Another reason to visit Malaysia’s new hub of cultural cool.
Penang’s George Town might be widely known for its Unesco World Heritage-listed streetscape. But in recent times it’s also emerged as the crucible of an artsy, modern Malaysia, home to funky street art amid the traditional Chinese shophouses, and versatile exhibition spaces showcasing avant garde art, film, music and dance. Throw in more than a few boutique guesthouses and you’ve got a recipe for one of Asia’s most inventive and diverse arts communities.
The Georgetown Festival is the embodiment of this new-found cultural cool. About to roll out its seventh edition from 29 July to 28 August this year, the event converts George Town into a giant canvas, inviting artists from diverse fields like theatre, dance, circus, puppetry and many more to regale visitors in a month-long celebration.
Inaugurated in 2010 to commemorate the George Town area being awarded its UNESCO World Heritage site tag, the Festival has no central theme, instead offering a platform for all kinds of diverse art forms. It’s primary focus, according to director Joe Sidek, is to promote arts in the local and regional community and make culture accessible to all. Which is why tickets are kept affordable and a large majority of the events are free. Every year, GTF also funds community and student tickets to encourage the love of arts in the local Malaysian community, with more than half the shows are by local and regional performers.
Some of this year’s highlights include:
- Missing – a series of extraordinary images, jaw-dropping choreography and a tantalising multilingual vocal landscape from award-winning UK dance theatre company Gecko;
- Kaash – an award-winning contemporary dance production from world-renowned dancer and choreographer, Akram Khan together with internationally celebrated sculptor Anish Kapoor and composer Nitin Sawhney;
- Chekara – a performance of flamenco and the Andalusian music of Morocco known as al-ala, which originated in the courts of Seville, Granada and Córdoba during the Golden Age of Al-Andalus;
- Svara Bhumi – the official opening act of the George Town Festival this year, featuring one of Australia’s leading aboriginal bands, the Black Arm Band, as well as other indigenous bands from New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia as a tribute to music from the region;
- Pearl of the Eastern & Oriental – a play commissioned by Lim Yu-Beng and Tan Kheng Hua and staged on-site the present day E&O Hotel, which is the second of a trilogy of odes to Penang told through an enchanting tale of a young lady butler, Pearl.
- Moved by Padi – a multi-arts collaborative project led by Malaysia’s leading choreographer and dancer Aida Redza, presenting a contemporary reinvention of rituals and communal celebrations honouring the spirit of paddy and rice as a source of existence and self.
- Smashed – a sensational hour-long mix of circus and theatre exploring the dark art of juggling from the UK.
- All That Fall – a multi-layered black comedy and a murder mystery with a quasi-musical score, originally a radio play written by Samuel Beckett and first broadcast in 1957.
This year’s festival is expected to attract over 400,000 people to almost 50 events, performances and exhibitions across the month, making it the biggest so far.
“Affordable, accessible, public; this is what we aim for with our events,” says Sidek, who hopes the George Town Festival will continue to lure visitors to the Malaysian island state, and cement his home town as Malaysia’s undisputed cultural hub.