Arts Review SIFA 2021 Singapore

Preview: Singapore International Festival of Arts 2021

Screenshot 2021-03-16 at 10.37.09 AM

Even with a hiatus in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Singapore International Festival of Arts never truly left us, taking on a more experimental thrust with multiple digital events held as part of ‘v2.020‘, featuring both local and international artists. But come 2021, with live performances slowly but surely opening up again as the pandemic situation improves day by day, the festival is finally ready to return in full force, with a record number of shows and commissions set for SIFA 2021.

“It’s an enormous challenge, one that requires creativity, boldness, and determination. Today, we have announced an incredible lineup of shows that we will be presenting at SIFA 2021 that features artists that have risen to that challenge.” SIFA Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani

“We all know that the world has changed dramatically in the last year. It’s been an incredible challenging time for artists and we’ve been grappling with this question of how do we create great art while still retaining the magic of the live experience,” says SIFA Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani. “It’s an enormous challenge, one that requires creativity, boldness, and determination. Today, we have announced an incredible lineup of shows that we will be presenting at SIFA 2021 that features artists that have risen to that challenge.”

SSO and SDT’s The Rhythm of Us

Arts House Limited Executive Director Tan Boon Hui says “Based in New York throughout 2020, I saw at first hand the devastation the pandemic had on the arts scene with all live performances ceased and theatres closed. Both artists and audiences were out of work and cut off from the joys and consolations of art during this time of desolation. We are truly fortunate in Singapore to have the opportunity to experience the live arts at this moment. Gaurav’s final festival is one of hope, a signal for how art can help in the recovery of our society by bringing people together in theatres, concert halls as well as the virtual halls of the digital realm. It is a beacon for the new worlds of artistic presentation that are being forged by artists here and abroad in the wake of the pandemic.”

“Art serves as a mirror to our time as well as a cathartic tool to help heal and give hope.”

Care, compassion and climate change will be a central theme throughout the Festival House programmes. This will include performances related to self-care and healing; a weekend of works curated for toddlers, children and families that are related to climate change; and a concert series centred around compassion, which will feature various Singapore-based chamber ensembles. Adds Gaurav: “Art serves as a mirror to our time as well as a cathartic tool to help heal and give hope. The festival will be a moment for us all to commune after a period of isolation and I am incredibly proud that Singapore has SIFA, a high-quality platform of curated experiences and shows to meet different passion points.”

Wild Rice, Pangdemonium and SRT’s The Commission

SIFA presents over 60 shows and 300 performances.

Featuring a bumper crop of new commissions and international work, both live and online, SIFA presents over 60 shows and 300 performances, with artists from Switzerland, Australia, USA, Lebanon, Japan, Malaysia and Philippines performing alongside hundreds of Singaporean artists and freelancers within the 16-day festival period. SIFA 2021 will lead the way in showing what an international festival might look like in the future, with its format of live, hybrid, and digital programmes.

“I am proud to present a record number of shows and a record number of Singapore commissions we are producing that will help support as many artists as we can during this time,” says Gaurav. “Commissions include collaborations between the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Singapore Dance Theatre, a collaboration between three of our leading companies – Wild Rice, Pangdemonium, and Singapore Repertory Theatre, and a musical tribute to jazz legend and Cultural Medallion winner Louis Soliano, just to name a few.”

A Song For Louis

In the same vein as other festivals during this latter COVID-19 era, SIFA 2021 will be taking the form of a hybrid festival, with both digital and live offerings. However, live performances will be at the forefront of the experience. “At SIFA 2021, we’ve curated a festival that places the live experience a the heart of what we’re doing. In addition to shows that will be taking place physically around Singapore, we’ve also put together an incredible lineup of shows from around the world you can be a part of,” says Gaurav. 

From top left, clockwise: A Dream Under The Southern Bought: Existence; OIWA: The Ghost of Yotsuya; Three Sisters; and The Year of No Return

Particularly exciting are the presentations of the four local commissions that have been in the making since 2018.

Over 60 events have been curated for this year’s three-week festival, including the many local commissions and collaborations. Particularly exciting are the presentations of the four local commissions that have been in the making since 2018, namely Nine Years Theatre’s Three Sisters, The Finger Players’OIWA: The Ghost of Yotsuya, The Necessary Stage’s The Year of No Return, and the complete version of Toy Factory’s A Dream Under The Southern Bough

The Observatory’s Demon States

But beyond these, several other local commissions have emerged as well. Local collective Zeugma will be presenting a multi-sensory, experimental experience in the form of _T070L_while local band The Observatory presents a mixed-reality experience doubling as an album preview with Demon States. Musical groups such as the Morse Percussion, The Ensemble Equilibrium, Take 5 Piano Quintet and musicians such as Jason Lai, Churen Li, Yang Shuxiang and Leslie Tan, and opera singers Felicia Teo, Jonathan Shin and Jonathan Charles Tay will also be taking the spotlight in their respective concerts.

Gardens Speak

And as tiring as it’s been to be sitting in front of our screens and watch half-hearted recordings and clumsy transitions from stage to computer screen for the last year, SIFA 2021 promises digital work that truly works with the medium to produce an experience for the future. “You’re not going to find works you can just sit passively back and watch on a digital screen. Works like The Journey, Gardens Speak and A Thousand Ways will all enable you to interact with the artists and the artwork in real time,” Gaurav says.

En Route

This year, beyond the biggest headline acts, you’ll likely find solace even in the ‘little things’ and incidental art that’s coming to town, such as walking experience En Route, a motion capture large-scale dance work with Cosmogyny, performed in real time, as well as Sophia Brous, who will be presenting the world premiere of Invisible Opera in which she will perform live in Melbourne whilst interacting with audiences in a Singapore city square.

One thing that Gaurav managed to do over his tenure is make each edition of the festival feel like an event to look forward to, a time where our arts venues were activated, and the city came alive with the arts. Everywhere you went, every day of the festival, there was something that was happening, and would likely be conceptually or visually interesting enough to pique one’s interest.

“You can also expect the return of festival favourites like film offerings at Singular Screens, and you will be welcomed back to Festival House, where we will be transforming the arts house into the epicentre of the festival for its entire 3 week duration,” Gaurav adds, speaking about some of the regular features he’s introduced with his directorship. “And for the first time we are going to be releasing selected shows on demand online. These will be videos of some of our commissions because we still have limited seating capacity and we expect them to sell out, so we want them to be as accessible to as many people as possible.”

Zeugma’s _T070L_

At the end of his 4 year tenure, Gaurav Kripalani has made it clear what he’s done as Festival Director of SIFA – to make it an inclusive festival catering to audiences, regardless of whether they’re an arts aficionado or curious viewer, with its diverse line-up of quality programmes. Not to mention, also highlight both the ‘Singapore’ and ‘International’ aspect of the festival, in terms of both artists involved (with Singaporean artists leading the charge) and audience members, making the festival accessible to anyone and everyone around the world in some form.

Deputy Chief Executive (Sector Development), National Arts Council (NAC), Low Eng Teong, says, “We celebrate the resilience of the arts community as we saw how quickly they had adapted to put together an online showcase last year, allowing audiences from around the world to experience the best of performing arts. Even with the ongoing pandemic, the arts continue to bring people together as we remain safely apart. With SIFA 2021, we look forward to sharing meaningful arts experiences through works created by Singapore and international artists. As festival programmes thread across both physical and digital platforms, more audiences can now come together to enjoy and experience the arts, safely.”

“This festival has been programmed as a response to everything we’ve been through and the environment we live in now.”

Streaming performances online was what a lot of us had to resort to during lock-down, which is less than ideal. What it did do though was spur my interest in exploring 3D, interactive and responsive technologies in relationship to performance, which I believe will become an integral part of the performing arts going forward. If we had to find a silver lining to COVID-19, it is that there is a far greater appreciation for the arts and a pent-up demand for live performances,” Gaurav concludes. “With SIFA 2021, we are going to open a new chapter in history. We are incredibly proud of this lineup, and I am thrilled and delighted to welcome you to this array of shows.”

Perhaps it’s from the excitement of having a festival that really feels like a large-scale festival come back to our shores, perhaps it’s from the line-up that seems like some of the world’s most provoking recent work condensed into three weeks. But above all, it’s really the entire experience we can’t wait to dive back into, as we celebrate the arts and our artists, as SIFA 2021 returns this May.

The 2021 Singapore International Festival of Arts runs from 14th to 30th May 2021. Tickets and full line-up available here  

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