Arts & Culture

Play to Learn

Families are invited to The Kueh Tutus’ world of fiction to discover more about one another

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The Kueh Tutus’ dynamic team of dancers, artists, and musicians, are combining creative storytelling and movement to develop young audiences’ minds and bodies from home. The collective has been lauded for spreading the superpower of productive curiosity through interactive live family-friendly performances in Singapore. Since 2017, they have set the stage for family-bonding and learning for children and parents.

The team’s latest project wields digitisation, filmmaking, and social media, to introduce audiences to the quirky and magical world of the Plotterpi. The Plotterpus Adventure Tours gives families a chance to hop on a virtual moving bus and get up-close to discover the playful creatures through their Zoom screens. Led by their tour guide Cheryl, audiences get to watch the Plotterpi dancing in the wilds of East Coast Park and practise moving like one.

B-Side spoke to creators Melissa Quek and Stacie Leong to learn more about their latest project, how the team utilises movement to empower young audiences, the significance of parents’ involvement in the show, and the guiding principle of risky play in this piece.

Image courtesy of The Kueh Tutus

The body’s language

“Sometimes words get in the way,” observes founder and Artistic Director Melissa Quek. She notices that the openness to reading body language and accepting one’s own visceral responses may be curtailed as language proficiency increases with age. “Every child is different, but schools make students sit down and communicate through written and spoken word five days a week” Melissa says, adding how non-verbal performances provide another way to communicate.

Photo courtesy of National Arts Council

Much of what is unsaid and withheld in the body can be communicated alternatively through movement. Children learn to express themselves through mimicry, as well as with positive reinforcement from those around them. With this in mind, The Kueh Tutus pays attention to tailor details like tone, music choice, and the performers’ facial expressions in their family-friendly performances for young audiences.

Through programmes ranging from stories, tours, and interactive games, the collective hopes to empower babies, toddlers, and children by giving them agency to ask questions and make decisions. The interactive shows engineer the space to spark dialogues within families, so they can create good memories and learn more about one another through movement. “Looking awkward and being a little ridiculous together is a great way to share our fun sides,” Melissa says.

Beyond parental guidance

When conceptualising family-friendly pieces, Melissa isn’t just mindful about children’s needs, she also brings an awareness of what parents want to expose their kids to. “We are cautious of what can appear naughty or violent.” Despite the goal of creating a fun learning environment during performances, The Kueh Tutus wants to avoid being didactic. She explains that their “preference is either to raise issues that can be discussed together or to create visceral experiences to be shared by families.”

In a space that has been designed for imaginative play, children are encouraged to explore and express their thoughts and feelings upon facing new ideas. Melissa stresses the importance of never dampening a child’s imagination.

“We accept what the child’s imagination creates in the fictional world, then together with the parents, we are willing to build on that.”

Images courtesy of The Kueh Tutus

“The world of the performance is created through each individual’s active participation as we build on each other’s’ imaginations,” Melissa explains. “As long as we all agree that we are at East Coast Park, we really are there,” she adds.

Parents’ participation is crucial to the experience of a child – a lesson that extends from the show and applies well into everyday life. “Children, especially babies, sense the world through their parents’ reactions. They interpret what’s appropriate based on their parents’ expressions or emotions,” explains Melissa, who notices that parents who choose to judge instead of being fully present could change the experience for the child.

“I think parents can derive joy and pleasure from watching their own children interact with new stimuli and new concepts. And our performances provide these in abundance.”

She believes that parents also help prolong the experience when encouraging their children to reflect on what happened on the days following the performance.

Risky play with Plotterpi

The Plotterpi are imaginary creatures born from The Kueh Tutus’ delight with their friends’ otter-watching escapades. “Many of the stories we’re hearing about otter families in Singapore sound a lot like melodramas,” says Melissa, drawing inspiration for the project through a reimagination of the animal’s colourful lives.

Improvisation during studio rehearsals helped to develop the movement vocabulary and iconic gestures that define the fictional character Plotterpus. The storyline and characters’ traits were drawn from the team’s individual childhoods. Production Lead Sage designed a mask that highlights the quirky shifts and movement of the creature’s face and body, supporting the dancers in embodying the Plotterpus.

Photo courtesy of National Arts Council
Photo courtesy of National Arts Council

Designed to recreate the experience of sight-seeing tours or a zoo visit, participants can learn more about the Plotterpi with the help of their online guide Cheryl. “She certainly adds flavour and excitement to the piece, having made me feel like running up next to her, crouching down low, and peeking over bushes to look out for our Plotti friends,” says dance artist and enrichment instructor Stacie Leong. While the creatures, played by the dancers, move with grace for the most part, they can also be quite clumsy on land – and The Kueh Tutus believes young audiences can learn from their natural tenacity.

The team acknowledges that parents fear the dangers children might encounter, and this may lead to mollycoddling them. Melissa describes this as ‘cotton-wooling’ and likens this to the changing facade of playgrounds into more padded play areas in recent decades, an issue that is still up for debate as to whether the move is more beneficial or detrimental to children in the long run. Conscious to shift away from mollycoddling, the collective aims to provide a safe yet environment that engages the young in risky play. 

Elements at East Coast Park inform the various types of risky play the Plotterpi are engaged in. “There are segments where they play from heights, such as trees or stone breakwaters; and others where they play at high speeds near dangerous elements, like water or the roadside,” Stacie explains, describing how the Plotterpi babies explore different boundaries and barriers at the park. “We allowed them to even get injured so they can learn how to recover by themselves. It was really heart-warming to see the Plotterpus find his way back up.” 

Image courtesy of The Kueh Tutus
Image courtesy of The Kueh Tutus

Visit The Kueh Tutus’ social media pages and website to register.

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