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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

A sound collaboration: 宿 (stay) at Sydney Festival 2020

By Maria Herminia Graterol Garrido
(571 words, 4-minute read)

There is a huge difference between watching a great piece of theatre with a beautiful original score, and experiencing a process that gives equal importance to all the creative aspects, including sound. Experiencing the work-in-progress presentation of 宿 (stay) was probably the first time I fully grasped this difference.

Presented as part of Sydney Festival 2020, 宿 (stay) is a collaboration between Kurinji, a Western Sydney-based arts company, and Singapore’s SAtheCollective, which builds on the lived experiences of its collaborators. The result is the creation of a space that amplifies and captures the ways one shared experience, perhaps even one moment, can weave through time, geographies, ethnicities, cultures and oral histories. Without giving away too much of the plot, it is fair to say that this work-in-progress was simply sublime.

The presentation included a half-hour performance of different excerpts of the script and music being developed for the show, followed by an informal conversation with the creators. Playwright S. Shakthidharan facilitated the conversation and provided an insight into the process as well as the background behind each piece that was presented. His ability to contextualise each moment made it easy to follow.

Developed over a period of a year, 宿 (stay) takes an elevated approach to interdisciplinary and trans-cultural practices. Timeframes, past and present, were fluid, and we observe performers acting, dancing, singing and playing instruments over the course of the presentation. The diversity of all the collaborators and their styles added depth, because when not too heavily directed, everyone moved, spoke and inhabited spaces in subconscious and distinct ways.

This is a piece that makes us think about the practice of being in nature and living with it, in many ways – the Australian collaborators talked about growing up in an urban setting versus the country, and the Singaporeans explored what it means to be so urban that you are completely disconnected from nature. These vignettes capture the voices, movements and experiences of each member of the ensemble in very meaningful ways. These also had particular resonance, given that the idea of co-existing with conditions that may be harsh at times seems more important than ever in today’s context.

The intention of the creators of 宿 (stay) from the outset was to push music as far as it can go, and this presentation proves that their efforts were successful. Andy Chia, artistic director and resident artist of SAtheCollective and the musicians showed their ability to create their own “music talk” in a way that added depth to the scripted words. The Kurinji performers moved me to tears multiple times as I realised that I had never been exposed to the blended sounds of instruments of cultural significance harmonising together in that way before. For instance, the fact that Mr. Chia received permission from the elders to play the didjeridu is in itself worth highlighting, because this almost never happens. Ethnic instruments from Australia and Asia, enhanced by electronic sounds, create powerful music.

I don’t usually walk away from a work-in-progress promoting its future ticket sales, but for this show, I would happily make an exception. This piece of work can resonate with anyone living in Australia. A performance that brings together artists of Chinese, Aboriginal, Maltese and Sri Lankan descent in Western Sydney also brought together the most diverse audience I have seen in the festival so far. That has to mean something.


宿 (stay) by Kurinji and SAtheCollective was presented as part of Sydney Festival 2020 and ran from 17-18 January 2020 at Riverside Theatres in Sydney. More info here.

Maria Herminia Graterol Garrido is a theatre momster currently living in Sydney. During her years living in Malaysia and Thailand, she learned to appreciate the specific artistic expressions of Southeast Asia and enjoy the growing number of original work being produced in the region.

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