A concert of culture inspired by the Borneo rainforest.
In the native language of Kayan, spoken by the indigenous Kayan people of Borneo, ‘mepaan’ translates to ‘always’, and makes for an appropriate title for the opening show of this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA). Performed by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Tuyang Initiative (from Sarawak), MEPAAN‘ is a musical journey into Southeast Asian native culture, as it brings to life the spirituality and beauty of the Borneo rainforest.
Conceptualised by maestro Tsung Yeh and directed by Natalie Hennedige, MEPAAN isn’t merely a concert – it’s a sonic experience that also incorporates visuals from Brian Gothong Tan that transport us to a lush rainforest, as an air of calm spreads over the audience, surrounded by nature. We see a majestic waterfall, flowing endlessly and always, representing the eternal nature of SIFA, strong and carrying on in spite of all obstacles.
It is this zen mindset that we enter the concert with, as the performers arrive and take up position, while SIFA 2022’s theme colours of red, green and blue shine down onstage. It is serene, so much such that when the conductor comes to the centre of the stage, he too seems at peace, soaking up the atmosphere all around him.
Over the course of the concert, we’re taken on a journey around the natural landscape of Sarawak. The concert begins with ‘Island Sunrise’ by Eric Watson, while Kenyah folk songs play in the background, signally the start of a new day. Kong Zhixuan’s ‘Go Across The Rainforest’ follows this, and we move with the orchestra, darting across the leafy understory, and clambering atop trees, as the weather turns stormy. Tang Jianping’s ‘Hou Tu (Empress Earth)’ takes a step back and philosophises about the relationship between man and nature, before Koh Cheng Jin’s ‘Song of the Night Wind’ takes a leaf from the Kenyah people’s songs, and it feels as if we’re drifting about and seeing the iconic Longhouses in the moonlight.
The concert ends off with ‘March to Eternity’, commissioned specifically for SIFA, and drawing inspiration from the music of the Kayan and Kenyah peoples of Borneo. It begins with the Kayan tune Mengtao, which announces the start of a story. It’s as if it begins from afar, before coming closer and closer, louder and louder such that it all comes together in sync, together as one in solidarity, as if we’re marching towards a bright future together, affirmed by this ritual.
From the visuals to the staging, the performers to the staff, MEPAAN is a sensory feast from start to end in both visuals and sound. Beyond what we see onstage, so much work has gone on behind the scenes in the preparation of such a smooth-sailing performance, from performers to creatives to staff. Supernatural or not, there is an energy present in the air that affects both performers and audience, crackling from the excitement of having live shows back, and the art itself is back at last. Filled to full house with audience members, the performing arts are back in full swing, as MEPAAN marks an affirming start to SIFA 2022 and Natalie Hennedige’s three year tenure as Festival Director.
MEPAAN ran from 20th to 22nd May 2022 at Pasir Panjang Power Station as part of the 2022 Singapore International Festival of Arts. More information available here
SIFA 2022 runs from 20th May to 5th June 2022. Tickets and more information available from sifa.sg.
Pingback: SIFA 2022 Wrap-up: The Anatomy of Performance – Ritual – Bakchormeeboy