The end is just a new beginning, in this cinematic laser show by Yeo Siew Hua.
Everything in this world is interconnected, in a delicate balance of life that repeats itself over and over. Musing upon this idea, in the final weekend of the 2022 Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), filmmaker Yeo Siew Hua (A Land Imagined) presents The Once and Future, a unique film experience paired with lasers and a libretto set to live music.
While it takes its name from T.H. White’s beloved novel, The Once and Future does not directly reference the legend of King Arthur, but instead, alludes to it by considering the eternality of life and how we live. How it does this is by asking us to take a step back and consider the larger systems, from the social to the economical, that drive our interactions and determine the nature of co-existence.
Live music is a key part of the programme, and the performance opens as the orchestra arrives onstage. Featuring members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, they begin with snare drums setting the rhythm, as the screen is unfurled in a sea of fog. Lasers (designed by Flex Chew) flash and form waveforms, almost tracing out a landscape, while the orchestra (accompanied by singer and librettist Anandi Bhattacharya) creates a soundscape to fully immerse us in this atmosphere for the film ahead.
The film itself, captured in Argentina during the pandemic, examines ideas of familial lineage and relationships, the borders we cross or form between fellow humans, our kinship and ways of being over a series of scenes. For instance, we see a woman massaging a cow, seemingly treating it with love and care. Yet this is not without an ulterior motive – a calm cow makes for better meat, thereby fetching a higher price at the market. Over at the butcher’s, we hear the sound of cleavers, the butcher himself sawing through meat, showcasing amazing marbling that reminds us of the intimacy it took to produce this meat in the care of the cow.
This segues into a scene at the gym, the sound of people running on treadmills in the background. A ‘gym bear’ is on weights, eyeing a ‘gym twink’ on the treadmill, and an unspoken line of desire forms between them, as they glance at each other, wanting. That intimate want is fulfilled in the showers, yet there is another man lurking outside, peering in and watching them at play, a cycle of voyeurism and desire that feeds and sustains itself over and over.
On the topic of relationships, we also literally see the process of marriage, from the registry of marriage to the wedding party. This idea of formal bonds is juxtaposed and contrasted against a scene of a woman getting ready for a casual date, standing on her balcony with a glass of wine in hand. She talks to her male counterpart and the two proceed to have sex, a sensual scene that suggests the idea and need of seeking physical and perhaps, emotional comfort in another.
Throughout The Once and Future, we are continually tracing the lines, shapes, architecture of all that is around us, and the reality we live in. The music seems to correspond to the rhythms of life itself, and in our realities, reflects the invisible scores that play and influence our actions. Meanwhile, the lasers seem to represent the societal structures that determine these rhythms and therefore, our interactions. Listening to the soundscape of cars and the city, we are reminded of how complex and overbearing the busyness of life can be, and The Once and Future affords a moment to focus on the smaller moments, allowing us to appreciate our diversity and shared humanity across environments.
In life, there are times it feels as if we could be stuck going around in circles, reviewing and revisiting the same routines over and over again. But perhaps all it takes is a moment to step back and take a look from a different perspective, to see how small our own existence is in the light of everything else that happens all around us, and appreciate all the little things in life that make up our society, and in fact, our world. It is in these circles we learn to meditate and find surprising meaning in the mundane, and consider how the meaning of life itself may just lie in our little rituals that form the greater system that keeps the world moving.
Photos courtesy of Arts House Limited, photos taken by Jayden
The Once and Future ran from 3rd to 5th June 2022 at the Esplanade Theatre as part of the 2022 Singapore International Festival of Arts. More information available here
SIFA 2022 ran from 20th May to 5th June 2022. More information available from sifa.sg.