Artistic Director - Dr. Ong Keng Sen
Dr. Ong Keng Sen is the Artistic Director of T:>Works where he has created much of his groundbreaking art. He is an artist-curator and a scholar of performance. His approach to traditional arts of Asia in contemporary arts is grounded in his studies of transcultural performance with the Performance Studies Department at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, where he graduated with a Ph.D. in 2019.
His intellectual girth is further enhanced with a law degree from the National University of Singapore. In 1999 to 2019, he initiated a network for Asian artists to encourage intra-Asian engagement, known as the Arts Network Asia (ANA). This received an endowment from the Ford Foundation for its sustained collaboration across borders in the arts and cultures of Asia. He has led T:>Works since 1988.
Keng Sen has made his career as a performance director with sensitivity towards weaving traditional Asian arts into contemporary creation since 1993, exploding on the international stage with the seminal Lear which juxtaposed noh theatre, Beijing opera, Javanese gamelan and Sumatran randai (premiered Coccon Theater, Tokyo, 1997). His specialty has been the ability to negotiate diverse traditional arts of Asia bringing the best traditional performing artists together in one performance with contemporary arts of all kinds from film to dance to pop to plastic arts to music. Hence, he has actively contributed to the evolution of Asian positions in performance, as well as the subsequent transglobalisation of the Asian aesthetic into contemporary arts.
His collaboration with Asian artists was demonstrated in two productions in 2016, one within a singular tradition and the other bringing many Asian traditions together in a contemporary expression. Trojan Women recently with the National Theatre Of Korea where he collaborated with pansori artists, including the national treasure Ms Anh Sook San as well as contemporary musician Jung Jae Il (composer of the film “Parasite”), took Seoul by storm. It was sold out in LIFT London, Holland Festival Amsterdam, Festwochen Vienna, representative of his philosophy that tradition can again be relevant.
A few months prior to this, he bought kabuki, kyogen and Balinese shadow puppetry together with electronic music to make a queer Sandaime Richard (Richard III) which opened in Shizuoka World Theater Festival and then toured to Singapore, finishing with a successful month long tour in Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and 4 other regional cities, proof that transcultural theatre can both be cosmopolitan and also local.
Other productions involving traditional arts of Asia include Indian kathakali and the 1000-year-old Sanskrit theatre kudiyattum-based Desdemona (premiered Adelaide Festival 2000), Search Hamlet with Balinese mask performance, Thai classical khon dance, Malaysian silat martial arts, and Japanese butoh, (premiered Kronborg Castle, Denmark, 2002), Geisha with Japanese classical dance nihon buyoh (commissioned by Lincoln Center, New York City, 2006), noh theatre and virtuosic pipa music in Lear Dreaming (Theatre de la Ville, Paris, 2015) and his documentary production which has travelled the world from 2001- 2012 ending in the Panorama Festival, Rio de Janeiro, starring the legendary classical Cambodian prima donna Em Theay. This production, The Continuum: Beyond The Killing Fields, looked at the life of a classical dancer from the palace to the cultural revolution of the Khmer Rouge / Pol Pot till today.
His work is transdisciplinary with a focus on reperforming archives. His documentary performance work includes Open Secrets, the direct creation from the then ongoing Milošević trials in The Hague for Schauspielhaus Vienna (2003). His opera directions include Spoleto Festival USA where he directed an interpretation of Michael Nyman’s Facing Goya (2014). He has also exhibited in the Yokohama Triennale 2005 where he showed The Flying Circus Project (Special Edition): The School Of Politics. Festivals and venues which have presented his productions include Edinburgh International Festival, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Center National de la Danse Paris, Theater der Welt Berlin, Hamburg Kampnagel, Landestheater Linz (European Cultural Capital 2009), Rotterdam Schouwburg, Oslo Dansenshus, Stockholm Dansenshus, Zurich Theater Spektakel, Roma Europa Festival Rome, Grand Theatre de la Ville Luxemburg, Idans Festival Istanbul, Melbourne Festival, and Hong Kong Arts Festival.
In 1996, Keng Sen conceptualised and curated The Flying Circus Project, a laboratory that brought together international artists from the fields of visual arts, video, documentary, new media, performing arts, as well as philosophers, literary specialists, and "new ritualists” forming alternative universities in diverse local contexts. Beyond Singapore, he has enabled this in Luang Prabang, Laos; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Phnom Penh/Siem Reap, Cambodia; and Yangon/Mandalay, Myanmar. Further, he has developed this curatorial research, process and discourse work with Dasarts, Amerdam; Tanzquartier Vienna; Goteborg Dance and Theatre Festival; Kiasma Helsinki; Connection Barents, Kirkenes Norway; European Cultural Foundation, Amsterdam; a:pass Antwerp in the Nu Festival, Tallin (European Cultural Capital 2011); Summer Institute, The Kitchen, New York City. In Singapore, he curated the Night Festival 2010 for the National Museum as well as the Singapore Season at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.
SINGAPORE NIGHT FESTIVAL 2010
He founded the In-Transit Festival in Haus der Kulteren der Welt in Berlin from 2001-2003 and the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2013-2017. Since 2018, he has conceptualised the International Curators Academy in Singapore, as well as the Young Curators Academy in Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin.
He teaches masterclasses in practice, curation, dramaturgy, and post-graduate theoretical courses. He has taught in UCLA (where he was Regents Lecturer), New York University (where he was Artist-in-Residence at the Asia/Pacific/American Institute), the University of Amsterdam Masters of International Performance Research Programme (2011 and 2012). He was also Adjunct Professor with the National University of Singapore for many years, having started the theatre studies programme there in 1992. An important part of his work is with emerging artists, such as the mentorship programme for the Spielart Festival Munich and his curation for Goethe Institute of Sri Lanka in Colombo. He also actively participates in lecture and conference programmes with keynotes.