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  • Shannen Tan

2019: What I have Watched



2019 has quite a few firsts for me - my first time performing in Chinese, my first time performing puppetry, first time performing overseas (in KL and Bangkok!), a first time performing a comedy show, a first time performing Shakespeare on stage (Macbeth!) and my first time graduating from a proper, structured theatre training programme (young&wild!)


Unfortunately, it also includes my first time being hospitalised for stress and overwork for 2 weeks and I'm doing my best to develop a self-care plan - making sure there's a balance between the physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, personal and professional aspects (you can see a good example here). When I talk about self-care, I don't mean the mindfulness conspiracy that has overtaken our society but the self-discipline that is needed to do necessary but mundane or hard tasks - pay off your debt, go for exercise even if you feel lazy, cut off toxic people even if it's hard, say no in spite of pressures. It's hard but I want to stay accountable to myself and stay away from being hospitalised. I think the fact that I enjoyed my 2 weeks of hospitalisation is very telling. I see signs of burn out among so many of my friends that it's almost become a worrying norm. That said, thank you for everyone's well wishes and those who visited me when I was hospitalised. (Remember to buy insurance!)


That said, I think I had a very interesting year in theatre exploring new parts about myself and gaining new experiences. Also, I'm still maintaining my streak of watching >50 performances this year and ever grateful to those who blessed me with comms/free tickets.




My top international performance is Körper by Sasha Waltz and Hans Peter Kuhn. As the name suggests, it's a performative enquiry into the body. The entire performance felt like a series of mini-experiments that tries to inquire into questions of: What is the body? How do we perceive the body? What are its limits? How do we measure a patch of skin, a pound of flesh? These questions were explored with finesse from the dancers, putting themselves in positions that felt technically impressive but excruciating to hold. A sacrifice to push themselves to limits and open up new possibilities on how the body can be shaped, measured, mapped and constructed. Nudity is regarded as more matter-of-fact rather than a provocative statement. There is little interest in sex. Bodies are used as shifting shapes or objects placed in various tableau of everyday and not-so everyday situations (it veers into questions of bioethics and genetic manipulation as well as surreal compositions). Throughout the performance, you can feel the ghost hand of Sasha Waltz as experimenter placing these bodies-as-objects-of-inquiry in different topographies, patterns, stacks and heaps. It culminates with dancers in their own repetitive tableau across the stage set against a rising tension in the mechanical and industrial soundscape; one of the dancers was placed in a harness and skis and was sliding down the vertical wall. The tall black wall then started to collapse, with one of the dancers standing in the proscenium and his back turned to the wall. As someone sitting on the first row, I started to retreat into my seat as if I could feel the threat of the wall collapsing on me. When it hit the ground, I could feel the strong gust of Esplanade Theatre's dust whipping my face. The dancer in the proscenium stood unfazed. Körper was conceptualised in 2000 and yet continue to be a sight to behold when you watch it for the first time.




My favourite local performance is Blunt Knife by Eng Kai Er. Although Blunt Knife was a small intimate performance with Kai Er managing all stage aspects of the show, it proved to be a cutting one - one that leaves a mark and you find yourself thinking about the show outside of the performance space. It's a confessional solo piece that touches on the themes of transgressions and consent. It's a smart and well-conceived piece and one that forces you to be complicit and betray your own position of morality and what is right. I don't want to give away too many spoilers because Blunt Knife is making a comeback at Wild Rice's Singapore Theatre Festival and I highly encourage people to go catch it. It's by far one of the most visceral yet thought-provoking piece I have watched in a while and it left me reeling. You can read a spoiler-free interview with Kai Er about the show here.


As I'm writing this, I realise both pieces I enjoyed this year were very much about bodies as an instrument, body politics and morality, power and consent over the body. I'm also cognisant that this is in the backdrop of the #MeToo era where such themes are very prevalent. Perhaps developing physical self-awareness and investigating the body and its internal landscapes is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.



  1. M1 Fringe Jogging by Hanane Hajj Ali (Lebanon | France)

  2. Intersections: Sonic Strokes by Bhumi Collective

  3. M1 Fringe: A Fortunate Man by New Perspectives (UK)

  4. M1 Fringe: Yesterday it rained salt by Bhumi Collective

  5. M1 Fringe: Ayer Hitam - A Black History of Singapore by Sharon Frese, Ng Yi-Sheng and Irfan Kasban

  6. Utama Spaceship by Spacebar Theatre (Eugene and Shu)

  7. M1 Fringe: Precise Purpose of Being Broken by Koh Wan Ching

  8. Huayi Festival: 4:48 Psychosis by Emergency Stairs

  9. Transition Room by Toy Factory Productions

  10. Alice, Bob and Eve by Raw Moves

  11. (Melbourne) Mr Burns, a post-electric play by Lightning Jar Theatre

  12. (Melbourne) Barbara and the Camp Dogs by Malthouse Theatre

  13. Performing Malay Sketches by The Second Breakfast Company

  14. Late Company by Pangdemonium

  15. Are you game, Sau(dara)? by Centre 42 and Five Arts Centre

  16. NUS Arts Festival: A Disappearing Number by Edith Podesta

  17. Not in My Lifetime by The Finger Players

  18. FAUST / US by Nine Years Theatre

  19. Holier Than How by TheatreWorks

  20. Esplanade Studios: Rubber Girl on the Loose by Cake Theatrical Productions

  21. A New and Better You by LASALLE BA Acting (dir. Edith Podesta)

  22. The Vault: Gossip, Symphony and Other Matters by NUS Theatre Studies Year 3

  23. Caryl Churchill's love and Information by NAFA Theatre Students (dir. Rei Poh)

  24. Taman Ritus: Road by LASALLE Diploma in Performance

  25. Phantom of the Opera Musical by BASE Entertainment

  26. Cloud Gate 45th Anniversary Gala Programme: Lin Hwai-Min: A Retrospective by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

  27. Inch Chua's 'til the end of the world, we meet in no man's land by TheatreWorks

  28. This Is What Happens to Pretty Girls by Pangdemonium

  29. SIFA: Beware of Pity by Schaubühne Berlin

  30. SIFA: Dionysus by Suzuki Company of Toga & Purnati Indonesia

  31. SIFA: Civilised by The Necessary Stage

  32. SIFA: ST/LL by Shiro Takatani & Dumb Type

  33. SIFA: Displaced Persons' Welcome Dinner by Checkpoint Theatre

  34. SIFA: Körper by Sasha Waltz and Hans Peter Kuhn

  35. Blunt Knife by Eng Kai Er

  36. Fatih - The Prince and the Drum by NADI

  37. Anything Can Happen / Something Must Happen by young and wild (dir. Edith Podesta)

  38. Happy Waiting by Grain Performance Lab

  39. The Chronicles of Xiao Ming by Miriam Cheong

  40. Supervision by Wild Rice

  41. Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap X by How Drama

  42. Caught by Singapore Repertory Theatre

  43. ...you've changed so... (Dramatised Read) by Tan Liting

  44. The Adventures of Abhijeet by Patch and Punnet

  45. Web of Deceit by Paper Monkey Theatre

  46. Permanence by Toy Factory Productions

  47. Lim Boon Keng: The Musical by Musical Theatre Limited

  48. A Fiend's Diary by The Finger Players

  49. Heather by Adeeb & Shai

  50. Lie with Me by Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) (dir. Phillip Zarrrilli)

  51. Journey to a Dream by Emergency Stairs

  52. Fourth Wall: Duets by Fantasium Group

  53. Peter Pan at Serangoon Gardens by Wild Rice

  54. The Lesson: A Workshop by Drama Box


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