this as a performance-lecture. Director Edith Podesta has done well to harness the strength of her performers in this short and sharp piece that knows exactly what it wants to do bringing together both NUS’ expertise in the sciences and academia and its inherent strength in the arts. Sharing knowledge with each other and the audience in a comfortable environment in an accessible form, one is left educated, and feels as if we have come away knowing a little more than when we came in.
If the universe is made of quantum particles, and our bodies are made of quantum particles, then we ourselves hold the universe within our bodies, moving it with every breath we take. Santha ends off the show by looking up into the stars, the endless abyss that is space, and we think about the long journey Singapore still has ahead of us, even 200 years on since Raffles first stepped foot into the land. But given the strength of our diversity and the seemingly endless hope of the human race quantum, we know that somehow, we’ll make it through all right.
The Golden Record 3.0 played on 18th October 2019 at the UCC Theatre.