The 52nd HK Arts Festival .Feature

Garden of Repose: A Requiem for the Past

Text / Maychichi

Garden of Repose feels, at once, oppressive yet comforting. Following the traditions of Requiem narratives, the immersive choral concert aims to detach away from fear by dedicating prayers, not just to the dearly departed for peace, but also to those restless souls suffering in pain. For Sanders Lau and Ivanhoe Lam, this Requiem is dedicated to the past.

As the Music Director and Conductor of Garden of Repose, Lau came up with the idea of creating a repertoire from Requiems by various composers. Despite having to manage varying structures and musical languages, the combination of these choral works echoes a cohesive suite of emotions. Traditionally performed during funerals, these works are overflowed with religious sentiment, offering prayers for eternal peace. Yet, neither the living nor the dead can escape the final judgement. Even as the flames of the end of the world burn feverishly, the eternal light will shine on every soul in the end. From eternal death to eternal life, transcendence can be achieved through prayers and experiencing restless struggles. In Garden of Repose, you will discover that, rather than narratives, it is all about experiences.

"Requiems will inevitably touch on death," says Lau. "But curating the music for this production allows me to explore how we have to let go in order to experience growth. We have to embrace the death of our old self before we can find peace in the new."

Everyone grieves for pain at their own pace and rhythm. Based on this idea, director and choreographer Ivanhoe Lam has created a unique space for the audience and performers to experience this profound yet autodidactic journey together.

Garden of Repose offers a fluid spatial experience, creating an illusion of a restrictive and narrow space at times, and then suddenly, the space opens wide. This allows the audience to completely immerse itself in the performance and experience every heartbeat along the way.

As such, Garden of Repose symbolises the act of making any space we encounter a haven to repose peacefully. The performers' actions are also designed to provoke the onlooker's imagination, transporting them to the vast nature of a country park, travelling the world intuitively, or revelling in the blue skies and ocean at a holiday home.

Wherever the audience's imagination takes them, Lam hopes that it offers more than just a performance, but also an empowering experience to explore inner worlds as well. "It's important to give ourselves space to observe internally and embark on a self-discovery journey. Whenever we talk about Requiems, we always end up talking about the dead. But we also need a Requiem for our own lives because we have to confront our past every day. Whatever lies in the past is also a type of death. So, we need to contemplate if we're allowing ourselves to appease our own souls."

Life is cyclical, and death is an inevitable part of it. But we can always take a break, take a deep breath, and steadily move on. This cyclical notion is echoed through the only vocal piece repeated in the performance—Da pacem Domine composed by Arvo Pärt. When it is first sung, the Latin prayer seems to initially plead for peace from God. However, the repeated version is performed in a different tempo and articulation, as if the singers are offering a renewed perspective of the world, once again seeking peace through their prayers. In the repeated version, the singers' tone of voice also sounds more affirmed than before as if they have finally found peace from within. As a result, Garden of Repose also questions how we can learn to uphold our beliefs as we embrace the lightness of hope in our feathers.

Garden of Repose—a Multimedia Choral Concert

Date: 3-10 Mar 2024

Venue: The Box, Freespace, West Kowloon Cultural District