ONG KENG SEN - Biography


Artistic director of TheatreWorks in Singapore for the last fifteen years, Ong Keng Sen is an active contributor to the evolution of an Asian identity and aesthetic for contemporary performance in the 21st century. Keng Sen studied intercultural performance with the Performance Studies Department at Tisch Schools of the Arts, New York University, and holds a law degree.

His belief in the juxtaposition of different art forms and cultural styles has helped him create his own epic performance style of directing. In 1994, Keng Sen conceptualized his most important work, The Flying Circus Project, a laboratory project that brings together traditional and contemporary Asian artists from the fields of theatre, music, dance, video, visual arts and ritual who work together on projects that explore the concepts of reinvention, cultural negotiation and the politics of interculturalism.

From this experience, he initiated a new network for Asian artists to dialogue and engage with each other in 1999, known as the Arts Networks Asia (ANA). The Arts Networks Asia has held major regional Asian artist meetings in Shanghai (2000) and Hanoi (2002). In 2002, he embarked on a new Asian arts exchange project in Laos engaging with the local youths, elder artists and international Asian artists called The Continuum Asia Project (CAP).

Notable Keng Sen productions in Singapore include Destinies of Flowers in the Mirror, an interdisciplinary production that brought 300 audience members into a large fountain for each performance and the Descendants of the Admiral Eunuch which explored political castration in Singapore. His "docu-performances" pieces that explore today's Asia through history and confrontation of self include Broken Birds, Workhorse Afloat, and The Spirits Play-6 Movements in a Strange House (retitled Dreamtime in Morishita Studios for its November and December 2001 Tokyo stagings).

He directed the Tokyo premiere of Lear in 1997, which then went on to tour eight cities in Asia, Europe, and Australia, including a performance at Berlin's Theater der Welt 1999. His Shakespeare-inspired trilogy included Desdemona premiering at the Adelaide Festival, Australia in 2000 and Search:Hamlet (Denmark, 2002) at the Kronbourg Castle in Elsinore, and Copenhagen for the Asia-Europe Forum.

Directing credits in the United States include The Silver River (Spoleto Festival, Charleston, 2000; New Music Theatre Festival, Philadelphia, 2001, Singapore 2001) for The Lincoln Center Festival in New York City in July 2002; A Language of Their Own, which he directed at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre (New York Shakespeare Festival, 1995), and The Continuum: Beyond the Killing Fields, a docu-performance on a 70 year old classical dancer, Em Theay, from Cambodia who survived the mass killings of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge (International Festival of Arts and Ideas, New Haven, 2001; Singapore, 2001; Berlin 2002, Vienna 2003 and Rotterdam 2003).

In 2003, Keng Sen created a work that premiered in Vienna in April. It is entitled The Myths of Memory, which included The Continuum; and a new piece with Austrian and German performers based on the ongoing Milosevic trails. He developed The Global Soul - The Buddha Project which premiered in June 2003 in Berlin and Singapore. The Global Soul is a meditation about travel - time travel, travels in our imagination, travels in our heart, travels to find the meaning of life, travel in our memory, normal travel for business, for leisure. It embraces the tales of Buddha, jet lag, airports, global currency, butoh, liyuan opera, Korean court songs and a contemporary soundscape. The production also completed its European tour to Zurich and Rotterdam recently.

Keng Sen is curator and co-artistic director of In Transit, an annual three-week festival in Berlin that debuted in June 2002. The Flying Circus Project made its first European appearance at the festival. A Fulbright Scholar, he was recently artist-in-residence at the New York University Asian Pacific and American Studies Programme/Institute. In addition, he serves on the International Council of The Asia Society of New York and has been the recipient of fellowships from the Japan Foundation, the British Council, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Berlin and the Asian Cultural Council (New York).

He is the first Singapore artist to have received both the Young Artist Award (1992) and the Cultural Medallion Award (2003) or Singapore.