Time Out Singapore: Guide to Chinese New Year 2015

Don’t know where to ‘goat’ to this Chinese New Year? Don’t be ‘sheepish’ about it – Gwen Pew highlights the best events for ‘ewe’ to usher in the new year

CNY 2015

16 Feb 2015:

Sentosa Celebrates

Feb 19-22

A sea of lanterns adorns the Sentosa Beach and Merlion Plazas as the self-proclaimed ‘State of Fun’ gets into the mood for CNY. There are a number of performances, including those by the Northern Lion Dance troupe and the LED Dragon Dance Troupe, which jazzes things up by introducing lights to their costumes. Dotted around the plazas are caricature artists, fortune tellers and a gigantic God of Fortune.

City Square Festivities

Until Feb 22

Little ones can get up close and personal with the stars of popular cartoon Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf at this mall’s celebrations. They’ll make their rounds over the two weekends before CNY to play games with the kids – get a meet-and-greet pass when you spend over $50. On February 14, feng shui master Neo Zhen Jue reveals the fortunes of the zodiac signs for the coming year, and if you need to do a bit of last minute shopping, NTUC’s sale on Mondays to Wednesdays from Feburary 2 to 18 has festive goodies up for grabs.

River Hongbao

Feb 17-28

One of the most iconic events to take place along the waterfront, River Hongbao returns for the 29th year with lantern displays, handicrafts, and performances by local and international artists. To commemorate Singapore’s 50th anniversary, the edition features an exhibition entitled Reliving the Past, Welcoming the New Year, which showcases more than 230 photographs documenting the way Singaporeans have been celebrating Chinese NEw Year through the decades. And if you get hungry, feel free to stuff your face with a variety of local delicacies like chicken rice, bak kut teh, prawn noodles, ice kacang and more.

Gardens by the Bay – Spring Surprise

Until Mar 8

Barely has the fake snow melted from the Christmas display at the Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay and the glassy conservatory is already back with a new look. Entitled ‘Asian Tales’, the latest floral display to grace the flowerbeds aims to bring the scenic landscapes of traditional Chinese paintings to life with fields of colourful dahlias. Visitors are invited to spot goats carved into the flora, and embark on a themed journey through the garden with the help of a trail map that comes with your ticket. Look out for the gardens’ God of Fortune mascot and the craft booths, which are set up on weekends.

Chinatown CNY Celebrations 2015

Until Mar 19

Enjoy a range of activities, from the Festival Street Bazaar to a walking trail that takes participants on a journey through Chinatown’s history. There’s a mass reunion dinner for the underprivileged on February 15 at the Kreta Ayer Community Club and Singapore National Wushu Federation ($10), and nightly shows of music and dance at Kreta Ayer Square until February 18. All these festivities culminate in a countdown party at New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street, where local celebs ring in the Lunar New Year with games and fireworks.

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Time Out Singapore: Theatre Highlights of 2015

Get your cultural calendar out and start planning – Gwen Pew rounds up the theatre highlights of 2015

Tribes

Pangdemonium’s ‘Tribes’

5 Jan 2015:

Plays

We’re a little older, a little wiser, but growing up is not always smooth sailing. The question of loyalty is explored in an original production of You Think, I Thought, Who Confirm? by Yellow Chair Production (Apr-25; Drama Centre Black Box). And The Necessary Stage’s Pioneer (Girls) Generation (Mar 26-29; National Museum of Singapore) is a witty observation of growing old in Singapore, while Wild Rice’s Public Enemy (Apr 9-25; Victoria Theatre), takes a hard look at society when the characters’ personal lives affect the decisions they make as professionals.

The themes of honour, passion and vengence will also appear in the epic wuxia tale, Legends of the Southern Arch (Mar 27-Apr 12; Drama Centre Theatre), The Theatre Practice’s 50th anniversary production.

For something a little more light-hearted, look to Asylum Theatre’s staging of The 39 Steps (Apr 23-May 10; Drama Centre Black Box). Dim Sum Dollies returns with a restaging of The History of Singapore Part 1 (Jun 4-21; Esplanade Theatre), while Pangdemonium will get you giggling about a dysfunctional family in Tribes (May 22-Jun 7; Drama Centre Theatre).

SIFA2014

‘Mystery Magnet’ from SIFA 2014.

Festivals

Starting the year with a bang, we’re treated to two festivals this month alone – including the M1 Fringe Festival (Jan 14-25) and KidsFest (Jan21-Mar 1). The Esplanade has a busy 12 months ahead with its array of festivals, but the one that excites us most is The Studios (Apr 2-May 10). Helmed by playwright-director Chong Tze Chien, it restages five landmark local plays, and features dramatised readings of 45 other works.

The Theatre Practice will bring back the Chinese Theatre Festival (Jul 9-Aug 2) with six shows from Singapore, Taiwan Hong Kong and China, while the Singapore International Festival of Arts (Jul 31-Sep 21) returns with the theme of ‘Post-Empire’; it features new works by local companies such as Wild Rice, Cake Theatre and Teater Ekamatra.

Besides those, Yellow Chair Production’s initiative, Tampines Theatre Festival (May 29-31), brings several schools together in a collaborative performance; Drama Box’s Scenes – Forum Theatre (Jul 3-10) celebrates the company’s 25th anniversary by paying tribute to the art form they use to engage the community; and Monologue Festival (Jul) by Teater Ekamatra invitets playwrights and directors to present monologues.

Dream Academy and Resorts World Theatre's 'Great World Cabaret'

Dream Academy and Resorts World Theatre’s ‘Great World Cabaret’

Musicals

We’re all set to warble along to ‘Memory’ as Cats (Jan 9-Feb 1; MasterCard Theatres) slinks into town, and Base Entertainment will have at least two more musical offerings in the form of Singing in the Rain and Saturday Night Fever (dates TBA; MasterCard Theatres). And since this year is SG50, there are quite a few shows dedicated to our city, starting with Dream Academy’s Great World Cabaret (Feb 19-Mar 17; Resorts World Theatre).

The Capitol Theatre will reopen in April with a newly commissioned production, Singapura – The Musical (dates TBA; Capitol Theatre), which looks back at the struggles of a family during the turbulent pre-independence years. Not to be outdone, Meira Chand and Dick Lee will also stage their collaborative work, called LKY (dates and venue TBA), which is about, well, LKY. And speaking of the Mad Chinaman, we’re excited about the return of his 1998 musical, Beauty World (Nov; Victoria Theatre); too.

This year is also a big one for Toy Factory, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary with two shows: the multilingual Titoudao (Mar 5-15; Drama Centre Theatre) and December Rains (Aug 28-Sep 6; Esplanade Theatre), the latter of which is performed in Chinese. And since it’s never too early to start looking forward to Christmas, Dream Academy’s Crazy Christmas (Dec 10-19; Esplanade Theatre), will be back after taking a break in 2014.

The Little Co's 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'

The Little Co’s ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’

Kids

Never mind the benefits of introducing theatre to the young ‘uns – because what’s bad about having someone else entertain the kids for once? I Theatre has four shows lined up for the year, starting with Aesop’s Fables (Feb 26-Mar 21; Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel), which features eight of the Greek storyteller’s tales. Other shows on its calendar include The Gingerbread Man (May 20-Jun 7; Jubilee Hall), Little Star (Jun 3-19; Alliance Francaise Theatre) and The Enormous Turnip (Nov 17-Dec 6; SOTA Drama Theatre).

The SRT’ junior arm, The Little Co, is bringing back the popular Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Mar 11-29; DBS Arts Centre) – except this time, it’s in Chinese. The Theatre Practice is also staging a musical in Chinese, The Wee Question Mark and the Adventurer (Jul 9-19; Flexible Performance Space, Lasalle), which follows a young man on a quest to find his father. And if your kid loves dance, then bring them along to Singapore Dance Theatre’s Peter and Blue’s Birthday Party (Jul 2-5; Esplanade Theatre Studio), which Peter and his friends go on a journey that culminates in a surprise at his birthday bash.

Singapore Dance Theatre's 'Sleeping Beauty'. Photo: Nicolethen Studio

Singapore Dance Theatre’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Photo: Nicolethen Studio

Dance

The Singapore Dance Theatre is bringing back two classic pieces, Sleeping Beauty (Mar 12-14; Esplanade Theatre) and Swan Lake (Dec 3-6; Esplanade Theatre), while more contemporary ones will be staged at Ballet under the Stars (Jun 12-14; Fort Canning Green), Masterpiece in Motion (Aug 21 & 22; Esplanade Theatre) and Passages (Oct 30-Nov 1; Goodman Arts CEntre). continuing its mission to examine the human condition through contemporary dance, THE Dance Company will present a Triple Bill (Apr 2-4; SOTA Drama Theatre) featuring works by three acclaimed Asian choreographers – Sun Shang-Chi (Germany/Taiwan), Xing Liang (Hong Kong/China) and Jeffrey Tan (Singapore) – as well as a restaging of the well-received 2012 da:ns Festival commission piece, Silences We are Familiar with (May 28-30; SOTA Drama Theatre).

We’ll also see the fourth instalment of Maya Dance Theatre’s RELEASE series (Mar 13 & 14; 10 Square Orchard Central), which features an array of performances by emerging choreographers from Singapore, India, South Korea, Malaysia and Isreal. Looks like 2015’s gonna be a cracker for lovers of the stage.

Time Out Singapore: Deepavali 2013 Guide

Bright lights along Upper Serangoon Road at 2012's Deepavali.

Bright lights along Upper Serangoon Road at 2012’s Deepavali.

8 Oct 2o13: Although we won’t get a working day off for the holiday this year (d’oh!) – due to the Hindu Advisory Board revising the official date of Deepavali from Sunday the 3rd to Saturday, 2 November – there are still plenty of ways to celebrate the Festival of Lights in Singapore. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Little India’s annual light-up, and as usual, the district’s streets – stretching from parts of Selegie Road to Serangoon Road (from the junction of Sophia Road to Lavender Street) and Race Course Road – are now adorned with colourful decorations. The theme centres on Radha and Krishna, the divine lovers in Hindu mythology, whose life-size replicas can be found swinging atop the main arch at the entrance of Serangoon Road. A range of events are planned.

Festival Village and Heritage & Crafts Exhibition

Until 1 Nov

Following the success of previous years, the Festival Village returns to Campbell Lane and Hastings Road to offer 15,000 square feet of retail therapy. Find stalls selling all sorts of decorations, jewellery and crafts, get your hands decorated by henna tattoo artists or try delicious Indian delicacies. The Heritage & Crafts Exhibition, titled Our Indian Forefathers and Their Trades in Singapore, is at Hastings Road and showcases a range of photographs and stories. There are also workshops for participants to learn from Indian craftsmen.

Fringe Activities

Various dates

Kids are invited to dress up as mini Radhas and Krishnas (5 Oct, 3pm, Hastings Rd), while the Family Challenge (12 Oct, 2pm, Hastings & Kerbau Rd) encourages adults to partner up with their little ones to complete three designated tasks around the Little India district; there are prizes to be won at both events. A Dance Medley (19 Oct, 5pm, Hastings & Kerbau Rd) sees a line-up of performers demonstrating various types of traditional dances, and be sure not to miss the spectacular Theemithi, or Fire-Walking, Festival (20 Oct, 6pm, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple).

Deepavali Countdown

1 Nov

For the best way to welcome the Festival of Lights, head down to the Event Marquee at Race Course Road. Spectators will be treated to an evening of performances by local and Indian artists – the full line-up can be viewed on the Little India website listed above – starting from 8.30pm, and culminating in the much-anticipated countdown. A fireworks display will mark the official start of Deepavali with much colour and fanfare – just be sure to head down early and leave any metallic items behind, as huge crowds are expected and security checks will be conducted.

See www.littleindia.com.sg for the full schedule.

Time Out Singapore: Japan Beyond Sakura (Feature)

Given the unpredictability of Japan’s cherry blossom season, it’s a challenge to be at the right place at the right time – fortunately, there are plenty of other spring festivals in the country to check out, as Gwen Pew discovers.

One of the 'Sea Hell' hot springs in Beppu, Japan.

One of the ‘Sea Hell’ hot springs in Beppu, Japan.

3 Apr 2013: Part of the beauty of Japan’s famous cherry blossom – or sakura – season is how shortlived it is, seeing as the whole process from blossoming to wilting lasts only about a week. Not all of them bloom at the same time, and flowering usually happens gradually from the southern side of the country to the north throughout the months of March, April and May. See www.japan-guide.com/e/e2011.html for a forecast of the major cities’ cherry blossom blooming time – although the website does warn that rain, wind and temperature changes can have an effect on the plants, so no promises.

April is still a fantastic month to visit Japan, however, as a slew of festivals take place during this time to celebrate the coming of spring. Here are four that you can admire, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to catch these against a backdrop of pinkish-white falling petals.

Beppu Hot Spring Festival

When: 1-7 Apr
Beppu is famous for its eight major hot springs (onsen) – known locally as ‘the eight hells of Beppu’ (Hatto Onsen) and by which the city’s districts are divided – as well as hundreds of smaller ones that are fed by water from them. Hot springs, which are created when bodies of water are geothermally-heated by hot rocks from the Earth’s crust, are rich in minerals; many believe that they carry health benefits. Aside from the traditional hot water bath, visitors can also enjoy hot sand, steam and mud baths if they crave some variety. People give thanks to the onsen every year and many of the public baths are free to enter during the festival period. A map of where all the different springs are can be obtained from the tourist desk at Beppu station, but otherwise you can join the Hell Tour to make sure you see all of them.

Other attractions: On 6 April, another festival by the name of Ogiyama Fire Festival also takes place in Beppu, during which Mount Ohira is set alight by the burning of dry grass. The Wonder Rakutenchi, a quirky, old-school theme park, is one for those up for a laugh (although they’re more well-known for their duck races than their rides). Alternatively, opt to breathe in somefresh air at Mount Tsurumi.

How to get there: China Eastern Airlines (www.flychinaeastern.com) flies to Fukuoka from $760 return with one stopover. From there, look for the Fukuoka-kuko Kokusaisen Terminal bus stop (what a mouthful!) and take the Nishitetsu/Kamenoi bus for two hours all the way to Beppu, which costs around $40.

Festival of the Steel Phallus

When: 7 Apr
Commonly referred to as the Penis Festival – one of two penis festivals in Japan (the other being the Honen Matsuri, or Penis Fertility Festival, which is held in Komaki, Aichi prefecture during March) – Kanamara Matsuri began in Kawasaki during the Edo period in the 17th century. Legend goes that a young woman was inh

abited by a toothed demon who castrated her husbands on two wedding nights, and a blacksmith made her a steel phallus to break the demon’s tooth – hence the festival was born. It was a time for prostitutes to pray at the Kanamara shrine for protection against STDs, while other local folks would also visit for fertility, prosperity and harmony. While it is mostly known today for parading a giant pink penis called omikoshi around town as people eat penis-shaped candies, buy penis-shaped toys – or simply dress up as penises – the festival is also used to raise awareness for STDs and collect funds for HIV research.

Other attractions: Dedicated to the creator of comics such as Doraemon, the Fujiko F Fujio Museum in Kawasaki is fantastic for young and old fans alike – follow their audio guide (available in Japanese and English) around the place, and don’t forget to stop off at the Doraemon-themed café! The Nihon Minkaen Folk House Museum, which features more than 20 houses showcasing various architectural styles dating back to the 17th-19th centuries, also makes for an interesting trip.

How to get there Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com) flies to Tokyo Narita Airport from $850 return with one stopover; Japan Airlines (www.jal.com) flies direct from $1,000 return. Take the Japanese Rail (JR) Narita Express (NEX) train to Shinagawa Station, and then transfer to either the JR Tokaido Line or the JR Keihin Tohoku Line to reach Kawasaki Station, which takes about an hour and a half and costs $43. Alternatively, you can also get to Kawasaki by a series of commuter trains on the Keisei Railway, Toei Asakusa Subway Line and Keikyu Line, which takes two hours and can get crowded, but only costs $18.

Takayama Float Festival

When: 14 & 15 Apr
Widely recognised as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan (with the other two being the Chichibu Matsuri at the Saitama Prefecture and the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, both of which take place in July), the Takayama Float Festival is an annual event that dates back to the 17th century, held in the southern part of Takayama city’s Old Town. It is dedicated to the Hie Shrine – also known as the Sanno Shrine – and people traditionally pray for a successful harvest during this period, but the highlight here is without a doubt the 11 large, elaborate floats called yatai, which are displayed on the streets during the day and paraded around the city with lanterns in the evening by citizens in traditional Japanese dress. Each of the floats are
meant to represent a different district in Takayama, and some of them even carry mechanical puppets known as karakuri ningyo, which dance around the deck.

Other attractions: The Jinya-mae and Miyagawa morning markets are worth a visit for early birds (6am-noon), while the Takayama Jinya – an old government office dating back to the Edo period – also makes for an interesting stop. Alternatively, you can head to the Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall (Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan) to find out more about the float festival.

How to get there: Asiana Airlines (www.flyasiana.com) flies to Toyama from $930 return with one stopover. From there, take the airport shuttle bus to Toyama Station (about 30 mins for $5), then hop on the JR Takayama Main Line train towards Inotani, and transfer to the JR Takayama Main Line train towards Inoota to reach Takayama, which takes two hours at around $21. However, another easier and quicker way from Toyama Station to Takayama Station is by the JR Hida Line train heading towards Nagoya – it’ll get you there in an hour and a half, but will cost you double (around $42).

Dances of the Old Capital

When: 1-30 Apr
Back for the 141st year, the traditional Spring Dance Festival gives visitors a rare opportunity to see geishas – highly skilled female entertainers – perform songs and dances in public in Japan’s former capital city, Kyoto. It originated in 1872 as part of the ‘Exhibition for the Promotion of Domestic Industry’ showcase three years after Japan’s capital moved to Tokyo, in an attempt to revive Kyoto’s declining status and attraction. The oldest and most established Mikyako Odori takes place at the famed Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theatre, performed by geishas who prefer to be called geiko, which means ‘a woman of art’. The show itself lasts about an hour and is divided into eight parts, and while the general structure remains the same every year, topics do vary and can be based on current events or political affairs. There are four daily afternoon shows (final show at 4.50pm); tickets range from JPY2,000- JPY4,500 ($26-$58) and can be bought at the theatre’s box office. See http://www.miyako-odori.jp/odori_en.html for more details.

Other attractions: Built in 1397 as a residence for General Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) earned its name quite literally, as its exterior is entirely covered in gold leaf. Other popular temples in Kyoto include the Kiyomizu-dera and Ginkaku-ji, and the Sanjusangendo Hall is another grand example of Japan’s rich architectural heritage.

How to get there: China Eastern Airlines (see above) flies to Osaka’s Kansai International Airport from $780 return with one stopover. From there, board the Haruka Limited Express straight to Kyoto, which will take an hour and 15 minutes for $42. If you buy the one-day, foreigners-only JR West Kansai Area Pass (more info at http://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en), the train ride will only cost you around $26. From Kyoto Station, you can either walk to Miyako Odori, which takes half an hour, but there are also a number of buses close by that can take you there in 20 minutes for $3.