Singapore art, dance & traditional music

Due to its relatively young history and subsequent rapid modernisation, Singapore is perceived as having little genuine art and cultural heritage. This is a little unfair as cultural life is as varied as anywhere in Asia, due to its richly diverse ethnic makeup. It is without doubt the best place in the region to see Western-style performing arts such as opera or ballet, but also offers plenty of indigenous Malay, Indian and Chinese art.

Each individual ethnic group has kept alive artistic practises and traditional music and dance first introduced during colonial times, which is often blended with more contemporary Western values.

Since the mid 1960s, after independence, Singapore has had a vibrant visual arts scene with a raft of local artists gaining international recognition and exhibiting works around the world.

Singapore art galleries and exhibitions

Singapore art today is a blend of traditional crafts, such as time-honoured Chinese calligraphy and contemporary works which wouldn’t look out of place in any western modern art exhibition.

To get a thorough grounding in Singaporean visual art, there is nowhere better to start than at the Singapore Art Museum (Open: 10:00-19:00 (Monday–Sunday), 10:00-21:00 (Friday); Admission: adult/SGD$10, students and senior citizens aged 60/SGD$5; 71 Bras Basah Rd, MRT City Hall, tel: +65 6332 3222, website: www.singaporeartmuseum.sg). Housing a collection of over 10,000 works from Singapore and the Southeast Asia region, it showcases lots of esoteric modern paintings along with Chinese calligraphy art from the colonial era.

There is also a good deal of modern art to view while you shop. Several of Orchard Road’s modern malls have art exhibitions featuring the work of Singaporean artists and sculptors. There are numerous other permanent galleries and temporary art spaces throughout the city and a short wander through the back streets of Chinatown will encounter numerous boutique art galleries.

Music in Singapore

Musically, Singapore is just as eclectic.  High brow classical concerts come courtesy of Singapore Symphony Orchestra at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay (1 Esplanade Drive, tel: +65 6828 8377, website: www.esplanade.com) which also includes occasional free jazz and opera performances by the water’s edge.

There is a wide variety of operatic companies performing Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay and Indian shows at art centres across the city. It is also possible to catch Javanese dance shows, wayang kulit shadow puppet plays and gamelan musical performances from time to time.

There is a lively modern music scene in Singapore, attracting international stars from pop and rock. The island hosts a wide range of music festivals each year including the Mosaic Music festival (March 8-17, 2013showcasing electronica, Mandarin pop, folk, jazz and rock bands from home and overseas and the cutting edge Baybeats (June 28–30, 2013) for indie and rock music.

For lovers of ballet or modern dance, Singapore Dance Theatre offers showy productions with a diverse repertoire from the classics such as the Nutcracker to contemporary Asian ballet. For something a little smaller in scale, there are many ethnic dance companies such as Sri Warisan(Malay) and the Indian Bhaskar Academy of Arts.

Drama in Singapore and performance art

Singapore has many large concert halls and theatres that host regular artistic programs, but there are numerous community arts groups and centres offering a more rewarding insight into traditional art and performance. Waterloo Street Arts Belt comprises several professional companies specialising in music, dance, drama, sculpture and the visual arts.

Places such as the ACTION Theatre (42 Waterloo Street, tel: +65 6837 0842, fax: +65 6837 0843, email: info@action.org.sg, website: www.action.org.sg) and Dance Ensemble Singapore (60 Waterloo Street, tel: +65 6334 7192, fax: +65 6334 7193, email: desarts@des.org.sg, website: www.des.org.sg) offer intimate studio theatres and visitors can get involved with drama and musical workshops.

In addition to the annual music festivals mentioned above, Singapore has a full program of arts events which includes everything from international film festivals to a annual fortnight long celebration of fringe theatre. Occasions to look out for are the River Hong Bo festivalHuayi Chinese Festival of Arts and Chingay Parade which all take place simultaneously during the Chinese New year celebrations.

There is even the Child Size Arts Festival(each March) dedicated to pre-school children. To get a taste of what cultural diversity really means in Singapore, visit the Singapore Heritage Festival (mid August) which celebrates the city’s major ethnic cultures through art, music and drama.