04
March
2019
|
09:31
Europe/Amsterdam

The mathematics of art

Lauded theatre production A Disappearing Number starring (from left:) Pavan J Singh, Koh Wan Ching and Ramesh Panicker will be the festival’s opening act

The NUS Arts Festival, organised by the NUS Centre For the Arts (CFA), returns this March in a unique collaboration with NUS Mathematics, in celebration of the Department’s 90th anniversary.

Interfaculty collaboration and consultation featured heavily throughout the development of the 14th iteration of the festival, titled A Game of Numbers, involving staff and students from NUS Mathematics, Centre for Quantum Technology and NUS Japanese Studies. Senior faculty from NUS Mathematics advised the creative teams, and in some cases, directly collaborated with CFA’s Artistic Directors and student leaders in the development of theatre, dance and musical productions.

Director of CFA Ms Sharon Tan said, “It is a continuation of CFA’s efforts to integrate the arts into different aspects of learning and University life. The Festival gives us the opportunity to expose the students in our arts groups who come from various schools to areas of study they may otherwise not encounter and greatly broadens their perspectives through creative thinking.”

It is a continuation of CFA’s efforts to integrate the arts into different aspects of learning and University life. The Festival gives us the opportunity to expose the students in our arts groups who come from various schools to areas of study they may otherwise not encounter and greatly broadens their perspectives through creative thinking.

Lauded theatre production A Disappearing Number will be opening the Festival. Originally conceived and directed by English actor, writer and director Mr Simon McBurney and devised by British theatre company Complicité, this play contrasts the true story of G.H. Hardy, an eccentric mathematician best known for achievements in number theory and mathematical analysis and his mentee, Indian mathematics genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, with the relationship between a modern mathematics professor and a businessman she meets. This is the first time the play will be staged in Singapore.

“I think this is a perfect example of how the sciences and maths can come together in the creative arts and make a difference in the audience’s mind,” said award-winning Australian director Ms Edith Podesta who is helming the production with NUS Stage — the only English Language theatre group under CFA.

NUS Mathematics Professor Chan Heng Huat guided Ms Podesta and the cast through the mathematics involved in the production. One thing Ms Podesta learnt as part of the process was that “infinity is a mathematical concept”. “What does that mean? What would that look like? It took me four hours just to write out my list of questions [arising from the script] and then half an hour later Prof Chan sent me 23 pages of answers. Amazing!” she recounted.

“Without Prof Chan I don’t know how we could do this play,” Ms Podesta continued. “For me, trying to understand [Ramanujan’s] genius is unfathomable — but I can understand his love, his passion, his creativity and bring that to the audience."

Members of NUS Stage were also involved in the sessions with Prof Chan. “To have the intricate maths behind A Disappearing Number explained in person was an amazing experience. It gave us a better appreciation for the maths involved. Instead of seeing it as a set of abstract concepts, we worked through how some of the formulas support the story,” said NUS Stage member and NUS English Literature Year 2 student Ariane Vanco.

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The NUS Chinese Orchestra will close the festival, with a show inspired by great battles in Chinese history

In the same way, NUS Mathematics Professor Zhao GongYun provided mathematical insights in the development of the festival’s closing show — NUS Chinese Orchestra’s The Art of War战数. The production features pieces inspired by great battles in Chinese history that were shaped by game theory, geometry and other mathematical constructs.

“Initially, I found the mathematics theme quite terrifying, but when we sat down with Prof Zhao to learn about the concepts involved, this trepidation was replaced with awe,” said Mr Moses Gay, the Orchestra’s Music Director. “The passion he shared for mathematics was quite infectious, so I was pleased that some of the NUS Mathematics faculty were able to attend one of our rehearsals to experience these ideas musically.”

Held in the University Cultural Centre Hall, The Art of War战数 will draw upon classic Chinese works such as The Great Wall Capriccio 《长城随想曲》, Yellow River Concerto《黄河钢琴协奏曲》 featuring piano soloist and concerto competition winner Tan Tzu Kuang  from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, and a revisit of Symphonic Poem: The Battle of Red Cliffs 《交响诗:赤壁》.

The NUS Arts Festival will run from 15 to 23 March, with a free launch party, Sine of the Times, held at the NUS Alice Lee Plaza on Thursday, 7 March.

By NUS Centre For the Arts