By Adeline Chia, Arts Reporter
Deep in the MacRitchie Reservoir nature reserve, there lies an abandoned Shinto shrine built during World War II.
It is now in ruins and to get there, you need to make a five-hour journey, including a trek through dense jungle and wading through chest-deep water.
This mysterious monument is the inspiration for a multimedia production titled Reservoir, directed by Choy Ka Fai, the associate artistic director of TheatreWorks.
A stone cistern at the shrine
The show, which includes dance, text and video, will be on at the TheatreWorks' 72-13 space in Mohamed Sultan Road from Thursday.
The script is written by playwright Ng Yi-Sheng and the production stars Singapore performers Rizman Putra and Patricia Toh, as well as Japanese dancer Norico Sunayama, who is from dumb type, a multimedia collective.
The set is designed by Japanese architect and artist Jiro Endo, who splits his time between Bangkok and Tokyo.
Choy, 29, says he was drawn to the 'mystery and romance' of the shrine after stumbling upon it while doing research for a previous performance.
Last year's V.I.S.T.A. Lab saw the director and video artist delving into the forgotten things and events of Singapore.
He chanced upon the Syonan Jinga, a shinto shrine built in 1942 by Australian prisoners of war and Japanese craftsmen.
Intrigued, he roped in playwright Ng, 27, who had collaborated on V.I.S.T.A. Lab, to do additional research and to write the script.
They spent days poring over microfilms of the Syonan Sinbun, the Japanese daily published here during the Japanese Occupation from 1943 to 1945, and The Straits Times archives in the 1980s. And of course, they made trips to the shrine.
The production crew had to trek through waist-high water to get to the shrine. They held on to stumps in the water which are the remnants of a bridge that used to be there.
Their findings showed that there were high hopes pinned on the now-crumbling monument: it was envisioned as a spiritual and recreational centre for the Japanese empire.
It was also supposed to be the greatest shrine in the world after the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, and perhaps even a future venue for the Olympic Games.
But when they lost the war, the Japanese bombed the shrine. And now, what is left are fragments of the stone foundations, 94 steps leading up to the shrine and stumps of the broken bridge.
The Syonan Jinga will live again though, through Choy's production, which is split into three parts.
The first segment will introduce the shrine's history, which includes an imaginary opening ceremony to a sporting event, which refers to the shrine's Olympic dreams.
The second part will be more documentary-like, where Rizman and Norico present their thoughts about the space through words and movement.
Finally, Choy will make a light, sound and multimedia presentation to explore the meaning of a shrine.
He says: 'It will be more conceptual. It deals with the idea of a shrine, as a site we can reclaim, as a part of nature, and as a site we can meditate and revisit.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on August 25, 2008.
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