Is Macao a place to visit when it comes to fine arts and culture? Most definitely. Macao, located on the south-east coast of China, is a special administrative region of the country. For 27 years, Macao has been hosting the annual month-long Macao Arts Festival (MAF), which is packed with international and homegrown theatre, dance, music, visual art and even circus events.
The recently concluded MAF, which featured 27 programmes, was divided into seven categories (thematic highlights, groundbreakers, cross-disciplinary creations, family entertainment, quintessence of tradition, concerts and exhibitions).
The highlight from this year’s festival, which ran from April 30 to May 29, was the commemoration of the 400th death anniversaries of William Shakespeare and Ming Dynasty’s famed Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu.
The Bard’s romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by US-based Shakespeare Theatre Company and one of his most-beloved tragedies Macbeth, performed by Third World Bunfight from South Africa in operatic style, opened and closed the festival respectively.
Although the MAF performances might be over, some programmes such as the visual art exhibitions are still on in Macao.
One to look out for is the Macao Annual Visual Arts Exhibition 2016 – Western Media Category. If you are keen on contemporary art from Macao, this annual event is worth an investigation. Featuring a total of 83 artworks by 60 local artists, the exhibition at the Old Court Building along Avenida da Praia Grande is dedicated painting, photography, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, mixed media, installation and video.
Organised by the Cultural Affairs Bureau, the exhibition is open daily, except on Mondays and admission is free. From the 83 artworks on display, 10 were selected to receive the region’s Award of Distinction.
One of the artworks, The Ruins Of St Paul’s No.1 by Mak Kuong Weng, is simply breathtaking. The oil on wood painting presents a dramatic view of the front facade of Macao’s iconic St Paul’s church, a 17th-century Portuguese church. The church was consumed by fire in 1835. The front facade and the grand stone stairs are the only remains of the church.
Botched marks on the left side of the painting form dramatic clouds. Interestingly, the artist intentionally left some faded segments to the painting, giving it a sepia tone effect.
Another exhibition to check out is Edgar Degas – Figures In Motion at the MGM Art Space. Held in collaboration with Le French May, an annual arts festival which promotes French art and culture in Macao and Hong Kong, the exhibition runs till Nov 20.
Degas was a 19th century French artist known for his fascination with motion, especially dance. More than half of his works depict dancers. He is also famous for his paintings of horses and bathing women. What’s fascinating about this Degas exhibition in Macao is that it features 74 bronze sculptures which were never intended for public display.
These sculptures of horses, dancers and bathing women have also never been shown in Asia before.
Edgar Degas – Figures In Motion is curated by Dalit L. Durst from the Paris-based M.T. Abraham Foundation for Visual Arts.
As the story goes, Degas himself sculpted these figurines to help him paint more realistically and proportionately. For art enthusiasts and the curious types, this is a rare chance to glimpse the inner workings of Degas’ brilliant mind and study his work process.
One of Degas’ sculptures, which received flak from Parisian art connoisseurs when he was alive, is the Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer. Standing one-metre tall, the bronze recast displayed in this exhibition shows a ballerina, wearing a corset and a tutu.
The original sculpture was made of wax and had a wig of real hair. Her unsophisticated look did not impress the Parisian elite class of that time, earning the “dancer” scathing nicknames like “monkey” and “opera rat”.
If art exhibitions are not your cup of tea, you might want to head over to entertainment resort City of Dreams and catch the spectacular The House Of Dancing Water (HDW). Directed by Belgian theatre director Franco Dragone, whose previous stints include Cirque du Soleil and several Las Vegas shows, the HDW is touted to be the world’s biggest water-based entertainment show.
This 70-minute fantasy saga premiered in Sept 2010 and has been running since, making it one of Macao’s largest tourist attractions.
The magic of the show begins from the moment you step into the purpose-built state-of-the-art theatre. Set in a circular chamber, the seats surround a stage pool that holds 14mil litres of water, equivalent to five Olympic-sized swimming pools.
You would expect a Mosasaurus from a Jurassic World to leap out of that pool.
For atmosphere, blue lights played across the surface of the water while soothing erhu melodies echoed through the theatre. Then the lights went down, the house announcements were made and a magnificent score began, signalling the start of the show.
Immediately, you knew this would be an unforgettable treat.
Gleaned from Asian and Chinese mythologies, the HDW is an epic love story between the Stranger and the Princess of a mythical land. But as any fantasy story goes, the princess’s evil stepmother stands in their way and plans to replace the princess with her own son on the dead king’s throne. With no dialogue, the tale is driven by stunning action, soaring scores, spellbinding lighting and spectacular acrobatics.
The jaw-dropping fight sequences and touching romantic scenes will keep you glued to your seats.
Macao might be more famously known as “The Las Vegas of the East” but my recent media trip – in search of the arts – proved that there is much more to this region than grand hotels and casinos. The colonial buildings, ancient Chinese structures, museums and exhibitions will definitely whet your appetite for culture, arts and history.
This media trip was sponsored by the Macao Government Tourism Office.