Performers eye return to the stage, say digital arts content not sustainable in the long run

Performers eye return to the stage, say digital arts content not sustainable in the long run

Esplanade (Singapore Dance Theatre)
Singapore Dance Theatre performing Swan Lake at The Esplanade. (Photo: The Esplanade)

SINGAPORE: While there has been a greater push for the arts to move online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the digitalisation of performances and other material may not be sustainable in the long term, said members of the arts community.

Going online has helped to attract new audiences, but arts groups are looking forward to a further easing of COVID-19 restrictions when more activities will be allowed.

“This migration into the digital space perhaps allows for some extent of inclusivity, affordability and democratisation of the arts", said dance artist researcher Nirmala Seshadri. 

“It is seen as a way to draw in new audiences from around the world.”

However, Ms Nirmala noted that dance, as a medium, might “resist” the digital format of presentation due to its “corporeal nature”. 

“This is especially so for the forms (of art) that are completely based on the intimacy of human bodies and that live connection between dancer and viewer,” she said. 

Ms Nirmala, a recipient of the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council, was speaking on Wednesday (Jun 10) at a roundtable discussion organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, in conjunction with the National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum.

READ: Miss heading to the theatre for a performance? You can now watch local shows online

Speakers discussed the role, meaning and relevance of the arts in a time of pandemic. Many live performances have been put on hold due to safe distancing measures.

To help the sector cope with the impact of COVID-19, the Government announced a S$55 million support package in April to help cultural organisations and practitioners until the end of the year.

Apart from providing wage and training support, the Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) also encourages the development of longer-term capabilities. 

For instance, the ACRP’s Digitalisation Fund supports digital commissions and new works to be showcased at major festivals such as Silver Arts, Singapore Writers Festival and Singapore Art Week. 

READ: Resilience Package for arts and culture sector will provide support until end of 2020: Baey Yam Keng

"We have to be aware that if we are going to seamlessly move things into a digital platform ... we must take into consideration that the contexts and environments are going to be very different, said Dr Robin Loon, an associate professor in theatre studies at the National University of Singapore

"The move from live (performances) to digital is very, very complex. And I really urge us to think about it a little bit more before rushing to (do so)."

Questions were also raised about how digitalisation could impact the arts negatively if materials are provided for free, and how long can audiences be held captive on screen.

“If it becomes an overkill, then it may be detrimental to what we're hoping for. (Digitalisation) cannot continue to be about archival material or dancing in the kitchen,” said Ms Nirmala.

SMALLER PRODUCTIONS, MORE INTIMATE SETTINGS

While it may not be possible for performances to return to full capacity in the near future, Assoc Prof Loon said that smaller productions could still take place when Singapore moves into Phase 2 of its post-“circuit breaker” period.

In Phase 2, retail shops, consumer services and sports facilities such as stadiums and swimming pools will be allowed to reopen. Social gatherings of up to five people will be allowed.

READ: COVID-19: Phase 2 of post-circuit breaker reopening could begin before end-June, says Lawrence Wong

“You could get actors to come together, with multiple cameras set up, offering audiences a multiple-channel experience that is live and not edited,” Assoc Prof Loon said. 

He also urged arts practitioners to use this time to think of repackaging digital content for the future. 

“A lot of what we have right now are single camera captures that are really not sustainable for long term watch,” he added. 

Ms Nirmala, who is trained in the classical dance form Bharatanatyam, agreed that safe distancing measures can pave the way for performances in more “intimate settings”.

“I'm excited - not by the digitalisation of dance - but by the possibility of the return to its earlier mode of presentation. Somehow, the subtle nuances and texture of the form was lost when it shifted onto the large proscenium stage,” she said. 

“There could be scope for new forms of art, which may not sit comfortably with people. But COVID-19 shouldn't sit comfortably with people anyway.”
 
Assoc Prof Loon added: “What we need to understand is that we will emerge from this. Right now, it's a long distance relationship.”

“Just wait, be patient and we will meet (the audience) face-to-face again.”

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Source: CNA/ct(gs)

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