A Show for the Youths by the Youths
Issue: Aug 2010
Ivan Heng’s artistic track record and passion for Singapore have made him the perfect choice to direct the YOG opening and closing shows
"Oh-pay-som!" – that’s what some anticipated two billion people around the world will hear at the first ever Youth Olympic Games (YOG) 2010 opening show on August 14.
"The show will give everyone a piece of Singapore," promises Ivan Heng, Creative Director of the YOG 2010 opening and closing ceremonies.
A performer from Singapore SOKA Association, rehearsing his segment – “Playing with Fire”
Set to celebrate the new Olympic Movement in Singapore, the opening and closing ceremonies promise to dazzle, entertain and inspire global unity and national pride.
Staged at The Float@Marina Bay, the world’s largest floating stage with a seating capacity of 27,000, the ceremonies will be held on the waterfront against Singapore’s city skyline.
The story in the opening show will capture the hopes and dreams of Young Olympians as well as celebrate Singapore, the host city.
“It will draw a parallel between Singapore as a young, dynamic nation and the young athlete who strives to be faster and stronger. It will capture their struggles and the pain because what binds us, as humans, are hopes and dreams of a better world and a brighter future,” says Heng who is also the Founder and Artistic Director of W!ld Rice, a theatre company in Singapore.
The Creative Team led by Ivan Heng, Creative Director of the opening and closing ceremonies
Performers from LaSelle, Martial House and SOKA, along with DJ Koflow and Beatboxer Dharni, will give their best for the opening ceremony
Split into seven segments, Heng and his team successfully weave genres like theatre, music, song, dance and multimedia into a show infused with surprises and special effects.
The 110-minute spectacle will tackle the struggles of youths, exalt the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect, with the history of Singapore weaved into it.
Best Man for the Job
For the past 19 months, Ivan Heng has been immersed with patriotism. This is because since February 2009, he has been working on the opening and closing ceremonies of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) 2010 as well as the National Day Parade 2009.
But Heng is the perfect choice as the Creative Director for the YOG ceremonies. An internationally acclaimed and award-winning theatre director, actor, playwright and designer, Heng’s productions have largely dealt with topics like identity and migration within intercultural contexts.
Heng, together with show producer Vernon Teo, has been working with an international team of technical experts, including lighting designer Koert Vermeulen, who is responsible for acrobatics show Le Reve at the Wynn Las Vegas casino resort; and audio designer Scott Willsallen, who has been involved in both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, to bring this incredible show to the world.
Always attempting to create shows that challenge boundaries, Heng, together with his team, came up with numerous highlights that are set to wow the crowd.
An artist impression of the ambitious stage with a semi-elliptical lake in the centre, surrounded by six giant screens and tiered platforms is set add to the visual spectacle of the show
From the depiction of the Olympic rings, the arrival of the new Youth Olympic flame, to the enormity of the stage with a lake in the midst of it, Heng and his creative team have indeed worked hard to bring a spectacular experience to the live audience as well as the potential two billion eyeballs around the world.
“I wanted to play around the theme of water. Singapore is surrounded by water; we are at the Marina Bay, so I thought water should factor heavily in our show,” Heng says.
A semi-elliptical lake, with 200 tonnes of water on stage, will not only be used as part of the performance, its reflective surface will add a new dimension to the visual effects of the show.
There will also be tiered platforms, the highest being 22 metres or about seven storeys high, surrounding the stage, able to accommodate up to 250 performers.
Industrial Drummers from Cedar Girls School, Fuhua Secondary School and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), practicing at Mandai Hill Camp
Heng adds that this Olympic opener will also break away from tradition. “We will be doing something that is exciting and has never been done before. Usually the athletes march in at the end but for this show in Singapore, we want the athletes in the audience! Some of them have never been on the plane before and we want to say a big ‘welcome’ to them. They are our VIPS,” reveals Heng.
To deliver on that promised welcome, more than 20 choreographers and 7,000 youth performers have worked very hard to transform the stage into a spectacle for billions around the world come August 14.
“With so many performers on stage, some days I feel like I’m just directing traffic!” Heng muses.
Heng at several brainstorming sessions with youths to draw inspiration on what they would like to see at the shows
Heng and his team have envisioned this spectacular to be a show for the youths by the youths.
Over two weeks at the start of the journey, Heng and his creative team sat in several brainstorming sessions with youths from different junior colleges to generate ideas for the opening and closing ceremonies.
"We wanted to find out what the youths these days are thinking about, what they are involved in and what they want to see in the opening and closing ceremonies. They were the initial sparks of inspiration. So, this is going to be an event that will be very much informed by youths, it will be for the youths and we’ve been working with the youths," says Heng.
The young and talented multi-media team filming for "Across The Finish Line"
What he and his team discovered challenged many assumptions.
"Youths these days don’t listen to mainstream commercial music. They want Indie music (independent music). They don’t own CDs; they download music. They don’t read the local newspapers; those who are interested in the news surf The New York Times on their laptops. I also spoke to athletes to understand what they struggle with. For example, my personal assistant, Ben, who used to be a swimmer. He told me he didn’t have many friends because he spent all his time training. He was in the water by six every morning and he used to be called ‘Chlorine’ because his hair was bleached from all the swimming. I felt very inspired to share these stories to the composers, the choreographers and the multi-media artists so that they could interpret and portray accurately the emotional core of what it means to be a youth athlete," reveals Heng.
Multimedia Director Brian Gothong Tan (in white) with his team of youths, who will work on the 84 videos to be showcased at the ceremonies
In fact, a song called “Across The Finish Line” was specially composed by Mayuni Omar and Mathilda D Silva to capture these struggles.
Besides getting the young people’s opinions, Heng also roped in the talents of the youths. Led by director Brian Gothong Tan, the entire multi-media team is under 24 years old. The team is responsible for churning out all the 84 video clips to be shown on the six screens on the stage.
Costume Designer, Frederick Lee, who was also the Costume Designer for National Day Parade 2009, has been working with more than 80 young talented design students at LaSalle to create costumes for the show from recycled materials.
Creative and talented LaSalle students were also roped in to design and make the costumes
And to cater to the youthful crowd, Dr Zechariah Goh has also rearranged past Olympic anthems to give them a more hip twist.
South African Idol winner Jody Williams (Africa), Singapore Idol finalist Tabitha Nauser (Asia), Jamaican-American reggae singer Sean Kingston (America), singer-songwriter Steve Appleton (Europe) and Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy (Oceania), seen here with songwriter Ken Lim (middle), will be performing the theme song at the opening ceremony
Efforts were made to involve the youths from other countries as well. Five young singers were chosen to represent five continents in the YOG theme song.
In addition, an orchestra will be made up of 104 musicians from five continents, with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory as the main stay.
"All these collaborative efforts already give us a clue as to how we can live together in harmony. It’s emotional, poetic and very meaningful," reflects Heng.
Lessons from Eight-year-olds
What is also meaningful to the creative director is working with and learning from the many kids and young people. He recalls one learning moment with a group of eight-year-olds.
"There was a segment where foreign kids were arriving to play with local kids. I didn't want to call them ‘foreigners’ because that word sometimes connotes xenophobic undertones. I was trying to find a word to describe them. Finally, I asked the local children what should we call these 'foreign' kids. They all shouted 'visitors'! I said great and what does that make us? They shouted ‘hosts’! I thought that was a perfect description! It’s refreshing to see things through their eyes," recalls Heng.
Eight-year-old children rehearsing for their segment
After months of sweat and tears, the show will be revealed to the world this month.
Heng reflects on some of his challenges.
"The most difficult thing is to find a simple way to put together a meaningful show that cuts across boundaries of culture, race, religion and language. I also found it challenging to keep the integrity of this show together especially in this final lap of the show. It’s easy to write a song but when you are rushing, it is easy to forget why we are doing in the first place. Anything that is worth doing is usually more cumbersome. I seek to protect the integrity not for myself but for the team," reflects Heng.
But the whole involvement with the YOG ceremonies has indeed been a learning process even for the experienced director.
As leader of the team, Heng fights to keep the integrity of the show together for his team right to the end
"I have learnt the great art of living with one another. Working with people from different time zones and style and pulling everything together in one place is an amazing experience and journey. I couldn't have done this alone. Behind this spectacular show is an amazing and incredibly experienced team, from the creative artists, to production crew and the Singapore Armed Forces. I feel that all that I have done in the past – having lived and worked in Singapore, London Japan and India have prepared me for this. All my previous assignments have led up to this moment. So, it's a great privilege and honour to do this," Heng says.
Be a part of Olympic History! Logon to www.singapore2010.sg for more YOG action and information on how you can watch the opening and closing ceremonies.