The ARTS FISSION Company



Singapore Infopedia

by Lee, Xin Ying, Chee, Veronica

Background

The ARTS FISSION Company is a local non-profit dance company founded by choreographer Angela Liong and visual artist S. Chandrasekaran in 1994.1 As the first multidisciplinary contemporary dance group in Singapore, the company creates original works and new dance genres that are influenced by Asian traditions, cultures and aesthetics. Since 2000, they have also begun addressing concerns about how urban culture impacts the environment. To date, the company has produced more than 60 full-length works and performed in countries such as Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and the United Kingdom.2 ARTS FISSION is located at the Cairnhill Arts Centre, under the National Arts Council's (NAC) Arts Housing Scheme.

History
Angela Liong is co-founder and the current artistic director of ARTS FISSION. She moved to Singapore from the United States in 1983 and worked as a choreographer with the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC, now MediaCorp) before leaving to spearhead the first local full-time dance diploma course at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1989. Since then, she has been at the forefront of Singapore’s dance scene, setting up the first Bachelor of Arts dance degree programme in 1998 and serving as dean of the School of Performing Arts at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts (now LASALLE College of the Arts) from 1997 to 1999. A stalwart of local dance education, the dance doyenne has groomed many dance talents, some of whom have become professional dancers or are founders of their own dance companies. Liong is well-known for her site-specific choreography, which has also become synonymous with ARTS FISSION over the years.3


S. Chandrasekaran is co-founder of ARTS FISSION and its former artistic director from 1994 to 1995. Since leaving the company in 1996,4 he has held various positions at the LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. He is the founder and current artistic director of Biological Arts Theatre, a research-based group that aims to bring the arts and sciences together.5

The company staged its inaugural performance, Mahabharata: A Grain of Rice, as a core event of the Festival of Asian Performing Arts in 1995 to much acclaim. It was a multimedia extravaganza combining the disciplines of dance, music, film and visual art, and which made use of props such as gunny sacks and rice cookers.6 Using rice as the main theme, its gradual replacement as a staple food source in many parts of Asia was used to symbolise spiritual hunger and emptiness in an emerging Asian economy. As a treat, cooked rice was served to the audience at the end of the performance.

In celebration of the company’s 10th anniversary in 2004, Corridor of Another Time was specially created and staged at The Arts House@Old Parliament. Held along a corridor, the dance celebrated the Parliament’s heritage and the company’s dance legacy. The dancers performed to live music from the piano and Chinese musical instruments such as the sheng, pipa and erhu.7

Since its inception, the company has produced more than 60 notable works and performed in many prestigious dance festivals locally and abroad. As a testament to the company’s good reputation and artistic competency, it was the only Asian contemporary dance group invited to perform in the town centre of Copenhagen in 2002 with their production of Borrowed Scenery.8 The company also received significant international exposure by being the first dance group from Singapore to open the Laokoon Festival at Kampnagel, Hamburg in Germany with their performance of Shadowhouses in 2003.9

Dance companies, especially those specialising in contemporary dance, encounter difficulties when seeking private sponsorships. Over the years, ARTS FISSION was fortunate to have received funding for its operational needs. In 2001, the NAC provided the company with a seed grant of S$75,000 followed with another grant in 2004.10 In 2006, it received funding from the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) for overseas productions.11 The company also received a two-year grant of S$185,000 from NAC’s Major Grant Scheme in 2012.12

Asian themes
ARTS FISSION’s pieces question the new Asian identity that has evolved with modernity and city life by exploring the connections between traditional and modern Asia. One example is Little Lee I performed in 2003, a tribute to the feisty, independent spirit of the Samsui women from China’s Guangdong province who came to Singapore in the early 20th century and built many of Singapore’s buildings. Featuring an inter-generational cast including five Samsui women and four 10 year-olds from ARTS FISSION’s Young Dancer’s Theatre programme, this dance explored people’s anxiety and concerns about ageing.13


Another piece that highlights the contrasts between old and new Asia is Interview With Palace Ghosts staged in 2009. Drawing on contemporary Indonesian dance, which is a blend of classical dance and street dance movements, this haunting work recreated the supernatural myths surrounding an old palace in Java against a modern backdrop of hurriedness and information overload.14

Site-specific performances
Singapore’s first multidisciplinary dance company has successfully redefined the Asian dance stage with its site-specific performances under the Dance Takeout Series. ARTS FISSION has staged performances in diverse settings such as Housing and Development Board (HDB) void decks, community centres, Istana Kampong Glam, the Singapore Art Museum, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the Singapore General Hospital and even in a bamboo village in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.


One of their most outstanding site-specific works is Urban Sanctuary, performed on three PVC pipe stages atop the 35-storey high Centennial Tower in 2000. The unique location was chosen to evoke reflections on how modern architecture has affected people’s lives. Dancers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore came together to portray the struggle in finding inner peace in an emerging Asian city.15

In 2009, ARTS FISSION presented The Weather Station at The National Geographic Store in VivoCity shopping mall. This performance was part of the larger Locust Wrath dance project, which approached climate change from the Asian view of divine retribution. To examine the modern man’s indifference towards climate change, dancers even performed inside a “freezing room” in the mall.16

Collaborations
ARTS FISSION frequently collaborates and learns from foreign dance groups. In 2005, the company worked with Korean choreographer Park Ho-bin, artistic director of Dance Theatre CcadoO, to produce 12 SMS Across the Mountains. It was the first co-commissioned dance project between Singapore and Korea for the Singapore Arts Festival. Comprising 12 short dance vignettes with the central theme on how people communicate, this partnership paved the way for future co-commissions between Asian dance companies. The project later premiered at the 7th Seoul International Dance Festival.17


The company jointly produced Ghost Exchange with Hungarian dance troupe TranzDanz in 2007. Described as an “urban trance dance”, the production premiered in Budapest after two shows in Singapore. The eclectic use of visuals, sounds and props such as paper umbrellas complemented the ghostly movements of the “possessed” dancers.18

The Garden Affairs Series initiative by ARTS FISSION provides a platform for the company to experiment and interact with artists of different disciplines to produce cross-disciplinary works. For example in 2009, the company worked with local playwright Ng Yi-Sheng on Bird Call, a dance about man’s relationship with nature. An interesting feature of the performance was that members of the audience were divided into two groups so that members of each group watched only half of the show. The other half of the performance was left to the imagination of the audience.19

Other artists whom the company has worked with include Taiko drummer Namiko Sakai, sculptor Han Sai Por, visual artist Zai Kuning, playwright Kaylene Tan, photographer Tan Ngiap Heng and pipa musician Samuel Wong.

Education and outreach efforts
ARTS FISSION believes in nurturing the young artistically and to reach out to community groups through dance. From its numerous education and outreach initiatives, the company has worked with disadvantaged children from low-income families, at-risk youths and the elderly.20


The company organises enrichment dance and arts programmes for children and teenagers with the objective of creating awareness and appreciation of the arts. Exhibitions and performances by dancers from its Young Dancer’s Theatre programme are staged annually. With the support of the NAC’s Art Education Programme, ARTS FISSION has successfully taken dances inspired by mathematics and science to various schools. From these performances, students learn to appreciate dance as an art form and better understand abstract mathematical and scientific concepts.21

ARTS FISSION initiated Project Dance EdgeTM with *SCAPE in 2007. This is a social intervention programme targeted at youths 8 to 18 years of age who are under the care of voluntary welfare organisations. Dance sessions, camps and workshops conducted by dancers, musicians and actors are organised for these youths. The project instils the participants with life skills, empowers them to help others and creates opportunities for them to become more self-aware.22

The Peony Season, which is an on-going project funded by the NAC’s Community Participation Grant, aims to introduce the elderly to arts and culture. ARTS FISSION dancers actively visit welfare homes and elder-care centres to conduct dance workshops for the elderly residents. Participants are taught dance movements based on everyday actions and familiar things and have benefited by becoming more sociable and expressive.23

Selected performances
1995:
Mahabharata: A Grain of Rice, inaugural production combining dance, film and music.24

1996: Flower Eaters II, performed at the Singapore Art Museum, combining dance, installation art and live music.25
1999: Hexagram, a collaboration with Swiss-American artist Joe Felber as part of his exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum.26
2001: Imagine Forest, staged at ARTrium@Mita, a collaboration with T’ang Quartet, French visual artist Nathalie Junod Ponsard and Singapore artists Colin Sai, Wang Ruo Bing and Laurence Tio.27
2001: Tales With Wings and Nocturnal Lights, performed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.28
2002: Borrowed Scenery, performed in a bamboo forest in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
and in an old town in Copenhagen, Denmark.29
2004: Corridor of Another Time, staged at The Arts House and specially created for the company’s 10th anniversary.30
2006: A Flower Appointment, in partnership with NUS Arts Festival.31
2007: Dreaming of Kuanyin, Meeting Madonna, a collaboration with local composer Mark Chan.32
2009: Dances From The Moon, held at various housing board estates.33
2010: Flowers of Lamentation: Poppy Tears, a collaboration with local art and design collective, :phunk studio.34
2012: Flowers of Lamentation 2: Petals in the Crowd, performed in Jakarta, Indonesia.35



Authors

Lee Xin Ying & Veronica Chee



References
1. Nair, P. (2000, November 25). A dream come true…. The Business Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The ARTS FISSION Company Ltd. (2014). The Company. Retrieved from Arts Fission website: http://www.artsfission.org/#!thecompany/c139r
2. The ARTS FISSION Company Ltd. (2014). The Company. Retrieved from Arts Fission website: http://www.artsfission.org/#!thecompany/c139r
3. Nair, P. (2000, November 25). A dream come true…. The Business Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Dancing on trailers. (2009, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 107. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wahyuni, S. (2002, June 26). Choreographer looks for lost scenery. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved from Factiva.
4. Nair, P. (2000, November 25). A dream come true…. The Business Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Biological Arts Theatre. (n.d.).  About Us. Retrieved from Biological Arts Theatre website: http://www.schandrasekaran.com/infinitesaree/About-Us.php
6. Nair, P. (2000, November 25). A dream come true…. The Business Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Cheah, U-H. (2004, July 23).  Performance: Arts Fission – Corridor of another time. The Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Lye, A. (2002, December 27). A leg up for dance. The Business Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Dancing on trailers. (2009, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 107. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Flying the flag. (2003, September 15). The Straits Times, p. L3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Oon, C. (2001, August 18). NAC grants gallery's wish. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, S. E. (2004, April 28). Bad and good news for artists. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Yap, S.Y. (2006, May 23). Local talents win grants to take their art abroad. The Straits Times, p. H4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. National Arts Council. (2012, March 29). NAC Announces Recipients of Major Grants & Traditional Arts Seed Grants for FY2012. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/news/2012/03/29/nac-announces-recipients-of-major-grants-traditional-arts-seed-grants-for-fy2012; Tan, C. (2012, March 30). Arts groups get more funding. The Straits Times, Retrieved from Factiva.
13. Suhaila, Sulaiman. (2002, December 30). Dance for the aunties. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Tan, T. (2009, February 19). Wave of the supernatural. The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Nair, P. (2000, November 25). A dream come true…. The Business Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Sim, A. (2000, December 6). Urban dance hits the roof. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The ARTS FISSION Company Ltd. (2014). Works. Retrieved from Arts Fission website: http://www.artsfission.org/#!outreach/c1ej1
16. Tan, T. (2009, November 19). Check out the weather. The Straits Times, p. 66. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Cheah, U-H. (2005, June 14). When SMS inspired a dance. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Yap, G. (2007, February 1). A dance with death. Today, p. 87. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tan, T. (2009, June 18). Speak to the beat. The Straits Times, p. 51. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Dancing on trailers. (2009, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 107. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Dancing on trailers. (2009, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 107. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The ARTS FISSION Company Ltd. (2014). Arts Education Programme. Retrieved from Arts Fission website: http://www.artsfission.org/#!aep/c1wdz
22. The ARTS FISSION Company Ltd. (2014). Community. Retrieved from Arts Fission website: http://www.artsfission.org/#!community/cu9u
23. Sim, M. (2009, July 27). Getting seniors to dance ‘like the wind'. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Nair, P. (2000, November 25). A dream come true…. The Business Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Lim, R. (1996, June 1). This dance is a glass act. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Cheong, S.W. (1999, August 18). Watch as art comes alive before your eyes. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Ong, S. F. (2001, May 25). Arts Fission's forest fusion. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Garden dance parties. (2001, August 29). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Lye, A. (2002, December 27). A leg up for dance. The Business Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The ARTS FISSION Company Ltd. (2014). Works. Retrieved from Arts Fission website: http://www.artsfission.org/#!outreach/c1ej; Wahyuni, S. (2002, June 26). Choreographer looks for lost scenery. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved from Factiva.
30. Cheah, U-H. (2004, July 23). Performance: Arts Fission – Corridor of another time. The Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Cheong, J. (2006, March 21). Head over feel. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Low, I. (2007, May 23). Kuan Yin meets Madonna. The Straits Times, p. 73. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Tan, T. (2009, September 24). Heartland moonwalk. The Straits Times, p. 51. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. The ARTS FISSION Company Ltd. (2014). Works. Retrieved from Arts Fission website: http://www.artsfission.org/#!outreach/c1ej
35. The ARTS FISSION Company Ltd. (2014). Works. Retrieved from Arts Fission website: http://www.artsfission.org/#!outreach/c1ej



The information in this article is valid as at 17 April 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 


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