Notes from an opportunistic observer

When Núria first asked Alice to play a game of five stones with her, the latter laughed and promised to practise.

The simple game between a Girona native and a “married to Tanglin Halt” resident was an attempt to engage and connect two individuals dissimilar in age, culture, ethnicity, native language and background. For the performance artist Núria, physical engagement through a game created a perfect, safe space to reach out to Alice, the local resident she was partnered with – of whom she arrived knowing nothing about except that once, there was a game she enjoyed in her youth.

“Five stones” later became a motif in the work that resulted, culminating in their joint performance one muggy Sunday under the pavilion of Blk 35A. By accident rather than design, Alice invited 3 other residents to join in a group game of five stones, making up (with Núria) a rather unexpected but lovely crew of five. Sitting on a recreated street map of the area on the pavilion floor, the five “stones” were a literal, poignant reminder that places are created by the community that inhabits them.

Núria performed twice – less a performance than an expression of both her longing to connect and the multiple frustrations and anxieties of repeatedly trying to do so over the past 4 weeks of her residency. She interprets her local hosts’ conversations over their game through movement, at times disjointed, jerky and fretful in moments of isolation; at other times, fluid, joyful and expansive during moments of breakthrough in connection.

Alice and the residents had a surprise up their sleeves. Moving into a Stonehenge-like circle, they started an acappella choral singing of the Chinese- language lullaby 世上只有妈妈(Mother is Best), to Núria’s delight. The latter’s appreciation was not merely for the gift of the song – it was a particularly touching choice given the recent bereavement of one of the singers in the group. This was later shared with Núria – a true connection through the offer of vulnerability.

Other Tanglin Halt residents passing through the pavilion on Sunday must have been surprised by the surreal scene of a red-haired, 6-foot-tall woman leaping, twirlingand pirouetting around 3 singing ‘aunties’ and a silent, shy child. The strangenes,however, is only aesthetic. Underneath the surface was an expanding notion of home,place and family.