Standard Chartered Arts in the Park Mardi Gras hits HK with classical music theme

By John Kang

One of the city's largest visual and performance arts festivals is back, and this year the theme is a bit more challenging

By John Kang |

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A group of HKYAF volunteers and students with a Scheherazade-inspired giant puppet.

Hong Kong's biggest arts carnival, Standard Chartered Arts in the Park Mardi Gras (AIP), is set for a weekend of art-filled fun on November 14 and 15 at Victoria Park.

The event showcases the talent of thousands of artists, including Hong Kong students, through colourful costumes and giant puppets (some as tall as 3.7 metres). Last year, the AIP attracted more than 80,000 visitors, even with the Occupy protests going on (120,000 people came in 2013). There are also performances and workshops, but the highlights are the Grand Finale Parade and the Night Parade, during which giant puppets will be paraded through the park.

There's a theme every year, and this year it's classical music.

"Two years ago, we focused on art movements and art history, and last year was all about science, so this year we decided to do music, specifically classical music," says Lindsey McAlister, founder and artistic director of the charity Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF), which organises AIP.

"It might seem a bit abstract, especially when you have to turn something you hear into a visual piece of art or a performance, but as this is our 15th year presenting AIP, we wanted something that is both an inspiration and a bit more of a challenge!"

Western classical music is something that is still unappreciated by many young Hongkongers. By bringing to life some of the classics, McAlister hopes to show both the participants and audiences how the pieces earned their place in the art world.

Only five pieces of music could be selected for the event. The chosen ones were: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (1001 Arabian Nights), which was selected for its ability to inspire memorable scenes and characters, like Aladdin's Genie. Camille Saint-Saen's Carnival of the Animals was chosen for its humour and lightheartedness (so much so that it was published after his death because the composer didn't want his reputation as a serious artist to be tainted). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute earned a spot for the way it portrays beautiful scenes and colourful characters. Maurice Ravel's Mother Goose Suite (which inspired fairytales such as Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast) was chosen for its striking harmonies, and Igor Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale for the moral reminder that no one can have it all.

"We have a mix of composers from different eras and different countries, so the artwork you will see and the sounds you will hear will be very diverse," says McAlister.

The five classical music pieces will be used as inspiration and interpreted for artworks like gigantic puppets, rod puppets, dramatic costumes, dance pieces and even a mandala (an Indian symbol representing the universe) exhibition.

"I love all of it, but I'm personally really looking forward to The Lantern Company's artwork," says McAlister. "They are the world-renowned group from Britain whom we've been collaborating with for the past two years [ever since we introduced the Night Parade] and they create the most fantastic 3.6m-tall illuminated puppets!"

The artworks were created by the collective efforts of around 3,500 students from both local and international schools all over the city.

"One of our professional artists Candice Keung has already gone into two schools this summer. She's gone into Concordia Lutheran School and worked with a group of teenagers, and with 10- to 11-year-olds at Alliance Primary School," says McAlister.

"For each school, she'll first design a costume or parade concept that is inspired by the theme. Then she'll show the students how to make the artwork."

But Keung's work doesn't end there.

"After creating all the artwork, the students actually then wear their costumes or puppets, and practise how to parade with them," McAlister explains. Then, they come in with their costumes and are part of our 650-people Grand Finale Parade through Victoria Park!"

Arts in the Park is a free event, check the HKYAF website for updates and other art events.