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Silver Arts festival: Tapping the arts to keep seniors active

Toh Wen Li on 20 Aug 2019

The Straits Times


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Award-winning film-maker K. Rajagopal has found a collaborator and muse in "dancing doctor" Uma Rajan - a former director of School Health Services who is also known for her work as an accomplished dancer and arts administrator.


A Dream I Did Not Dream, a new short experimental film, was inspired by long conversations he had with 79-year-old Dr Rajan, as well as writings she prepared for him. It incorporates some elements of Bharatanatyam, the South Indian dance form she was trained in.


But it is not about her life story and she does not appear in it.


Rajagopal says: "There were bigger themes I wanted to discuss in the film, like how many people are ageist, equality, women in society, tradition versus modernity, and sexuality - how we mock old people, how we think that they do not have a sex life, that they do not need intimacy."


A Dream I Did Not Dream is part of a programme of films from Singapore and other Asian countries that will be screened next month at a festival celebrating seniors and creative ageing. The programme was curated by Objectifs Centre for Photography & Film and some seniors were invited to vote for the final line-up.


The Silver Arts festival, back for its eighth edition from Sept 5 to 29, will feature more than 30 programmes islandwide, such as concerts, a public art walking trail and an inter-generational photography workshop. Last year's edition drew more than 45,000 attendees.


Both A Dream I Did Not Dream and Family Affairs, a Cantonese and Mandarin film directed by Chai Yee Wei in collaboration with xinyao veteran Liang Wern Fook, were specially commissioned for the festival.


Dr Rajan has led a chequered life. In the mid-1960s, she suffered from a bad bout of jaundice which prevented her from dancing. At 37, she was widowed with two young children. "I danced up to a certain age and then I fell sick and could not dance. I changed my life to become an arts administrator, educator and presenter. That way, I kept in touch with the arts.


She adds: "Today, we're looking at arts for people with dementia. The arts are becoming a very important tool for the elderly, only many don't realise it."


Rajagopal says: "We live in an ageing society. But creativity has no age."


Over at the School of the Arts, songs by groups such as The Carpenters, Bee Gees and Bon Jovi will take audiences down memory lane in Those Were The Days, a concert by the Philharmonic Youth Winds, also featuring jazz singer Robert Fernando and two seniors picked from an audition.


Resident conductor Adrian Chiang says: "We would like to remind our grandparents of the songs they listened to when they were first dating or when they had their break-ups or went to the disco."


He lets on that some audience members will get to conduct part of the show.


Some other festival highlights are Wadah Seni Entertainment's Soulful Silver Screen Melodies, a Malay music concert; and Siong Leng Musical Association's An Evening Of Nanyin Jazz, which will fuse Nanyin music with jazz and pop.


Siong Leng Musical Association's artistic director Lin Shao Ling says: "We aim to show audiences that Nanyin has a lot of room for experimentation."


The ancient art form of Nanyin - literally "southern sounds" - originated as court music during the Han dynasty and took root in Fujian province. "It's not a relic in a museum. It's full of life," Lin adds.


As usual, this year's event hopes to encourage inter-generational bonding and is taking it one step further with the Date Your Grandparents campaign, which will encourage seniors and people younger than 60 to take part in programmes together and collect stamps that can be redeemed for collectibles.


This year's Silver Arts events involve nearly 270 artists and arts groups, and will be conducted in English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and Chinese dialects.


Over at the National Library building's plaza, the Silver Arts Exhibition will showcase the work of seniors who took part in arts and dance workshops earlier in the year.


One of the community arts projects is I Hold You In My Hands, which saw seniors tracing their palm lines onto transparency sheets. These colourful patterns will be hung alongside translucent casts of their hands.


You may also spot seniors sashaying to the rhythms of the flamenco as part of the Chronicles Of Life: Dance Of The Ageing Body show.


Nurse manager Hamidah Risah signed up to take part in the flamenco dance performance "for the fun of it".


To prepare for it, she and the other participants attended workshops by the Flamenco Sin Fronteras dance company.


"I'm putting my ageing body to the test. I'm still laughing at myself," says the upbeat 61-year-old.


Madam Hamidah, whose mother has dementia, adds that the classes offered her some respite from her care-giving duties and gave her the chance to meet people, some of whom have parents with the illness too. "You know you are not alone," she says.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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