By Claire Tan (20S07A) and Val Yeo (20S03O)
Photos courtesy of Jiang Jin Liang (19S06N) from Raffles Photographic Society
CLDCS’ (Chinese Language Drama and Cultural Society) 2019 production, titled 擦肩同行 (cā jiān tóng xíng), left many scratching their heads. What does it mean to “rub shoulders” with another and yet still walk the same path as them? The English title, “Voyage”, left further questions in its wake—how were the two titles related?
These questions would soon be answered in a dazzling display of the best CLDCS had to offer, delivered through drama, music and art. On the 24th of May at the Performing Arts Centre (PAC), two plays, ten songs and multiple calligraphy pieces were immaculately presented to make for an unforgettable showcase.
Calligraphy pieces had been put up outside the PAC for audience viewing before the show. While waiting for the doors to open, early birds filtered around the area, admiring the neatly written Chinese characters. The works featured a wide array of themes, including classical works such as “Untitled” by Li Shangyin, a Tang Dynasty poet, and more modern poems by 20th-century poets, like “偶然 (Coincidentally)” by Xu Zhimo.
Works such as “旅程 (Voyage)” by Wang Guozhen would take on new meaning once the entire showcase was over—a poem about living with passion would become a soothing balm to the bittersweet end of the first play. Others encapsulated feelings of love and longing, a perfect complement to the events that would soon transpire in the two plays to come.
The night officially kicked off with 擦肩 (cā jiān), or Rubbing Shoulders, a light-hearted romantic comedy about the love lives of three classmates. It follows Chenyu, played by Jowell Ling (19S07B), who is caught in a love triangle of sorts—his platonic affections for Xiaoxuan, played by Tay Wan Lin (20S03A), have been misunderstood, causing the person he truly likes, Fangyu (Lin Yutong, 20S03N), to distance herself from him.
The play drew many laughs from the audience with its multiple comedic moments, from poking fun at a character’s plight to its timely punchlines. Early in the play, Xiaoxuan attempts to use their horoscopes to justify her compatibility with Chenyu, but he innocently replies with “We can be (platonic) friends eternally!” instead. At such a blatant rejection of feelings, the audience couldn’t help but burst into laughter.
This humorous, innocent portrayal of love may have reminded one of a typical K-drama, foreshadowing an “all’s well that ends well” ending. And yet, the play interlaced this tale of young love with grounded reality. Life rarely offers second chances, and for Chenyu and Fangyu—due to the machinations of Xiaoxuan and a dose of bad luck—their window of opportunity closed. For them, there was no going back.
“人生别离不能常相见，经常像西方的参星和东方的商星一样此出彼没。” (“Seeing each other again upon parting is difficult, just like how the shen star from the west and the shang star from the east will never appear together.”)擦肩 (cā jiān) (Rubbing Shoulders)
The final scene was particularly poignant: the two ill-fated lovers stood on opposite ends of the stage, and as Chenyu took a step forward, Fangyu did as well, the two walking in circles around each other. Even though their relationship might have sunk, their lives would still continue. They would walk the same path of life, but they would never face each other; they would see each other again, but it would not be in the way they both wanted.
Overall, this play managed to toe a fine balance between both comedy and tragedy, conveying the pain of parting and meeting again while still maintaining a distinct element of humour. Light-hearted moments were sprinkled throughout the earlier part of the performance, which subverted expectations and made the ending all that more stirring.
The second play, 同行 (tóng xíng), or Voyaging Together, follows an orphaned girl, Wenqi, played by Tang Mohan (19S06N), who faces multiple hardships in life. Despite having studied hard and made great improvements, teachers still berate her for her poor studies and attendance, and her only kin left—her sister—lashes out at her for a disappointing grade. Between trying to handle her studies and cope with the expectations of those who care for her, Wenqi slowly falls into depression, as she is left to face her demons alone.
The play tugs at our heartstrings as we watch Wenqi battle her internal struggles— alone on stage, surrounded by darkness and her self-deprecating thoughts. When she seeks out the help of a therapist, we watch her slowly crumble as she dissolves into tears, admitting that she had been crying often in recent days.
At this point in the play, a contemporary dancer, Wan Lin, features on-stage alongside the main character. The dancer seemed to personify the emotions of the main character in these heavily emotional scenes, dancing to portray raw emotions while the memories of the main character played in the background. The news report of her parents’ fatal car crash. Her classmates’ accusations of her being a ‘freak’.
And then, the voices of her friends, telling her: “Wenqi, 加油!” (You can do it!)
Thankfully, not all hope has been lost. As we watch Wenqi spiral deeper into depression, we also watch as the side characters—her sister, her psychiatrist, and the boy who likes her—try to help her get better in different ways. And eventually, she does. Wenqi makes up with her sister, and they exchange awkward “I love you”s. The boy who likes her also helps to celebrate her birthday, singing a song for her with heart-shaped balloons and party poppers, much to the delight of the audience. Perhaps this play is about how one person may not be able to journey down the road of life alone, because without the support of her family, friends and psychiatrist, Wenqi may not have gotten her happy ending.
The play is a success. And when the lights finally dim, the crowd cheers.
The CLDCS members, many previously unfamiliar with music, presented the audience with ten songs written entirely from scratch, each one bearing testament to the amount of effort that went into them.
A standout song was a duet by Wan Lin and Hui Xian (20S03R), whose song, “归来” (guī lái), featured touching, heart-rending lyrics such as “I will always keep my love for you / waiting for your return”. With crystal-clear harmonisation and smooth vocals, the duo had the audience humming and singing along to the chorus.
Another noteworthy performance was that of Wang Qiulin’s (19S03C) “薇甜” (wēi tián). He came on stage looking like a character out of a 90’s Taiwanese movie—baggy jeans, half-zipped jacket, and silver necklace to match. In between verses, he introduced the members of the live band behind him, making the atmosphere feel much more intimate.
All in all, the songs did not fail to impress the audience, having been painstaking crafted with love and care. The musical showcase ended with great applause, the audience having had the pleasure of experiencing so many heartfelt creations.
A voyage is a journey into the unknown, and though you might brush shoulders with someone, you may not go down the same road as them. With a beautiful fusion of calligraphy, music, and theatre, CLDCS had brought us yet again an introspective night.
All this would not have been possible, however, without great discipline and teamwork, with the members toiling for long hours to perfect every detail. In fact, their props reportedly went missing 10 days before the performance, and leading up to the showcase, the members of CLDCS often had to stay back in school till dark to redo the props. Even on the day of the showcase itself, there were members still trying to perfect the props. All this time and energy put into the showcase, however, was definitely worth it—as Joelle Kang (20S07A) recounted, “Through preparing for the concert, I have forged bonds with many in my CCA and that it feels very satisfying that the concert was a success.” CCA chairperson Jowell also commented that “[preparing for the showcase] was tiring, but everyone worked together well and did something [they] thought was impossible”.
And what a success it had been indeed. The marvellous, acting, singing and brushwork had come together to give the audience something greater to take away: a thought-provoking showcase on life as a voyage, and what it means to voyage on.