Singapore Arts Festival 2006 - Geisha



Arts Festival 2006


~ One Season. Many Faces ~


1 – 25 June 06






TheatreWorks (Singapore)


(Asian Premiere)


 Date  : 9 & 10 June 2006
 Time  : 8pm
 Venue  : Victoria Theatre
 Tickets  : $50, $40, $30, $15
 Duration  : 75 minutes (no intermission)


“Innovative stage work lures audience in with illusion, style.”
– The Charlotte Observer


Commissioned by the Singapore Arts Festival, in association with Spoleto Festival USA (Charleston) and the Lincoln Center Festival (New York)


Post-show dialogue with Ong Keng Sen and collaborators on 10 June.


Fresh from its successful, sell-out world premiere at the Spoleto Festival USA inCharleston, USA, Ong Keng Sen’s latest production Geisha is commissioned by the Singapore Arts Festival, in association with Spoleto Festival USA and the Lincoln Center Festival. Weaving together stories from geishas, maikos (apprentice geishas), clients, their wives, okamisans (mama-sans) and their offspring, it uses the central metaphor of the geisha as a device to discuss life, dream and reality.


Conceived and directed by Ong, the production features the talents of New York-based African-American actress Karen Kandel (winner of several OBIE Awards) and renowned kabuki dancer Gojo Masanosuke, who draws from the repertory of kabuki and nihon buyoh (classical Japanese dance). Together, they complement each other to evoke the dream of the absent geisha. Ong says this deliberate choice to move away from a casting a Japanese or Asian actress as the geisha questions cultural representation in art by transgressing expectations, and highlights the importance of hybridity as a way to explode easy categorizations.


Even as the geisha seems to encapsulate many notions of Japanese identity and gender relationships, Ong extends this into an arena where he discusses what he calls the “dream world.”


“I am inspired by the parallel with theatre, a space of dreams and illusion and how this is created for the audience. So we are both dreamweavers in some ways, the artist and the geisha,” says Ong.


Providing the music which is a key element in creating the world of Geisha, Kineya Katsumatsu, from the famed traditional school of shamisen, joins forces with electronic wizard Toru Yamanaka, who created the contemporary soundscapes for the seminal shows of Dumb Type. The creative team also includes fashion designer Mitsushi Yanaihara, who supports the construction of Karen Kandel into the geisha as an onstage costume designer - a central image of the performance.


The narrative by Robin Loon is a culmination of years of company research, interviews, and rehearsal. It provides audiences with portraits of people affected by the lifestyle of the geisha; be it the geisha themselves, the wife of a geisha patron, an outside observer or other individuals.


“It is a world of dream, beauty, artificiality, but because it has interviews with so many individuals from that world, it is also a voice tapestry which reflects the individual feelings in that closed world which however echo universal emotions that we all feel,” says Ong.


Known for his commitment to intercultural exchange, Ong says that he has been interested in the misunderstandings and the contextualizing of different cultures by each other. “It is my hope to bring together the fantasy of the geisha as well as the heartfelt voices of this world.  In all my work, I bring opposites together in that they will nurture each other.  The enriching dialogue that I have engaged in between the traditional and the contemporary continues in Geisha,” he says.


Please refer to the attached annexes for more information:


  • Note from the Director
  • Director’s Profile
  • Performers’ and Creative Team’s Profiles
  • Credit List
  • Profile of TheatreWorks (Singapore)