One of the reasons I visited Singapore this end of May was to attend the premiere of Mark Chan’s “Dreaming Kuanyin Meeting Madonna”. Mark is one Singapore’s most important musicians; he is a musician with a theatrical vision. First a painter and a swimmer, then a pop singer and a Chinese flute player, now a complete musician and composer.
“Dreaming Kuanyin Meeting Madonna” is, obviously, an attractive title, it provokes curiosity. Chan’s music was both recorded and live, he sang as well as acted, used video art on stage (Brian Gothong Tan) and dance (Arts Fission Company), everything pointed to a Multimedia Spectacle, and it was.
As part of the Singapore Arts Festival 2007 and performing at The Victoria Theatre, one of Singapore’s most historical theatres, the spectacle had a good number of spectators (the theatre was almost full to capacity) and I could see Dan Tun, the great Chinese composer, among the public.
The program offered a synopsis:
“Kuanyin appears in a half-dram to an insomniac artist in a most foreign land.
She confronts him and says: “You ask me for a sign?
Again and again you ask! You artists are all the same, you teenagers are all the same…!”
The vision which I will give you is this.
This is your life. All its bumps, all its sadness, all its wonders and splendours, all its boredom.
This is your vision.
Do with it as you see fit.
But, remember, you are responsible for all that it becomes.
And the artist’s life and work forever changed.
Firstly, the insomnia leads to depression and panic attacks.
The inevitable breakdown requires great care, the learning of chants, prayers, sutras and mantras.
The recovery comes in time.
But it leads to a change of heart and to seeing the world in different ways.
It leads him back to the real world.
Where somewhere in between praying in the church of St Gervais and St Protais in Paris and watching Madonna at the Tokyo dome he realizes that life is a fine balance.
Clubbing, pushing for fame, for fortune, for his own space.
These are all important too but they are not everything.
He has to make a space where he can be both himself and be of use and service to others.
He sees that he must be shared freely with others.
Om mani Padem Hom – Caritas omnia suffert omnia credit omnia sperat omnia sustinet”
Mark Chan doesn’t have any problems putting himself on stage and talking about his life, exposing his beliefs and fears (He said the goddess Kuanyin appeared in his room one bad night in Amsterdam). He talks about anything, speaking, criticizing, depicting his way of life in Europe, playing facing the spectators. Mark played without technique, he didn’t care, he was playing like a child, we knew he was in his own game and he enjoyed imitating the goddess that appeared in his dreams and changed his life. Kuanyin is the Chinese Madonna, Madonna, the singer, had just a little bit to do there, just as a point of reference in Mark’s story, everything finished (Chan’s crisis) with Mark as a spectator of Madonna’s Tokyo concert.
His music is sometimes sublime, with deep emotive and cultural roots, and sometimes incomprehensible, just like pop, like a commercial thing. Mark is definitely a complex artist, like his own professional and personal history. But I keep in my mind three pieces of his music from that evening, pieces which not only made me feel good but made me imagine and even create from listening to them.
Arts Fission, the dance company, gave the spectacle an interesting touch, but was almost outside of it. I felt most of the time that the choreography had too little to do there: nice movements, good dancing technique, interesting poses, and gestures, everything behind Mark’s story. It was something supplementary, not a fusion with Mark’s creation.
The video art was in part also illustrative, but for a moment during the spectacle it became an individual creation; then sometimes music and video were walking together, but another instant the video artist only used the music and then we enjoyed his own image. I don’t think the triple screen disposition was a good choice, it became monotonous; even the image play and the digital edition didn’t save us from feeling that monotony.
As a multimedia spectacle “Dreaming of Kuanyin Meeting Madonna” used some media, yes; as a story by Mark the spectacle had unity; but as a creation object it lacked unity in all its parts: sometimes they crossed, sometimes everyone had their own way, perhaps the process was too short for each one of the parts to fit with the others; they would already know it by now.
It’s a pity I can’t show material recorded by myself, but regulations in Singapore are very strict and even Mark was respectful of them, so the only thing I can offer as images are one promotional video that appeared in Youtube, one “social” photograph with Mark and me, and the link to Mark Chan’s site on My Space, where you can listen to his music.