World Heritage at its finest…

Imagine a heritage city hosting an arts festival with exhibitions, dance and theatre at its every corner, and you might just be able to understand the wonder that is the George Town Festival in Penang, Malaysia.

George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has few performance halls, so its streets host amazing art exhibitions and thought-provoking site-specific installations, making for a truly memorable experience. The heritage city has many luxury and boutique hotels, some refurbished from Chinese mansions and clan houses with open sunroofs and carefully-preserved antique furniture. For an unforgettable experience, you can book a stay in Penang’s heritage E&O Hotel, a luxurious British-era hotel that has gained an iconic status in recent days.

The hotel will also be the stage for one of GTF’s most ambitious shows – the Pearl of the Eastern and Oriental.The GTF commissioned promenade-style show narrates the  enchanting tale of a young lady butler at The E&O Hotel as she goes about her job, in the company of ghosts and guests from the hotel’s past and present.Visitors will follow actors through the hotel as various scenes play out at different spots. This premium GTF show is one of the top-priced events at the festival.

One of the highlight shows in GTF this year is  Triptyque  by Canadian group Les 7doigtsde la main, who have performed at the 2012 Academy Awards and opening ceremony of Sochi Olympic Games. Triptyqueis a gripping drama with its combination of circus acrobatics, contemporary dance and theatre, as its performers ‘defy’ gravity at every turn.

GTF is proud to host co-founder of the iconic Burning Man Festival, Larry Harvey for a talk session in which he will be speaking about his interesting life journey and artistic inspiration. At the talk titled  Stories, Humanity and What About the Arts?  hewill be joined by prolific Cambodian directorRithyPanh, whose 2013 documentary Missing Picture  on the evils of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was nominated for the Academy Awards.Panhhas also teamed up with Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie for a project on the Pol Pot regime.

Not forgetting its local roots, GTF will present thehomegrown Moved byPadi  by leading Malaysian choreographer AidaRezda. The show is a mix of visuals, installations, music and dance celebrating the spirit of rice and paddy as a source of existence. It will be staged on a real paddy field cultivated in the midst of George Town.

Experimenting with time, space and music, Irish theatre group PanPanTheatre will present All That Fall  – a multi-layered composition of voices that can be experienced as a black comedy, a murder mystery, a cryptic literary riddle or a quasi-musical score. Originally a radio play written by Irish author and Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett, and first broadcast in 1957, the show is set in a uniquely atmospheric, theatrically-tuned listening chamber. Having performed in Dublin, London, New York and Sydney, its performance in George Town Festival will be the first in Asia.

If you find the tropical heat getting to you, chill out at any of the buzzing bars and pubs in George Town area. Enjoy dazzling night views of a twinkling Penang from The Press Rooftop Bar with a Martini in hand, as soft music and a cool breeze takes away your worries. You can dine king-style at 32@ the Mansion, set in a beautiful 1920s Italianate villa by thesea, thatserves Western food and Asian dishes along with delicious house specialties.

Your spirits suitably restored, tramp out to the Esplanade for the two-day A+SEAN showcase on the opening weekend that will feature some of the best acts from Australia and Southeast Asia. Coming all the way from Holland to mystify viewers are theStrandbeests(beach animals in Dutch) by Dutch scientist Theo Jansen. TheStrandbeestsare made only of PVCpipes and plastic bottles, but due to a unique feat of engineering, can ‘walk’ like mammals with the help of the wind. It is a truly mesmerizing spectacle to watch these giant creatures with ‘legs’ and ‘wings’ prancing along life-like.

The A+SEAN showcase will also include a concert featuring some of the best regional talents from Malaysia and Indonesia. Giant Snuff Puppets from Australia will intrigue and excite visitors as they enjoy a range of lifestyle creative crafts, a regional fashion show, photo kombi and many other exciting showcases.

This year, GTF’s opening show is  SvaraBhumi  (Songs of the Earth) – a tribute to the land and its people via indigenous music. The concert is a unique attempt to connect the dots between lands and the stories of its peoples through ancient music that has passed on from generation to generation.  One of Australia’s leading aboriginal bands, the Black ArmBandcomeswith a musical presentation forged from over 40,000 years of living with culture and now infused with contemporary styles. Performing with them will be New Zealander RiaHall  who was featured in Stan Walker’s 2014Aotearoa, a video to celebrate Maori Language Week.

They will be joined by multi-talented Indonesian artist AyuLaksmi, who combines eastern and western influences along with spirituality in her compositions and can sing infive languages, including Sanskrit; and Malaysia’s  AlenaMurang, performing thesape– a traditional lute instrument.SvaraBhumi also brings you the MahMeri, one of 18 ‘OrangAsli’ groups found in Western Malaysia; their expertly crafted wooden masks capture the ‘spirits’ of wild animals and guardian deities, giving their ceremonial music and dance an other-worldly feel – and providing us a traditional ritual for our opening show.

The festival will also host a number of intriguing site-specific installations that are sure to awe and amaze you.  French sculptorMatthieuRobert-Ortisis coming all the way from France to showcase his unique 3D wire sculptures that appear to change shape when you see them from different angles. A video of his famous Elephant x Giraffe sculpture has garnered more than 85 million views on Facebook.

The George Town Festival began in 2010, when the Penang government sought to commemorate the listing of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The state commissioned Mr Joe Sidek to commission the festival and he has not looked back since. With more than 100 arts and performing showcases, GTF provides a unique opportunity to catch some world-class shows without traveling to New York or London and also soak in some local culture.

For more information, please log on to  georgetownfestival.com