7 things to do at Singapore Night Festival, from disco roller skating to food tours
SINGAPORE – Forget your history textbook – a brand new theatrical projection will make 700 years of Singapore’s history come to life in six minutes.
This epic science-fiction journey back to the 14th century, which woos audiences by taking storytelling cues from Marvel’s movie blockbuster franchise Black Panther (2018 and 2022), will soon grace the facade of the National Museum of Singapore.
700 Years is part of this year’s Singapore Night Festival, which runs from Friday to Aug 26 and features more than 50 experiences including performances, night installations and three festival villages.
Organised by the National Heritage Board, this year’s theme – Singapore, The Great Port City – explores the rich sights, smells, tastes and stories of this multicultural entrepot over the centuries.
Written by Singaporean playwright Zizi Majid and illustrated by Muhammad Izdi and Jeremie Bellot of multimedia agency AV Extended), 700 Years attempts to find a Singaporean equivalent of Black Panther’s Afrofuturist cultural aesthetic that blends science fiction and history.
Festival director David Chew, who believes that more Singaporeans should learn about the island’s past before 1819, says: “It’s reclaiming our 700-year history, to say that it’s our take and our spin on our history.”
Explaining the significance of the festival’s location in the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct, he says: “Fort Canning Park was where evidence of this ‘700 years’ was found, that 700 years ago, we were not a sleepy fishing village. We were part of an interconnected port city between the East and the West, between China and Europe.”
To feel the energy of this port city, go on a foodie tour inspired by the tipples and treats cooked up by the local and immigrant communities. Or catch Asia’s hottest jazz acts blend musical references from Malay Pop Yeh Yeh to 1930s Chinese classics.
The main festival village returns to Singapore Management University (SMU) Campus Green for the first time since the pandemic and will feature food vendors such as The Slurp Shack, Booze Affairs and Praffles, alongside performances at the SMU Arts Fest.
Visitors can take a jaunt to two satellite festival villages in Armenian Street – where the newly reopened Peranakan Museum opens till 11pm – and Chijmes, which features projection mapping inspired by the precinct’s cultural and natural history.
Mr Chew says he is using the festival to challenge artists to go beyond their comfort zones and work with new materials as they engage with history and heritage.
Zizi, 42, who is working with projection mapping for the first time, says: “Fundamentally as a playwright, I’m driven by character, and so in this project, it was about how I could have characters that are interesting enough to push a story that would also be arresting in terms of visual story beats.”
Graphic artist Kristal Melson, 40, who has a background in illustration, is experimenting with an inflatable sculpture for the first time, in a night light installation in Bugis Street titled Florescence.
Of this work, which references the trading of the periwinkle flower in Singapore, she says: “Unlike illustrations, sculptural work is tied to its viewer; they exist in the same environment, there is an intimate relationship to consider.”
With nine jam-packed nights of more than 50 events at the 14th edition of the Singapore Night Festival, here are The Straits Times’ top picks.
7 must-sees and must-dos to experience Singapore, The Great Port City
1. Watch 700 years of Singapore’s history flash by in six minutes
Epic history meets science-fiction aesthetics in this work that transports you to the 14th century with its female protagonist, Seri Anggerik.
“The old belief that we were a fishing village before Stamford Raffles came could not be further from the truth,” says playwright Zizi Majid, who wishes to envision a deeper and richer history that Singaporeans can “sink our roots” in.
See if you can spot works by Singaporean artists Suri Mohyani, Chua Mia Tee and Ong Kim Seng integrated into the visual palette of this colourful work.
The best spot to catch the work in its panoramic breadth is between the three tents on the lawn of the National Museum of Singapore. Visitors can also watch 700 Years from the main festival village at SMU Campus Green.
The six-minute work plays every half an hour on the facade of the National Museum.
Where: Facade of the National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road
When: Friday to Aug 26, 7.30pm to midnight
2. Boogie on roller skates in a disco time portal
Relive the disco fever of the 1970s with Singaporean artist Dawn Ng’s Time Is A Black Circle.
The adventurous can strap on roller skates while partying along to a playlist featuring the infectious tunes of Singaporean a-go-go queen Rita Chao and King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis Presley.
The less intrepid can take a seat in the centre of this round roller-skating rink that is shaped like a vinyl record and watch others whiz by.
The work is a throwback to a bygone era of discos in the neighbourhood, such as The Celestial Room, says Ng, who wants visitors to feel only one thing – “that bittersweet joy and rush of belonging to a moment that you know won’t last”.
A ticket gives you 25 minutes of skating time and includes the rental of roller skates on site.
Those who simply want to visit the artwork without skating can make use of the free admission from 10am to 4pm.
Where: Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road
When: Friday to Aug 26, 7.30 to 11.30pm (last entry at 11pm); for viewing only, 10am to 4pm (last entry at 3.30pm)
Admission: $27 (regular) or $22 (early bird, till Thursday)
3. Step into the theatrical world of Waterloo Street
One of Singapore’s oldest roads, Waterloo Street is the stuff of drama.
Inspired by the oral histories of the street’s inhabitants, four playwrights present a suite of short audio plays that take listeners through war, ghosts, faith and even a speculative scenario where Waterloo Street’s temples are demolished in 2058.
Those interested can tune in via a headset at Objectifs (155 Middle Road) or scan a QR code to access the stories on their mobile devices.
There are also exhibitions, music performances and movement responses organised by the arts groups who call the area home, namely Centre 42, Objectifs, P7:1SMA, Arts and Culture Management Programme at SMU and The Theatre Practice.
For those keen to roam the set of The Theatre Practice’s ongoing Four Horse Road – an epic piece of promenade theatre detailing more than 150 years of the area’s history – there will be an open house at 54 Waterloo Street.
Expect artistic director Kuo Jian Hong and other actors to be on site as you engage in tarot card readings and singalong sessions on Friday, Saturday, and Aug 25 and 26 from 10.30pm to midnight.
Step into a nightclub, a prison, a back alley or a hijacked bus in this rare opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of one of Singapore’s premier theatre companies.
Where: Various locations along and around Waterloo Street
When: Friday to Aug 26, various timings
Info: For details, go to www.objectifs.com.sg/waterloo-street-stories
4. Snap photos with quirky night lights in the city
An inflatable shrine in front of Raffles City or a periwinkle flower wrapping the facade of Bugis Street.
These are just two of 12 eclectic and Insta-worthy night lights that are scattered around the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct, with many of the artists behind the works responding thoughtfully to the site of their installations.
Flowing Water Road Shrine by Singapore-based artist Michael Ng, also known as Mindflyer, stands on the former site of Stamford Bridge.
The work’s name is a literal translation of the road’s Hokkien name (“lau chui khe”), as water from the canal would overflow its banks and flood Stamford Road.
Right beside the National Museum, the Singapore Stone is recreated in the form of A Stone’s Throw (Away) by WY-TO Group.
Step onto the front panels at the work and the sculpture lights up with scenes from the legend of Badang, who flung the stone from Fort Canning Hill to the mouth of the Singapore River.
Where: Various locations in the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct
When: Friday to Aug 26, 7.30pm to midnight
5. Eat your way through a kueh and cocktail tour of Middle Road
Want to know where the best thunder tea rice (lei cha) or maggi goreng can be found in Middle Road?
Embark on a food trail in Port Cities Food, which takes you through the culinary worlds of the Malay, Japanese, Jewish, Arabic, European and Hainanese communities.
Each ticket comes with a cocktail or mocktail, and participants will be led to iconic foodie spots such as Hainanese restaurant Chin Chin Eating House, which opened in 1934.
The tour ends at the main festival village at SMU Campus Green, where participants can dig into the treats they have collected along the way.
Where: Samsu Huay Kuan, 02-33 Concorde Shopping Mall, 100 Orchard Road
When: Friday, Saturday, and Aug 25 and 26, 5.30 to 7pm
Admission: $62 (cocktail tour) or $47 (mocktail tour)
6. Catch Asia’s hottest jazz acts live outside the Capitol Singapore
Jive to Asia’s jazz age with eight bands including Singapore-based The Jazz Djogets, who blend influences from Malay Pop Yeh Yeh, Indonesian dangdut and Japanese oldies.
International acts include the Shanghai Jazz Club – who will bring their unique arrangements of 1930s Chinese classics – as well as Thailand’s Sunny Trio and Natt Buntita.
In between the set of Jazz’in @ Capitol Singapore – A Night In Asia, enjoy some booze and bites from Ka-EN Grill & Sushi Bar and Frieda Beer Garden and German Restaurant.
A detailed schedule is available on the festival website.
Where: Outdoor Stage, Capitol Singapore, 13 Stamford Road
When: Friday, Saturday, and Aug 25 and 26; 7.30 to 8pm (first set) and 8.30 to 9.15pm (second set)
7. Spend a night at the museum after hours
Spend a night at three museums for some reprieve from the outdoor heat.
The newly launched Children’s Museum, which usually allows adult visitors only when they are accompanied by children, will welcome visitors of all ages during the Singapore Night Festival. Those with children can also expect kid-friendly programming at the museum.
Nearby, the freshly renovated Peranakan Museum – which boasts stylish batik, glistening jewellery and intricate textiles – is a stone’s throw away from the festival village in Armenian Street.
For $5, go on a new immersive, self-guided audio tour inspired by Now Boarding, the National Museum’s latest travel exhibition, that will tell a story with nods to Singapore Airlines’ Raffles Lounge and Goodwood Park Hotel.
Where: Various locations
When: Friday to Aug 26, various dates and times
Info: Go to each museum’s website for more information on opening hours -
National Museum of Singapore: https://www.nhb.gov.sg/nationalmuseum/our-programmes/programmes-list/night-fest-2023?sc_lang=en
Peranakan Museum: https://www.nhb.gov.sg/peranakanmuseum/whatson/programmes/singapore-night-festival-2023
Children’s Museum: https://www.nhb.gov.sg/childrensmuseum/whatson/activities/snf2023---open-house
Other free events to check out at the Singapore Night Festival 2023
A Date With Tradition
Collaborate on a community batik project or watch a Malay dance company and Chinese chamber ensemble collaborate on a performance in these two nights of programmes dedicated to traditional arts.
Where: Stamford Arts Centre, 155 Waterloo Street
When: Aug 25 and 26, 5 to 11pm
Projection mapping works at Chijmes
Gaze at three projection-mapping works adorning the facade of Chijmes by artists Ashley YK Yeo, Sadiq Mansor (also known as 249.png) and Chris Chai (also known as Cosmicchai).
Where: Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street
When: Friday to Aug 26, 7.30pm to midnight
Garden City by Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ
This hour-long choral programme promises tunes from the likes of composers Joseph Haydn and Johann Sebastian Bach.
Where: Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, A Queen Street
When: Aug 26, 8.30pm
Admission: Free, on a first-come-first-served basis
The Social Post at SMU Arts Fest 2023
Catch these curated music and dance performances at the main festival village, with acts that take inspiration from Singapore Night Festival’s theme and celebrate Singapore’s growth as a thriving digital hub.
Where: SMU Campus Green, 81 Victoria Street
When: Friday, Saturday, and Aug 25 and 26, 7 to 10.30pm
The Lost Cities Series: Kampong Port Cities Of The Pre-colonial Era
Visit an exhibition curated by The Oval Partnership which explores pre-colonial urbanism in Asia and includes works by artists Zen Teh, Marc Nair and Gilles Massot.
Where: Atrium, Fort Canning Centre, 5 Cox Terrace
When: Friday to Oct 1, 10am to 6pm (weekdays), 10am to 10pm (weekends)
Cue. (2023, August 16). 7 things to do at Singapore Night Festival, from disco roller skating to food tours. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/life/arts/7-things-to-do-at-singapore-night-festival-from-disco-roller-skating-to-food-tours