Stage & Screen

What To Look Out For: Kakilang Festival 2023, London

Thinking of visiting the biggest East and South East Asian arts festival in London this spring? Daniel York Loh, Kakilang Festival's associate artistic director, takes us through five things all prospective visitors can look forward to.
All photos courtesy of Fourth Wall PR.
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What To Look Out For: Kakilang Festival 2023, London

1. The stories of migration, the stories of our world

‘Kakilang’ means ‘our people’ and is tinged with an ‘aching for home’. This theme reverberates through the entire festival. And it’s packed with powerful stories from South East and East Asian diaspora experience.

Our Festival opener, HOME X, which is a visual/aural/physical/gaming-meets- theatre feast for the senses, reaches its central note with real-life testimony of migrant heritage experience related by community participants. What An-Ting and the Home X team have done is
place people’s stories, as told by themselves, right in the centre of the overall story. It’s astonishing.

Elsewhere we have "my every dollar is a soldier/with money you’re a dragon", our award-winning spoken-word rap, which we’ll perform live for the first time in the evocative setting of Two Temple Place, and which juxtaposes the stories of the first Chinese settlers in London, who were incredibly impoverished immigrants, with the story of the original owner and designer of Two Temple Place, William Walldorf Astor, and takes in so much American and Chinese history as well as questioning the whole tenet of ‘Chinese identity’ – all set to incredible music performed live.

Two Temple Place is also the setting for the State-less 無國界 exhibition, curated by Kakilang Associate Artistic Director Ling Tan, which features no less than 10 diverse East & Southeast Asian heritage artists presenting urgent and searching work asking what it means to have a complex identity, influenced by background as well as country of origin, how East and South East Asian heritage can engage
politically, and how it can challenge the wider public.

Jo Fong and George Orange’s The Rest of Our Lives faces mortality but with as much joy as you could ever imagine possible (at Shoreditch Town Hall), Emmy The Great’s specially commissioned song cycle (also at Shoreditch Town Hall) explores both her Hong Kong past and her British present.

All the work in our Festival interrogates and riffs on ‘identity’ – a subject which risks being perceived as didactic, but it’s never so with such a vibrant line up of performers – and that’s before I even mention the riotous explosion of fun in the TASTE Queer Club/Cabaret Night and circus performers Hazel Lam and Lucia Palladino defying gravity and exploring the ‘power in gentleness’. Also check out Kerrica Kendall, an emerging young performer with a unique story to tell, in our Two Temple Place State-less 無國界 late events.

2. Astonishing physicality

I’ll begin where I nearly finished the last first category: with Light Vessel at Rich Mix by circus/dance performers Hazel Lam and Lucia Palladino which places feminine movement centre stage while meditating, with all the thrills of the circus, on power dynamics.

Kakilang is a multi-disciplinary arts company which means the diversity of art forms we’re able to offer is so wide-ranging, but also within those disciplines the diversity and breadth of what we’re bringing here is astonishing. I promise that you’ll never have seen anything like The Rest of Our Lives at Shoreditch Town Hall. Jo Fong and George Orange are physical clown performers par excellence and what they’ve created here is so joyous, so loving and so much pure fun that The Guardian described it as ‘a blueprint for happiness’.

Lusty Gaggle

The extraordinary movement artist and ‘special action performer’ Duane Nasis is part of the incredible TASTE line up at The Yard, while HOME X at the Barbican (only a very few tickets left for the live performances but you can join online) features two extraordinary dancers, Kakilang Associate Artistic Director Si Rawlinson in London and Suen Nam in Hong Kong, who physically create a powerful drama of roots and belonging, destruction and renewal working together in real time while being geographically on opposite sides of the planet.

There’s also Lousieanne Wong, a multi-discplinary physical performer whose work involves dance parkour, in our Two Temple Place
State-less 無國界 late performances

3. Music of migration, music of the world

As with our dance performers above, what we have in our Festival is a musical feast of breathtakingly diverse stylings. In terms of contemporary music, Emmy The Great is a major singer-songwriter of our era and I’m personally thrilled she’s chosen our Festival to move into a new phase of her journey as a musician and performer.

Emmy the Great © nononino

Emmy promises an evening of transformation as she juxtaposes the new five song cycle with her incredible back catalogue. The TASTE line up features the sensual sounds of South East and East Asian heritage artists Jason Kwan, Henjila, Ellauro, Phe Phe, as well as the amazing drag artist Lusty Lovelace along with DJs including the TASTE curator Princess Xixi.

Kakliang Artistic Director, An Ting 安婷, has not only created HOME X (believe me, there’s a section in the show where she and Hong Kong based soprano Collette Wing Wing Lam literally takes us into the heavens), but she has also created the luminous, groovy and achingly
melancholic soundtrack to "my every dollar is a soldier/with money you’re a dragon" which she performs live with two superlative classical Chinese instrumentalists, Cheng Yu and Wang Xiao.

Also check out violinist Midori Komachi, part of Two Temple Place State-less 無國界 extra performances.

4. Participation

Kakilang’s avowed mission is to involve our audiences and communities as much as possible and your opportunities to participate are unprecedented in this year’s Festival. For a start you can join the online world of HOME X from your own living room anywhere on the planet and be at the very centre of a drama where, led by unique actor/gamer Mia Foo, you can help build and preserve a
world… and even fly.

Rest of Our Lives © Catriona James

Without giving too much away, The Rest of Our Lives invites the entire audience to celebrate being alive in a way that is absolutely irresistible. We also have a community poetry workshop at Two Temple Place led by Christy Ku as well as a children’s event by the fabulous Orang Collectif where you can learn learn how to create imaginative puppets with recycled materials.

The Festival and Kakilang itself is about the artistic expression of so often disregarded and overlooked
South East and East Asian heritage creatives but we believe that artistic expression exists in all of us.

5. Innovation

Our company prides itself on its technical innovation which is why were so gratified to receive the Arts Council Digital Culture Award (Storytelling) for "my every dollar is a soldier/with money you’re a dragon" last year.

This Festival really pushes this and nowhere more so than in HOME X where the design work by Ian Gallagher and Donald Shek is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Hazel Lam is not only an astonishing circus performer but her use in Light Vessel of coils of PVC tubing to tackle physicality and boundaries is her ongoing exploration moving beyond traditional circus equipment.

A snapshot from Light Vessel

So much of our programme is also online as we want to reach people everywhere in the country and even in the world. Our ‘Kakilang’ is people who come together through art. And we want that to include you.

Kakilang Festival 2023 runs from 21 February – 23 April 2023. Tickets can be booked here.
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