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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Thoughtful fusion of classical and modern music

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

IT seemed like a brilliant idea when China-based homegrown musicians Neil Chua and Heng Xi Ying decided to find a new direction through the Chinese classical landscape. Driven with the desire to push the boundaries between classical and modern, the musicians have proven that with imagination and creativity, classical pieces can be tweaked to give it a contemporary feel while preserving its original essence.

At their recent performance Les Melodies 4+21 at the newly set-up Theatre Lounge Cafe (TLC) in Kuala Lumpur, Chua, who plays the ruan, and gu zheng player Heng, showcased their versatility and gave a refreshing twist to classical compositions with a modern edge. Classical pieces such as Drunken Madness, The Blossom of Spring and The Fishing Boats At Dusk were re-arranged, uplifting the benchmark for classical Chinese classical fusion pieces.

On stage, the musicians didn't disappoint with solo re-compositions either. Chua mesmerised the audience with his subtle rendition of The Sword, The Water Lily and The Folk Tune. The Klang, Selangor-born artiste, who is the only homegrown musician to be conferred a Master's degree from the prestigious Shanghai Conservatory of Music, cleverly reinterpreted some tunes by varying the tempo to give it a melancholic modern touch. For The Folk Tune, he even jazzed up the tune to the point it was hard to tell if the original piece was actually classical.

Heng also left everyone in awe, as her nimble fingers plucked along the silken strings of the wood zither playing popular classical tune High Mountain Flowing River, intense piece Battling The Typhoon and carefree composition, The Spirit Of West Regions. She had the crowd eating out of her palm as she showcased her versatility in bowing, hammering and plucking the strings to evoke the sense of thunder and flowing waterfalls.

What made the showcase even more interesting was TLC curator Pun Kai Loon's efforts to give a brief description of each piece before the musicians took centrestage. This enabled the audience to better understand the complexity of each piece and also each instrument, including its origin, design and uniqueness.

It also proved to be quite an eye-opener for many (including the writer) who just discovered that the gu zheng is tuned to a pentonic scale and requires the player to tune different scales by sliding each movable bridge.

Theatre Lounge Cafe is the latest business venture by Pun and Khor Seng Chew of award-winning Dama Orchestra. Set up to last month, the experimental space provides additional avenue for artists and technicians to supplement their income in between theatre projects. Their programme includes Chinese & Western Oldies Series, Chinese & Western Play Series, Chinese and Western instrumental series, Music Theatre Series, Western Opera Series as well as Chinese Opera Series.

For Heng, the space is the perfect platform to showcase classical instruments with a modern twist.

"People tend to associate Chinese classical instruments with the older generation. Given the avenue, young musicians can promote Chinese instruments and fuse it with other instruments. Hopefully, showcases of this sort will also inspire a new younger generation of musicians to pick up classical Chinese instruments too," said Heng, who is pursuing her Master's degree in Guzheng at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China.

Reality bites in 'Tales From The Bedroom'

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Valentine's is mostly about love. But don't forget breaking up and everything in between.

MENTION a Valentine's collection of short stories featuring a gamut of characters, and you may might bring back blocked-out memories of that horrendous Hollywood rom-com Valentine's Day in 2010. Maybe it's time to ditch the cinemas and try out some local theatre.

For this coming V-Day, the local production Tales From The Bedroom at Indicine, KLPac in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 14-16 might just surprise you.

The show's scriptwriter Fa Abdul assures that no such Hollywood-scale travesty will be inflicted on her audience. She reveals that the play's crew of 30 people will be made up mostly of fresh actors paired with more realistic, true to life scripts rather than the Serendipity-like wishful thinking. No John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, no problem.

Creative director Matthew Koh disagrees with the common notion that Valentine's tales need to have happy endings with love triumphing over all.

"Of the 10 short plays we're doing, not all of them have happy endings. It's unavoidable considering we do feature a lot of couples in unhealthy relationships," says Koh, laughing. "I like it that way, if the stories were all peachy, it wouldn't tell much about the human condition. Most movies about romance focus on the struggle," he adds.

Not that Koh is down on love, rather he believes the adage of kissing frogs to find a prince/princess. "While dating, people have do go through to a lot of bad experiences before they find the one that lasts a life time," he reasons.

Fa explains that the scripts turned out the way they did, not because they wanted to bash love-ever-after, but rather because it was just their style of producing plays. "We're not very theatrical, we focus on telling the story to make plays more accesible to the public," she says.

Leanne Chuan (left) and Khaz Shamia show how dark abusive relationships can get in

Leanne Chuan (left) and Khaz Shamia show how dark abusive relationships can get in The Betrayal, part of Tales From The Bedroom.

"From experience, we realise the theatre community is quite uptight and prone to using lingo. For lack of a better term, we want to make theatre less fancy pants," says Koh.

In keeping with that philosophy, Fa and Koh wanted to wanted to open the door to more actors and directors, taking on some 30 people to do the play's 10 segments, with directors being actors in each others' plays and vice versa. With such a large cast, the youngest actor is 17 (he ironically plays the much older role of a Datuk), while the oldest cast member is 58.

It's a good thing that Tales From The Bedroom's youngest actor is above 16, the play is for audiences 16 and above, due to certain scenes being "inappropriate for very young minds."

Koh cynically wonders if young minds are that innocent nowadays, but concedes that rules are rules. "Sure it can get a bit steamy, but really, it's nothing you haven't seen on (local TV programme) Kisah Benar," jokes Koh.

Fa adds that even the steamy scenes are a play for laughs rather than titilation.

Each segment features a couple telling their tale in a bedroom (which the early audience members are allowed to pose in), and these 20 actors are in turn managed by 10 directors.

Aware that too many cooks could spoil the broth, Koh oversees the process to ensure the segments flow. "Our worry with having 10 directors is that a few might end up taking the same approach, so I'm there to make sure each segment is unique in its way," he explains.

Fa is confident that each story touches on a different facet of relationships. "I choose to do 10 short plays rather a single full length one as I feel it would touch a larger audience by presenting a more varied mix of material," she says. "Always think of your audience, keep their attention intact or it's over," Fa quotes Australian playwright Alex Broun, whose advice she had picked up during a Short and Sweet workshop in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.

She notes that though she had already written 10 plays, she decided to replace one with a guest-script by writer Terence Toh. "We saw the line-up lacked a story about teenage love and Terence's script Virgin On The Ridiculous nailed it. So we made sure to slot his one in," says Fa.

When asked if the duo had their own Valentines day plans, Koh laughs and says he had an amazing one planned. "I'm hanging out with my friends doing a play, it's gonna be great," he says.

> Big Nose Productions presents Tales From The Bedroom at Indicine, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, Kuala Lumpur, on Feb 14-15 at 8.30pm, and matinees on Feb 15-16 at 3pm. Tickets are priced at RM33, call 03 4047 9000. Book them at


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