Contemporary dance professionals
tour Malaysia and Singapore

In August the Foundation supported three contemporary dance professionals to attend the Singapore Festival of Arts (SIFA) and the Georgetown Festival, Malaysia. The three were Adam Haywood, Carol Brown and Melanie Hamilton. Melanie Hamilton describes the tour, the festivals and what she took from the experience.

What did you hope to get from participating on the tour? Did it meet your expectations?

I applied to be part of the tour as the dance theatre company I cofounded (Muscle Mouth) has been seeking and responding to opportunities in Asia for the past two years. So the tour was incredibly timely for me. I wanted to deepen my understanding and networks within the region and better understand the dance cultures. The tour more than met my expectations in this regard and was a really valuable opportunity for me and Muscle Mouth.

Can you describe the Georgetown and Singapore festivals?

We were lucky enough to catch the Butterworth Fringe Festival (BFF), which is a new two-day component of the larger Georgetown Festival. It was exciting to see a festival seeking new audiences in such a bold way.

Georgetown and Butterworth are two very different parts of Penang, with Georgetown being the more colourful area and perhaps better known to visitors, since its inner city has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the BFF was also very busy, with outdoor shows, stalls and installation performances on offer — some local, some regional and some international (mainly French).

It appeared to be a successful expansion of a festival, done in a way that respected and engaged the local community, so I’m curious to see how it develops. The BFF had a wonderful fullness about it, an abundance of colour, people, and stimulus.

The shows weren’t always successful, but there was a spirit and feeling of goodwill that was captivating. I’ve never seen so many festival volunteers!

The Singapore International Arts Festival, by contrast, was a more structured and much larger affair. It’s impossible and probably silly to compare the festivals, especially as the resources and reach of SIFA are much greater. I loved experiencing SIFA, especially seeing how the audiences engaged with challenging work.

The programme had been curated in an intelligent and dynamic way, and engaged audiences on many levels. The dance component was very strong, and very bold.

Unfortunately we missed one of the programme highlights, the Archive Box, which was a shame. But nonetheless we got a broad overview of a festival that I imagine is always surprising; at least under its current director.

Did anyone you met on the tour particularly inspire you?

It’s hard for me to go past meeting Mr Ong Ken Seng, Artistic Director of the Singapore International Arts Festival. I’m not sure if he’s an outlier, a maverick or just a plain genius, but we were all artistically refreshed after talking with him for an hour and hearing the philosophies and artistic processes that inform his curatorial decisions. That discussion felt like a real privilege.

What do you think you’ll take away from the experience?

I now have a richer understanding of Malaysia and Singapore, which I think will help me understand other countries in Asia more easily, even though there is obviously a huge range of diverse cultures in the region. But a window has been opened for me. I’m more intrigued and more determined to keep learning about the region and fostering exchange opportunities for Muscle Mouth. I made a lot of connections, which I look forward to deepening.

What was it like travelling with other performing artists?

It was fantastic. We each come from very different backgrounds and have created distinct career paths for ourselves in the dance world. It was a privilege and a lot of fun to travel together.