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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

'Homecoming': Family matters

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Love and forgiveness takes centre stage in local play Homecoming.

MOST of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son. For those who are not familiar with the tale, the parable of the prodigal son is about a son who goes astray, indulges in sin and vice, falls to despicable depths and returns home, repentant. Much to the dismay of the other brother, the father receives his errant son with open arms and throws a feast.

It is essentially a story about love and forgiveness and most importantly, family.

And it is exactly this that Andy Darrel Gomes, a speech and drama teacher, wants audiences to bring back with them when they watch Homecoming, a play the 24-year-old penned and directed.

"I wanted to reach out to Malaysians with something that is universal, and family and love is universal. It is what we call the people language," said Gomes.

Inspired by the parable of the prodigal son, Homecoming, which opens today, is a collaborative work between Gomes' Thirty Fold Productions and Youth With A Mission Philippines to raise funds for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan at Tacloban, Philippines.

Magician Zlwin Chew and electric violinist Dr Joanne Yeoh and Dennis Lau will be part of the opening act for the event.

To make the story relevant and relatable, Gomes kept it "as home as possible" and gave it a modern twist with a "pinch of surrealism".

"I wanted to skip out of the dimension of realism and get into things which are a bit more abstract. So, in the play, there are times when as much as it is real, there is also a very disturbing dimension of things coming in and going out of place," the aspiring playwright pointed out.

An ardent admirer of the works of the late filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad, Gomes said he tailored his story around her scriptwriting style.

"She doesn't believe in creating something, but she believes in adapting things from real life. For Yasmin, to adapt things from real life is to make yourself small and when you make yourself small, you suddenly become bigger," asserted Gomes.

Unlike the original story, there are three brothers instead of two and we get to see the mother as well.

Thasha Gunaseelan, who plays the mother, identifies well with her character.

"The kancheong-ness (panic) and everything else is very much me. And I find it very interesting that no matter what goes on, it looks like she rules and she's the power behind the men. But you will see scenes where she seeks comfort from her husband.

"He's the person who actually runs the show and he's the one who brings it all together in the end," explained Thasha.

And for the 32-year-old drama trainer, Homecoming, is about the freedom one enjoys in the family to be their true self and not be judged for it.

"Regardless who you are and what sort of person you are in the world, you know that there's family that loves you for just you," said Thasha.

And this made the rehearsal process even more delightful for Victor Chen who will be playing one of the sons.

"We all come from different backgrounds, but when we are together, all that doesn't matter anymore. Just like in any family, we can be ourselves," said Chen, 20.

In a society where family is losing its value and individualism is prized, Homecoming serves as a reminder on the importance of the family unit. And maybe, just maybe, as it was for Gomes, the play will be a "supernatural journey" for the audience.

Homecoming opens today at the EX8 Hall, City Harvest Church, Subang Jaya, Selangor and will run till June 1. Showtime: 8pm (May 30-31, June 1) and 3pm (May 31). Tickets are priced at RM30 (adults) and RM25 (students). Free admission for children 10 years and below. For ticketing, donations and inquiries email or call 0163550393/0149314909.

British singer Sarah-Louise Young: Life of the party

Posted: 28 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

With Sarah-Louise Young, the model of an English eccentric, is in good hands.

A new found love affair with fish head curry – eyeballs and all – is hardly a topic one would expect from a show with the classy title The English Tongue.

But funnily enough, when British cabaret performer, actress, singer, writer and self-confessed foodie Sarah-Louise Young jokes about forming automatic "relationships" with anything upon making eye contact with it – fish head curry included – the banter fitted perfectly into the performance.

The English Tongue, which Young described as a celebration of the English language through song, ran at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, serving a large dose of English humour at its best – wit, self-deprecation and deadpan delivery ... check!

Young, 39, kicked-off the show with Making Whoopie (which the audience helped localise to Making Walau-eh).

Accompanied by two young, talented pianists, she presented some 15 compositions – including one of her own, in the two-hour performance.

Broken into two acts and peppered with impersonations of Carol Burnett, Liza Minnelli and Audrey Hepburn, The English Tongue featured the works of greats like Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, the Gershwin and Sherman brothers and "composers people should know about".

Taking her time with songs like Someone To Watch Over Me, The Girls Of Summer, Could I Leave You, Accentuate The Positive, Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love, Ring Them Bells, Maybe This Time, The Physician and Jolly Holiday, Young's crisp diction and enunciation made listening to the tunes a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

"I'm doing two Sondheim numbers because I can and I'm not doing anything from Andrew Lloyd Webber because we've had enough of him, haven't we?" she said, tongue firmly in cheek.

If the intention was to pay homage to the some of the most memorable lyricists of our time, she succeeded beautifully in her flawless delivery.

In a musical era dominated by inaudible mumbles, ear-piercing screams and rapid fire rapping, her singing definitely brought out the best of the English language.

Perhaps inspired by her English-teacher-mother or the many Shakespeare productions she watched growing up, Young's appreciation for language, history and music was evident.

She explained the words, history of the songs and other interesting nuggets of information behind the birth of the compositions before delivering near-perfect renditions of the classics.

Interestingly, she told of how the late Walt Disney would ask the Sherman brothers' to perform Feed The Birds (from Mary Poppins) for him everyday for two years because he loved the song so much.

Exposed to Bob Dylan and Tina Turner (thanks to her mother) and four older brothers who listened to everything from Kate Bush to New Order and "weird techno", Young shared how she learnt about a myriad of musical genres at home.

Telling the crowd of her days as a gawky, white 14-year-old girl listening to Edith Piaf and Aretha Franklin, she had the room in stitches when she broke into the latter's signature: "R.E.S.P.E.C.T."

Introducing Tom Lehrer's The Masochism Tango, she said it was the one song she wished she had written.

"You know what masochism is right? It's kinda what I do for a living. This song was introduced to me by one of my brothers – he's the black sheep of the family.

"He lives in Poland and I'm the only one who still speaks to him," she said, deadpan.

Donning an elegant sequined black dress, she needed no props to distract the audience from her talent.

Standing on a small stage set against a blood red curtain and a shiny black piano, the show was all about Young and how she made the songs hers.

Singing Let's Not Fall In Love, a number she wrote with Michael Roulston, she requested the crowd to snap their fingers.

"I made you pay for a ticket and now I'm getting you to provide the percussion music. Shocking isn't it?" she said in mock horror.

Cajoling the crowd to join her on Edelweiss, she insisted that everyone can sing – just to different tuning forks.

Like her fellow countrymen, Young admits to needing her afternoon tea fix and always wanting to talk about the weather.

And, true to form, the show ended with a weather medley encore featuring a rainbow mash-up of rainy clouds and sunny skies.

You Are My Sunshine, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, It's Raining Men and Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me were just some of the many song snippets she threw together seamlessly – leave it to the Brits to make the weather fun!

Sarah-Louise Young's My Favourite Things (May 30-June 1) will be showing at Intimate Encounters@Theatre Lounge Cafe (B1-3A, Plaza Damas 3, 63, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur). Shows are at 9pm daily with a cover charge of RM100. For details and seating purchase, call 012-236 9100 or 03-6211 3000 or visit

The art of collecting

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Western art dealers take a new approach to Hong Kong, by going small.

AS THE Hong Kong art market has blossomed in the past several years, a range of Western art galleries, including global players such as Gagosian, White Cube, Sundaram Tagore and Lehmann Maupin, have opened large outposts in the city, with varying degrees of success.

This month, to coincide with the Art Basel in Hong Kong art fair, two more prominent Western art dealers – Axel Vervoordt of Antwerp and the Pace Gallery of New York – will also open doors to new spaces in Hong Kong. But, taking note of some of the lessons learned by earlier Western pioneers, they are taking a slightly different approach: going small.

Both galleries will be opening in the Entertainment Building at 30 Queen's Road, part of the Central district arts scene, about one minute's walk from the Pedder Building which houses the Gagosian, Lehmann Maupin, Pearl Lam and Simon Lee galleries. Unlike their predecessors down the block which each occupy about 372 to 465sq, however, these spaces are only about 65sqm – very small by art gallery standards.

"It's a shoebox size and that's why we want to have just one artist installation or show one artist's work every time," said Boris Vervoordt, director of Axel Vervoordt NV, which deals in art and antiques and also has an interior design business. "It's not the kind of space where you can do a retrospective show. It gives us a conversation starter."

A woman looks at an artwork by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto entitled Rem(a)inders. Art Basel is in its second year in Hong Kong and features 245 galleries from 39 countries. Hong Kong is the third largest art market in the world by auction revenue.

A woman looks at an artwork by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto entitled Rem(a)inders. Art Basel is in its second year in Hong Kong and features 245 galleries from 39 countries. Hong Kong is the third largest art market in the world by auction revenue.

Vervoordt, a son of Axel Vervoordt, the company's founder, said he thought of the space as an extension of the company's Belgium gallery, which sells works by international contemporary artists, and as a venue to "explore a dialogue between East and West." The Hong Kong gallery's inaugural exhibition, Theory Of Se, is a series of three commissioned works by the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, who has created tapestry-like sculptures from recycled liquor-bottle caps.

"We felt we needed a gateway to Asia for the European artists we are representing, and to have a presence in Asia for the Japanese artists that we represent," Boris Vervoordt said. The choice to open the gallery with an exhibition by a Ghanaian artist also reflects a desire to be truly global. "For us as a European gallery, to bring an artist from Africa to Asia is great," he said. "I'm proud of that."

For Pace Gallery, the new space "is more like an office and a large private viewing room, though it's certainly open to the public," said Arne Glimcher, the chairman. "We'll have exhibitions about four or five times a year, but an exhibition can be three works or four works, or if it's watercolours or works on paper or small sculptures, it can be 10 works."

Pace, a Manhattan-based gallery with spaces in London and Menlo Park, California, opened a 2,043sqm Beijing gallery in a former munitions factory in 2008. The Hong Kong space, Glimcher said, will be linked to the Beijing space, allowing the gallery to sell Chinese contemporary art to clients throughout Asia in a free port, which does not charge import or export tariffs.

"Beijing is always going to be our flagship in Asia, and I think this is an important extra," he said.

Unlike other Western galleries in Hong Kong, Pace will not be using the space to sell art by the Western artists on its roster, which includes Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Robert Ryman and Alexander Calder.

In Hong Kong, it will focus on Asian contemporary art by artists such as the Shanghai-based sculptor Liu Jianhua and the Japanese neo-pop artist Yoshitomo Nara. For its inaugural show, which opened May 14, Pace Hong Kong presented oil paintings on paper by the contemporary artist Zhang Xiaogang, who explores memory in his images using a combination of Western surrealist and Eastern classical art motifs.

"We didn't come in as carpetbaggers to sell our wares; we came in to support a wonderful burgeoning art world," Glimcher said. "Our Asian clients who are interested in Western art come to the States. Our role in Asia is to support the Chinese art scene, because we totally believe in it."

Glimcher said Pace made the decision to go small after observing some of the earlier Western gallery forays into Hong Kong. "I think several of them regret the scale at which they've opened," he said, "and some have realised that their galleries are mostly visited during the art fair and the auctions, mostly by people from other parts of Asia or Europe or America."

Those events, he said, only draw international art world connoisseurs to Hong Kong twice a year, and the local market for art does not yet sustain an ongoing program of large exhibitions. "One can have a very large opening, and then almost nobody comes to the exhibition," he said.

Glimcher also said he thought some of the other galleries might have miscalculated the level of interest in Western art. "These people put millions and millions of dollars into these huge spaces thinking that they were going to make a killing and filling it with international art," he said. "But that's not what Asia's about right now. The Asians realise that they have something really extraordinary going on: the art that's there. And they are buying it."

For Vervoordt, after observing other galleries' operations in Hong Kong in the past few years and talking to colleagues in the trade, the art world there may still be a little like the Wild East.

"The local market is not very trustworthy, it's not very easy, it's a completely different mentality," he said. "People might come in and buy something at the opening and cancel it at the end of the show or restart the negotiations; it's a tough and complicated market."

But he finds that challenge exciting, he added: "I've never been very calculated in any of my decisions. I really feel we should do this and we'll see how things go from there."

Glimcher is confident that the art scene in Hong Kong will continue to grow, and that, over time, more locals will start visiting art galleries as part of their social life, as people do in New York or London. "Hong Kong is such a business town and such a transient town that's it's not part of the culture yet," he said, "but I think it will be. Hong Kong is very carefully considered for us as a necessity, but we're going to grow slowly as the art scene there grows." – International New York Times


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