Post Curtain Call:
Opium – Artistic Expressions by French and Malaysian Artists

Opium Collage

When we were invited to ‘Opium – Artistic Expression by French and Malaysian Artists’, we had no clue what was in store for us. All we were told was to dress comfortably and wear comfortable shoes. When the night began, we were all “yas” for it. At the end of the night, we were left with mixed feelings but a good kind of mixed feelings. Somehow we felt like this was less Hands Percussion, but the essence of Bernard Goh’s artistic vision was stamped across the whole show. We also felt like this show’s aesthetic value was not only dependent on the performance of the artists but also on the experience of the audience.

 

Drumbeat of Pain

When we were divided into red and green groups, we were told to follow our respective leaders. This system was pretty messy and could have been fixed by making coloured flags for the audience to follow. After we had to tirelessly walk up three flights of stairs and later get relocated because of a technical glitch- walking up another set of stairs- we arrived at the first of four sections in this series which was entitled ‘Drumbeat of Pain’. Spearheaded by lead vocalist, Mathilde Limal, this segment of the show truly played to the senses of the audience, engaging sight, sound, and even emotion- pain, to some extent. Accompanied beautifully by arranger and cellist, Florian Antier, as well as Mohd Azli bin Taslim on the accordion, the resultant haunting and ethereal piece created gave us goosebumps.

Surrounded by other performers, bearing the weight of their burdens (you gotta watch it to know what we mean), and baring their souls for all to see, we could honestly say that this was pain expressed in its truest form. In the opening of the whole piece, calligrapher Ong Chia Koon floats amongst the performers and paints their bare backs and chests with black calligraphy strokes. This clearly emoted the effect that pain has on the emotional range as well as the physical being because at the end of the day, pain transcends any of these boundaries.

 

Tunnel of Memories

Walking into a poorly-ventilated room, we couldn’t help but to think that these environments that we were brought into were an extension of the “artistic expression” meant to give us an immersive experience. We’d like to think so. With the view of low-hanging yellow bulbs and a grand piano on stage right, ‘Tunnel of Memories’ unfolded through a few flawlessly performed piano pieces by Yuan Leow Yunn. Then the stage was graced by a “young Bernard”, before Bernard Goh himself took centrestage and sang a few melodious tunes.

The songs performed by Bernard truly accentuated his memories in Paris. He wrote in the program, “I love my grandfather, as he was so much a part of the family; so much a part of me. I can still remember the music from my mother’s music box, hauntingly beautiful. I remember the poster in the room downstairs of an undressed woman, who had makeup on, with a pearl necklace, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, enveloped in vibrant colours. The memories have stuck so strongly with me, stirring such strong nostalgic feelings.” And, just to add to it, that was one of the most beautifully arranged renditions of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.

Despite how beautiful the performance was, there was an agitation of leaving the room because the environment started to get uncomfortable, everybody was using their programs as fans. We then moved on to the next venue for the next part of the series.

 

Fake Freedom

In the third of the four-part journey, ‘Fake Freedom’ is based on the question: Are we observers or are we being observed? It seems to conclude that we are all interchangeably both and could also be the one controlling and manipulating circumstances to suit our needs and desires, which is a brutally honest truth of the world today.

The performance is mainly focused on movement (which we found to a certain extent was inspired by ‘Butoh’), with the accompaniment of modern and traditional instrumentation. The performers were amazing in this piece, giving a new perspective of how the body can move according to emotions with the influence of music. Interpretative dancers clad in the most minimal of minimal clothes, and others in distinctive character outfits, highlighted the abstract-ness of the piece.

Evoking different emotions throughout the roughly 20-minute piece, ‘Fake Freedom’ puts us in an emotionally uncomfortable position and makes us question, well, us. And that is the finest form of art. As Bernard once quoted Cesar A. Cruz, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

 

Finale

Who knew the gamelan, a Malaysian instrument, could be made to blend so well with French sounds? Then again, we are talking about Hands Percussion, who did come up with ‘Tchaikovsky on Gamelan’- a reflection of how dynamic and radical these musicians are in ‘colouring out of the box’. A well-balanced sound between all the instruments (cello, accordion, guitar, and etc.) really heightened this part of the series.

In this final performance, Mathilde Limal reprises her role as vocalist once again, who not only, as mentioned, has an amazing voice but also a beautiful personality that shines brightly onstage. She truly is a performer at heart. The liveliness of the finale gave the audience a sort of “happily ever after” ending.

 

The night ended on a chocolate-high (literally)! Again, it is advisable to wear comfy shoes and be prepared to sit on the floor or stand. In addition, there’s a fair share of walking between the two venues; truly a test of one’s fitness level. All in all, Hands Percussion did it again; not only with a spectacular performance, but a simple yet beautiful lighting design, plus a well balanced sound which was easy on the ears in all venues- outdoor and indoor. It truly is a performance to catch! Go in with an open mind and you’ll come out with a different perspective, or if you’re the super artsy type, you’ll come out with crazy ideas for your future endeavours!

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