GTF 2015 Heads to Butterworth

The George Town Festival now includes the mainland into the celebration.

Since its inception, the George Town Festival has always been limited to one location – the titular capital of Penang. That exclusive streak ends in 2015, with GTF having expanded to a secondary location, just a ferry ride away. Yes, Butterworth joined in the fun, with an event called the “Butterworth Fringe Festival”, lasting a weekend (15 – 16 August).

Joe Sidek (fourth from left), Festival Director, GTF; and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (third from right) en route to Butterworth.

The festival was launched by none other than the Chief Minister himself, Saudara Lim Guan Eng. The launch started with a ferry ride from George Town to Butterworth, with beautifully-decorated VW Kombis tagging along. The Kombi convoy then arrived at Jalan Jeti Lama, where the Butterworth Fringe Festival was held.

Actually, I may have been a bit dishonest: one Kombi didn’t make it. Interesting incident (imagine a Norse funeral), but that’s a story for another time.

Here were some of the highlights:


A piece from TerryAndTheCuz, Welcome2Flatland is the installation counterpart to their contemporary dance performance, “Flatland”, which in turn, is based on the 1884 book of the same name. Enter the black shipping containers and find yourself in a world where your shape determines your place in the social hierarchy, and your freedom is constrained. A commentary on surveillance states, you play both unsuspecting citizen and dictator.

TerryAndTheCuz isn’t done with GTF yet, as they will be showing an exclusive preview of their upcoming work, “SK!N” on 30 August, the last day of the Festival.

Vive La Vespa

Fancy some accessories for your Vespa?

Celebrating the iconic scooter, the event gathered Vespa owners and enthusiasts from all over the nation. Attendees could also catch a ride in one, bringing them to a showcase of colourful and quirky customised vehicles. That’s not all, as those looking to buy some gear to upgrade their personal unit could also make their purchases during the event through the many stalls.

Ever seen an army of Vespa-riding folks burn rubber together?

Isaac Hou

Taiwanese-American performer Isaac Hou.
Isaac showing off his skills with a Cyr wheel.

Taiwanese-American Isaac Hou landed in Malaysia and performed two acts. His first performance was contact juggling, where he gracefully maneuvered a clear crystal ball, making it look effortless. His second was also another act he is known for – balancing a Cyr wheel, which is essentially a large metal wheel. Requiring a combination of physical strength, balance and agility, Isaac took the wheel for a spin (literally!) as he stepped into the ring (pun not intended).

Intriguing Instruments

Many instruments, but operated by only one man. Intriguing, no?
Robbie Avenaim of Intriguing Instruments

Taking several local musical instruments (as well as some contemporary ones), Australian percussionist and composer Robbie Avenaim used motorised machinery to deliver a new take on Malaysian musical culture. A free-roaming motorised drumstick surrounded by an assortment of Malay instruments added a nice bit of randomness, contrasting the fixed timings of the drums and gendang.

Of course, there was a lot more going on in BFF, including a pop-up bookstore by BookXcess, a dance-installation combo from Belgium-based t.r.a.n.s.i.t.s.c.a.p.e., and a bunraku puppet show (thanks to the Japan Foundation). It is somewhat unfortunate that BFF only lasted a weekend. All the colours, sounds, vibrance and crowds returned to the island, where GTF 2015 will, as one would say, resume its normal programming.

Walk around Jalan Jeti Lama and its surrounding roads, and you will see that Butterworth is more subdued compared to its island counterpart – not lacking in charm or potential, but prefers to be quiet about it. Penang’s introvert, if you will. Let’s hope that future iterations of GTF will continue to involve the mainland in on the celebration, injecting that same exuberance and energy found in George Town. ◆

George Town Festival is sponsored by the Penang State Government and supported by Tourism Malaysia