OPIUM - Caution! May Cause Addiction!

You catch a whiff of pie, school glue, newspaper, or fresh-cut grass and suddenly you’re immersed in a flurry of vivid memories, often from your childhood. What is it about smells that can trigger memories so strong and real it feels like you’ve been transported back in time? For HANDS’ artistic director, Bernard Goh, the stench of the recreational drug, Opium, sends him right back home to when his late grandfather was still around.

“My grandfather and I were close when I was growing up. The strongest memories I have of him are in the 70s when he used to help me with my school projects and at home. He was an opium smoker and grew dependent on it. But that’s not what I remember best about him. I remember him always wanting to impart his knowledge, especially to me being the eldest grandson in the family,” he shared.

“It was also during this time that I began to learn about France and all its fascinating art, culture, and beauty. My mother had a music box that played Edith Piaf’s 'La Vie En Rose'. I was intrigued and fascinated with Paris and I wanted to live there.”

Unfortunately, when he finally seized the opportunity to visit the city of his dreams, he was left disappointed, “It was not what I imagined it to be. I thought the city was dirty and smelly, and the people unfriendly,” he recalls. Although, he would later change his perception of Paris after several visits back.

“Despite not having a good first impression, I realized that there was a lot I have yet to discover,” he says. Opium’s multi-site approach reflects Goh’s exploration of Paris on foot, where it was through walking that he stumbled across delightful cafes and art galleries tucked away in back alleys and smaller streets.

“So just like how you explore a city, the audience will be walking around for the show. And in moving around to watch and explore, it will awaken different emotions,” he says.

Combining his love for the rich culture of France and the fragments of those memories, which are very strongly interconnected he leads this group of local and French artists in an artistic expression of perspective and choices, “This collaboration has brought about an unexpected view of life. It has made me realize that your own perspective of life is how you survive, how you stay happy!”

Making up the production are Mathilde Limal (Singer), Florian Antier (Cellist) and Anne Deguerry (Visual Artist) from France. From Malaysia are Bernard Goh, Wong Jyh Shyong (Dance), Ong Chia Koon (Calligrapher), Joe Chia (Fashion Designer), Yuan Leow Yunn (Arranger), Gideon Alu8khan Chen (Guitarist), Howz (Musician), Azli Taslim (Accordionist), Muji Lee (Installation Artist), Ng Siu Yee (Music Director) and the HANDS Percussion ensemble.

“Many would think that working with so many artists would cause a lot of conflict but I’ve been blessed with a group of artistes who are respectful of each other’s work and who are willing to lend their expertise and knowledge to fortify the performance,” he expressed. 

Immerse yourself in OPIUM at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) @ Empire Damansara from 26th – 31st July 2016, 8:30pm. Tickets can be purchased at RM128 from the DPAC Box Office or via telephone: +03-4065 0001 / +03-4065 0002.

This article was published on August 3, 2016 in the Malay Mail.