Arts Review Singapore

Preview: Singapore International Festival of Arts 2020


Following their earlier announcement of local productions and Kid Pivot’s Revisor, the 2020 Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) has officially revealed their full lineup for this year’s edition of the festival.

Marking Gaurav Kripalani’s third and final stint as Festival Director, this year’s programming sees a total of 15 featured works spanning music, dance, theatre and visuals arts. This year’s festival will also see the return of the Festival House, where the Arts House will once again set up House Pour, an in-house bar, and encourage mingling of audience and artists both before and after shows. The Festival House will also host a full day of talks featuring challenging discussions about sustainability, the Asian Film Archive-curated Singular Screens film programmes, and a green eco market for visitors to shop guilt-free.

On the programming for this year, Arts House Limited CEO Sarah Martin says: “SIFA has always been about reaching out to new people, beyond our core audience of arts lovers. This year, we’ve got plenty of works that appeal to both regular audiences and first timers, because that diversity of interests is so important in a national arts festival. We not only bring in the best of the world, but also, build on a local canon of work, going back to our principle of giving local artists and their collaborators the resources and time to create quality works that will stand the test of time. It’s been a real journey for all of us over the last three years, and we hope that people who’ve followed us on this journey can appreciate it as well.”

Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion

Taking place over three weekends from 15th to 31st May, SIFA’s programmes this year can broadly be segregated into five ‘artistic journeys’ for audience members to follow, grouped by theme and methodology.

The first of these, Moving Images, comprises works focused on showcasing aesthetic richness with powerful visuals. Family-friendly As The World Tipped by Liverpool’s Wired Aerial Theatre combines dramatic film and visuals on a 10 metre tall vertical screen with outdoor aerial performance, as the performers battle against falling props in an unforgettable statement against climate change. Berlin company Astragales presents Cold Blood, a genre-defying work that features fingers performing choreography and theatre live, dancing across the big screen thanks to skillful camerawork. The previously announced Revisor by Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young of Canada’s Kid Pivot also falls under this category; a frenetic piece of dance theatre about mistaken identity and the rhythm of words and syllables.

In Classics Reinvented, classical works are reimagined and given a contemporary twist, such as Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion, where the renowned Chinese composer leads the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Germany’s Internationale Chorakademie Lübeck in a six act opera about the teaching of Buddha. No Longer Gagok: Room 5↻ sees Park Minhee challenging the traditional Korean vocal music style of gagok, most popular in the 18th century in court, and reconvenes it for a 21st century audience, dissolving both physical and imagined distances to make it relevant again. Finally, Toy Factory’s A Dream Under The Southern Bough reaches its stunning conclusion with its final form after three years, in Existence, promising more stunning visuals from director Goh Boon Teck in this reimagining of a classic Kun opera as a stage play.

Under Facets of Femininity, women take the spotlight, such as in choreographer Ousmane Sy and collective Paradox-Sal’s Queen Blood, exploring how femininity is coded through gesture in a powerful dance piece from a house dance specialist. The Finger Players perform Oiwa – Ghost of Yotsuya, taking inspiration from the tragic Edo-period Japanese ghost of the same name with their signature use of innovative puppetry, and a tale of betrayal, revenge and heartbreak. Lastly, Nine Years Theatre and New York’s SITI Company present Chekhov’s classic play Three Sisters in Mandarin, as three sisters attempt to find meaning beyond their unhappy marriages, unsatisfying careers and ennui in a rapidly changing world.

In Revisiting the Now, artists challenge the now to imagine the tomorrow, such as with The Necessary Stage’s The Year of No Return. International and interdisciplinary, Haresh Sharma’s new play tackles climate change’s complications and contradictions head on, and how we as individuals should face it. Paris-based Ensemble InterContemporain will challenge the preconceived notion of a traditional orchestra, with film, lighting and visual art in The Wind Quintet, while homegrown band The Observatory, composer Otomo Yoshida and filmmaker Eric Lee present Source X Audible Lands, where Singapore’s migrant worker musicians are presented through music and film.  

Rimini Protokoll’s 100% Singapore

And finally, in The Sum of Our Parts, SIFA presents stories about the individual, with installations intended for participation and bringing the public together. Rimini Protokoll brings their 100% City series to Singapore (100% Singapore), where one hundred Singaporeans are selected to represent the multifaceted identity of our country, each representing 1% of the population, and used to present statistical data about demographics and the DNA of the city. Daily Tous les Jours sets up Musical Swings at the Cathay Green, a public installation inviting audience members of all ages to swing across ten swings, each one simulating instruments such as the piano, harp, guitar and vibraphone to create a symphony together while recreating the childhood joy of riding a swing. And with A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, American drag queen Taylor Mac takes audiences on a musical theatre romp through history, decoding the social history of the USA is revealed and calling attention to our complex sense of humanity that unites us across border.

Says Festival Director Gaurav: “The stars were aligned for our programming this year, because I really wanted to start this festival off with a national company. You can’t get a bigger name than Tan Dun, and he happened to be available, and so was the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, so we managed to bring in Buddha Passion for the first weekend. As for the rest of the programme, so much of it hinges on balance, from family programmes to works that appeal to the dance aficionados. I’m hoping people finally see what I’m trying to do, and it’s not a case of ‘oh here’s a nice show, let’s bring it in’. I am bringing people on a journey, and a variety and range of entry points and types of performance across each genre.”

As The World Tipped

“And of course, quality is always at the top of our priority list, such as how all our locally commissioned work features companies who have been around for a long time, each of them game changers and at the pinnacle of their careers. We’re here to showcase the best, and to give our best an international platform to shine, and the opportunity to explore and push their craft they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

“Since Arts House Limited took over SIFA and I joined three years ago, looking back, I really am amazed by all we’ve achieved in such a short time. I still can’t believe that back in 2018, we put together an entire festival in just 6-8 months, and how that journey has continued all the way to today,” Gaurav continues. “I think Singaporeans are now far more aware of SIFA, and I’m proud of the number of people attending SIFA for the first time. I’m ready to pass on the baton, and I think we’ve built up an incredible foundation for subsequent festivals to come.”

Source X Audible Lands

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s clear how Gaurav has set some very clear goals and parameters since he took on the role of Festival Director, clearly presenting his point of view in each year’s programme and showcasing the best of what the world has to offer. While certainly, not every show in the programme will appeal to every single person, what SIFA has delivered and promises once again in 2020 are works one may well learn to love, spanning genres you may not have dared attempt outside of a festival context. Every year has shown the festival growing and becoming bolder each time, and we’re glad to have seen Gaurav’s SIFA journey from start to end. Above all, he’s firmly placed SIFA as a recurring event to look forward to each May, and as a festival that’s only grown from year to year, one to look forward to as it returns.

“At the end of the day, it’s still the same story after three years,” Gaurav concludes. “It’s about how when I was growing up, my entire perspective of the arts was shaped by the arts festival, and my horizons were also broadened by it. These have been at the core of my philosophy driving the festival for the last three years. If a young person can come and see a few of these shows, and change the paradigms of the lens by which they see art, then honestly, I’m happy.”

The Singapore International Festival of the Arts runs from 15th to 31st May 2020. For more information and tickets, visit their website 

2 comments on “Preview: Singapore International Festival of Arts 2020

  1. Pingback: The Banter: On Place Making, Programming and Venue Management with Sarah Martin and Lisa Lip – Bakchormeeboy

  2. Pingback: Singapore International Festival of Arts 2021 wrap-up – Bakchormeeboy

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