Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep

OzAsia Festival
Dunstan Playhouse 28-29 October

To fully appreciate this perfomance it is helpful to be familiar with John Cage’s radical philosophy of sound. Music can be found in disparate sounds, created on everyday objects such as tin cans,  or passing traffic, as well as his prepared piano, where the strings are augmented with metal bolts, bits of plastic and sundry items. Margaret Leng Tan first played the music of John Cage when she was a student at Julliard. Later she came to work closely with him, and the story of how this evolved is an important part of her narrative.

While she  began by playing on a conventional piano, later to become a  version of the prepared piano, the toy piano also featured  strongly in her performance, and she is now known as a virtuoso on this instrument. Toy pianos originated in Germany during the mid-19th century for children, but have become musical instruments played by serious musicians. Margaret Leng Tan describes it as an avant-garde musician’s dream and released a cd The Art of the Toy Piano in 1997. One famous example of how the toy piano is taken seriously is John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano composed in 1948.

Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep draws on these influences, but Margaret Leng Tan has then given it the stamp of her own musical authority. Counting plays an important part, linked to the music which is, in turn, linked to the images and graphics cast on the back wall of the stage in a large rectanglular space which continues along the floor. The overall impression is that the music is causing the images to unfold, as they are so closely linked. Important, also, are the images of John Cage, and finally one of Margaret as a small girl which grows and swells to inhabit the whole lit area of the stage. As a child she learned piano, violin and ballet – perhaps the child of a dragon lady – but eventually concentrated on piano which became her career. She is a dominating figure on stage, touching on a number of subjects, in the same way that Cage’s music calls on diverse sounds, and she is always interesting.

This peformance is the collaboration between Singaporean and Australian artists, including composer Erik Griswold, director Tamara Saulwick and dramaturg Kok Heng Leun. It is a performance which epitomises the concept of an OzAsia festival, innovative, challenging and absorbing

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