Arts Review SIFA 2021 Singapore

★★★★☆ Review: En Route by one step at a time like this (SIFA 2021)

Learn to see the city in a new light.

With the lack of leisure travel or commercial flights, it’s little wonder that being cooped up has filled us with yearning for a change of scenery, and the far too common cry of “there’s nothing to do”. But perhaps rather than looking out, it’s more important to turn our gaze inwards, and change our perspective to rediscover the magic around us instead.

Enter En Route, by Australian theatre makers one step at a time like this (Suzanne Kersten, Clair Korobacz and Julian Rickert). Playing as part of the 2021 Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), the fringe-style work takes participants on a solo ambulatory adventure through the heart of the city, as they weave their way across busy streets and down quiet alleyways.

But while a typical city tour is likely to be led by an enthusiastic tour guide bombarding you with an litany of historical facts and tips, in En Route, your guide instead takes the form of an invisible entity giving you instructions via messages on your phone. The rest of the experience lies in your hands, as you plug yourself in to your headphones, and let the music lead you on your journey.

Part of the joy of En Route lies in not knowing what to expect, and finding a surprise at every step of the way. Because of the episodic nature of the journey, there is no point at which we can fully predict where our next destination lies, or how we will be tasked to experience it. The route is littered with tiny moments that turn even a shopping mall we’ve walked countless times into an introspective experience, as we’re taken to quiet corners we never knew existed, looking out into the distance to see the city in a new light. Each stage of the journey feels personal, creating the feeling that someone, somewhere out there is watching over us, ensuring that we’re safe, and that we get to where we need to.

En Route is also an incredibly sensory experience. The soundtrack is key to immersing us fully into the journey, comprising a myriad of songs from local artists, specifically curated for the city it takes place in. These tracks are also overlaid with vocals, perhaps quoting a famous poem, drifting into intellectual psychobabble, or even beckoning us to take pause and reimagine the space around us, and snap a photo. The sheer range of ideas and genres the soundtrack encompasses ensures that there will be at least one moment participants end up resonating with during their walk. The effort that goes into creating such a detailed, evocative experience isn’t easy; every iteration of the work, the artists are expected to work alongside the residents of the host city, learning its art scene, its geography, and its culture to curate an experience that will allow participants to feel new feelings towards their home.

All of this adds up to an experience that makes us hyperaware of the magic in the mundane. That moment we notice a building in the distance from a new angle. The scent of fresh paint cutting through all the other smells in the air. The weight lifted when we are allowed to let go of a wish we’ve been holding on to. En Route then is also a simultaneous journey into our selves, as we reflect on the prompts we are presented with, challenging us to become more aware of our train of thought, and the way in which our mind processes our feelings, and the experiences we encounter. There are no solutions – only steps we take as a means to know ourselves better, and to re-learn what it means to appreciate the process over the result.

What En Route has done then is set us off on a journey to rediscover this city we call home, finding and relearning how to spot the little details we often miss in the flurry of our busy lives. And like its title suggests, even when the experience is “over”, that journey it started us on, well, we’re still on it, still en route to an unknown end point, as we continue to see beyond the surface and look inward at ourselves. We are no longer the same person we were when we first set off on this journey; it awakens a realisation in us that there is always more than meets the eye.

En Route is not an easy work to stage. And now caught in a difficult situation where travel has become nigh impossible, it is to the credit of the SIFA team that they committed fully to bringing this work to life, to Singapore, and allowing the artists to realise their vision in spite of all the administrative challenges brought on by the pandemic. Like the journey we were brought on, SIFA has faced its share of ups and downs, but always rising to the challenge and finding a way of making it work. As we sat there at the end of the experience, sharing a drink and chatting with Julian, we felt like our eyes were now open, wider than ever before, excited again to step out and feel awe at all the beauty and wonder that this city holds.

En Route runs from 14th to 30th May 2021 as an immersive walking experience around central Singapore. Tickets are sold out. More information available here

The 2021 Singapore International Festival of Arts runs from 14th to 30th May 2021. Tickets and full line-up available here  

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