A Guide to Georgetown Festival 2016

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Beach Street… by Shireen Zainudin-Lowe

…at the corner of Armenian St, an explosion of  peoplerazzi excitably pointed their iPhones at a life-like mural depicting a perfectly ordinary Penang scene. This was my introduction to the George Town Festival in 2012.  Little Children On A Bicycle by Ernest Zacharevic was that year’s festival icon. The snapshots went viral. A star was birthed.

By George!

This is the alchemy at work at the George Town Festival. Proudly homegrown, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Overlay a strata of internationally lauded artistes and dust everything with the passion of the populace. It’s a magical concoction to sip, stir or submerge in. So roll up year 7 of the now globally trumpeted George Town Festival.  Calling out to you from 29th July through to 28th August this year. Here’s a checklist you might want to tick off all month ~ there’s culture, heritage and a rockingly welcoming community.

What To See

The festival programme encompasses installations and performances in art, design, photography, film, music, dance and drama. For those lucky enough to take up a month-long residence within the hallowed enclave (yes I’ve met several who do this every year!) there’s something of interest everyday. For the rest ~ here’s a selection I’m hoping to tick off my list.

#1. Strandbeest (Beach Beast)

These majestic multi-legged sculptures are the most stunning  interplay of artistry and technology. Created by (the allegorically flying) Dutchman Theo Jansen, these ethereal beasts are powered by gusts of wind as they ‘march’ across the installation space and into our cheering imaginations.

#2. Pearl Of The Eastern And Oriental

Another production from the hugely-gifted Singaporean husband and wife team of Lim Yu-Beng and Tan KhengHua, this site-specific drama brings us tales of ghosts, guests and the gorgeous at the E&O Hotel. This is the  second offering in a trilogy paying homage to Penang (Yu-Beng’s father’s place of birth). Having seen the critically-acclaimed first installment of his trilogy, 2 Houses, which played out so beautifully at the Soonstead Mansion in 2014, this may well be the hottest ticket.

#3. Moved By Padi

“What one cultivates, one consumes.” The growing of a rice field (oh my!) on Macallum Street began months ago as multi-arts collaborators set the organic staging for Malaysian dance-choreographer Aida Redza and her Japanese partner Mao Arata. Honouring the spirit of our rituals, I’m turning up with my packet of Nasi Lemak in a picnic basket.

Images Courtesy of George Town Festival 2016

Image Courtesy of George Town Festival 2016

#4. Kaash

Presenting the tour de force  Kaash (If Only) at the George Town Festival 2016 in its South East Asean debut, award-winning dancer, choreographer and director Akram Khan teams up with celebrated sculptor Anish Kapoor and composer Nitin Sawhney to revive his first full-length masterpiece. The NY Times extolled this blend of contemporary and classical Indian dance as “an exquisitely beautiful shifting tapestry of tightly sewn motion, light and dark.”

#5. Smashed

A glorious reinterpretation of theatrical juggling, traversing lost love and afternoon tea by the world-renowned Gandini jugglers.

Image Courtesy of George Town Festival 2016

Image Courtesy of George Town Festival 2016

Where To Stay

When in George Town where would one stay? There has been an explosion of boutique hotels  and guesthouses over the past few years. These top my list:

#1. 23 Love Lane

Really like living in your nyonya grandmother’s home. Your grandmother with fabulous taste in art of course. Just about the friendliest front desk staff in George Town and definitely the best afternoon tea served daily.

#2. Seven Terraces

Lacquered wood and genuine antiques from award-winning hotelier/owner Chris Ong’s private collection. The architectural genius in knocking seven shophouses through and creating that magnificent courtyard. Cool, elegant respite from the bustle on its doorstep.

#3. Jawi Peranakan Mansion

Newly opened and the latest in the Chris Ong stable of hotels, this is just the most delightful bijoux of a hotel. A tinkling fountain greets you in the courtyard as you slink farther into intricate latticework and silken Indian finery. The perfect weaving of opulence and intimacy.

#4. Clove Hall

Situated slightly beyond the heritage zone but worth mentioning for its privacy.  The pretty black and white colonial house is set within delicate green gardens. This is probably the best place if  you’re bringing kids.Even better book up the whole hotel and  take all 6 suites with family or friends.

#5. Macalister Mansion

Again just a little beyond the immediate heritage zone and again another black and white mansion. Though Macalister is quirkily contemporary within it’s grandiose colonial walls. Glass walled bathrooms, an impressive library and an excellent fine-dining restaurant.

Last Tip

Half the richness of experiencing the GTF is traipsing the “kaki lima” (the pedestrian walkways), getting lost and discovering the cornucopia of creative charm for yourself. Hidden installations, mysterious cafes, pop up ateliers, vintage retailers are just waiting to reveal themselves. One just needs to go forth and explore. So Happy Seventh George Town Festival. You really are the crucible of cool.

For further details, head over to Georgetown Festival

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