It’s easy to see how one art form can inspire another—or even amalgamate to provide a new sensorial experience. In essence, Project Plait: A Samsui Love Story, staged as part of this year’s Singapore Food Festival programme, does just that, combining the creative storytelling of modern dance and the artful complements of a five-course modern Singaporean meal.
“Many people feel that contemporary dance is too abstract or hard to understand, and so I wanted to create something that would make dance-watching an engaging experience for everyone, regardless of whether they are dance or arts enthusiasts or not,” shares Naomi Tan, the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts-trained dancer and choreographer who broached the idea of combining food and dance.
“The stars aligned, and I will always be so grateful to have met Chef Nixon Low—we share a common passion for wanting to create new experiences for guests and push the boundaries of what we can achieve with our respective crafts.”
And there were challenges, shares Low, who is the executive chef (Western Cuisine & Concepts) at Tung Lok Group. He highlights, in particular, the task of finding links and balance between the dance pieces and the dishes.
Tan is the main driver of A Samsui Love Story, while Low's aim is to portray the message through the food, making adjustments and tweaks on his end, as she would as well.
The story takes guests back to 1937 and tells the story of a Samsui woman who falls in love with a satay hawker who also works for the British government as a spy.
The menu is also “a secret”, so the only dish Low could reveal as an example of this unique collaboration is the Nonya Otah Scotch Egg. “The male character in our story is a Peranakan who spent a part of his life studying in Britain before returning to Singapore,” he explains. “In this particular scene, he wanted to woo the female character by cooking something for her, and having both Peranakan and British influence, we thought a fusion of both cuisines would work best.”
Entertaining The Senses
It might seem straightforward, but Tan’s trust that the two disciplines complement each other is based on a trained understanding of the human sensory system.
“When we watch a dance performance, our visual and audio senses are usually fully engaged, but our senses of touch, smell and taste—not so much,” Tan clarifies. “With the dining experience [added in], all these other senses are fully awakened, and it becomes a truly multi-sensorial experience.
“Instead of using just two senses to follow a story, guests now use all five senses to immerse themselves in our show's theme, concept, and storyline.”
Both the food and dance provide and add context to each other, she continues, affirming that the collaboration's aim is to offer guests “different gateways to understanding the common theme”.
Those who have experienced a dinner and a show event will appreciate this unique synergy, but the other challenge with this immersive adaptation—sans the conventional stage setting—lies in delivering a harmonious experience. “Usually, I have to be mindful of the general structure of the menu—beginning with starters, then the mains, ending with dessert,” Tan says. “Sometimes, though, I would have an idea for a dance piece, but its corresponding dish would not fit well in its position within the menu.” She explains that this was part of the creation process, where she and Low would go back and forth with their ideas, eventually finding a way to put on “a seamless show that flows between the dance and the food”.
Project Plait: A Samsui Love Story is being held at Caldwell House Alcove @ CHIJMES, 30 Victoria Street #02-04/05 | July 17 to 20 July at 7.30pm
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