Following Gaurav Kripalani’s stint as Festival Director for the Singapore International Festival of Arts (2018-2021), Natalie Hennedige has been announced to step in as the new Festival Director for SIFA 2022-2024.
Hennedige is best known as the Artistic Director of Cake, a contemporary performance company presenting progressive works at the intersection of theatre and a range of disciplines. As a performance director, Hennedige explores contemporary issues through highly constructed heightened worlds with collaborators from diverse artistic disciplines and cultural backgrounds.
Hennedige is also a recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award (2007) and the JCCI Singapore Foundation Culture Award (2010). Helming the direction for SIFA 2022-2024, Natalie has defined a three-year arc intended to bring focus to performance & creation in the physical and online space, around the recurring title of The Anatomy of Performance.
“I began by considering what the trajectory would be for SIFA, and started to visualise and consider how works presented within SIFA would relate to our arts scene, in the way that it sits in this ecology, and in relation to other cities that cradle international performing arts festivals.”– Natalie Hennedige, SIFA Festival Director
While the official line-up of work has not yet been announced, Hennedige has outlined the overall structure of the festival, and how it’s been planned to develop over the next three years. Under Hennedige’s lead, SIFA is set to become a platform for originality that showcases Singapore’s artists and original productions; create a meaningful multi-national dynamic within SIFA; and to be in the arena with global arts festivals. Essentially, with a title like The Anatomy of Performance, SIFA will be programming works from artists and artist collectives that push and expand the possibilities of performance.
“The Anatomy of Performance invites the audience to consider the elements that go into the language of art. Each performance embodies a ritual, and ritual is also a way of organising performance. All performance begins with an empty stage, and artists are making very deliberate decisions in relation to time, artefact, and gesture, all to communicate potent narratives in the universal language of art.”– Natalie Hennedige, SIFA Festival Director
The Anatomy of Performance will be accompanied by a subtitle that changes each year to guide and focus each edition’s curatorial stance – further unpacking ‘performance’, encouraging audiences to see the relevance of performance articulation in the midst of contemporary complexities when created by artists and artist collectives, with strong and unique perspectives in the poly -dynamic and universal language of art. SIFA 2022 will begin this with the title The Anatomy of Performance – Ritual. Upcoming editions of SIFA will also see a combination of varied performance locations to provide viewers with a unique and holistic festival experience.
The festival’s performances are set to each embody a Ritual, as an evolving entity that relates to one’s shifting perspectives, personal beliefs and life philosophies. The rituals that define our common experience abide by the anthropological conditions of time (duration), artefact (symbolic objects & clothing) and gesture (significant actions). Thus, SIFA 2022: The Anatomy of Performance – Ritual is an invitation to consider the very conditions imbued in the anatomy, or structural inner-workings of each performance to communicate potent narratives in the universal language of art.
“The idea of performance for me is to allow the engagement of artists from diverse, multidisciplinary fields, and the possibilities it holds,” says Hennedige. “We’re pushing at the possibilities of performance in an arts festival, and the subtitle of ‘ritual’ serves to focus the curation as we expand on that word. Take for example how rituals are often inspired by or related to culture, such as a Malay wedding or a Hindu temple ritual, or even the domestic rituals we have when we enter into a marriage that allows it to endure. Also included are artists applying strategies like computational art or voice processing technologies that explore notions of ritual.”
“Rituals then, transcend culture and tradition to relate to our life’s philosophy and personal beliefs. In a time of great upheaval, we are forced to re-evaluate our rituals. They enable us to enter the new day, and prepare us to be in the space with others who have perspectives different from yours. That is one of the most important things art can do. The festival in 2022 is one that will have emerged from living through the pandemic, and will show how art has endured, with works and commissions that are enduring.”– Natalie Hennedige, SIFA Festival Director
Within the scope of SIFA 2022, the festival will be organised on the basis of three key tracks that are intermingling, and which serve to appeal to the various demographics of audiences that the festival intends to connect with, both in Singapore and overseas. The three tracks are namely: Creation, to enable the creation of contemporary works that can be enduring for years to come; Life Profusion, to discover and leveraging a new virtual venue for artistic expression; and SIFA X, to provide wilder performance offerings.
In line with Creation, SIFA 2022 will be characterised by a dominance of original works where Singapore bred practitioners are taking key artistic positions on an international platform. With Singapore’s own creatives steering new works, SIFA 2022 serves to highlight the very city that cradles the festival – Singapore and her inherent characteristics. Held across various physical venues, SIFA 2022 commissions will treat audiences to the experience of an unusual “excursion”, where the destination holds as much charm and creative vitality as the actual performance.
“The festival aims to produce commissions that encompass a kind of originality, with Singapore artists in key driving positions, while also considering the international dynamic that exists within the festival,” says Hennedige. “Performance art is where conversations and dialogues happen, and with Singapore as the city that is cradling the festival, you can expect a diversity of art forms and disciplines.”
“My personal philosophy is that you have to keep moving. And while planning during the pandemic year, I reached out to artists to draw from their body of work, and craft something new that inspires them and pushes their creative practice.”– Natalie Hennedige, SIFA Festival Director
Under Hennedige, the festival also intends to draw attention to the virtual landscape as a vital, rather than alternative, platform to artmaking. In partnership with System Sovereign, this new virtual space will be introduced as an independent entity that brings SIFA to the digital domain, and to reach a wider audience across various disciplines and varied industries. This virtual platform aims to reflect the multiplicity and agency that a contemporary international arts festival is capable of encapsulating, encouraging online commissions, dialogue and exchange of ideas.
“So for Life Profusion, that’s the ‘liveness’ of the festival, where we reimagine SIFA’s virtual space as one for vital creation, where you could arrive at the destination of your screen and take in performance creation made specifically for the digital space.”
Life Profusion is further categorised according to five parts: +DREAM, +EAT, +READ, +DISCUSS, and +GROW, and will be related to the thematic frames of the festival and artists programmed. According to Hennedige, +DREAM is about the presentation of commissions for online space, +EAT represents ‘bento boxes’ of bite-sized digital offerings from multidisciplinary artists exploring emerging technology; +READ represents the exchanges and critical essays from invited writers; +DISCUSS as a space for artist discussions and artist talks taking place; and +GROW as a means to reach further afield, and think how issues such as rehearsal space and travel should be rethought going ahead.
Finally, under SIFA X Wilder, multidisciplinary offerings that are to be presented alongside the Creation and Life Profusion tracks, adding another layer to SIFA 2022 and unifying the festival under its title and associated subtitle. Hennedige explains that under this banner, more alternative performances will take place in a late night setting, with edgy, grungy music acts and installation.
The specific titles and artists involved have not yet been revealed, but Hennedige hints at what we can expect, such as three commissions interwoven in a single, seamless, sensational experience, in a space where the arrangements might be flipped – perhaps with the audience standing onstage, or with works that go beyond the proscenium and break the fourth wall. After all, this is the Anatomy of Performance, where architects and fashion artists and visual artists and writers and directors and choreographers come together, film and orchestra are meshed to create a performance, with intent and deliberate curation, to deliver a message.
“Time and process are the best ways to yield enduring works of art, because to enable originality and freshness, you really have to dig deep and create,” says Hennedige. “I told myself, let’s be present and enable people to create reimaginings of classic works. Just so much energy goes into the articulation, and so many conversations with the artists on their journey, so you can expect really exciting things to emerge.”
“This is an arts festival that belongs to the city. It needs to speak to different communities, and with diverse artists coming in with the right mindset, they can develop artistically brave creations that appeal to varied demographics,” she concludes. “As director, my job is to be thoughtful about how and who we invite to create that diversity in a body of work, to build a relationship with the audience, and to go beyond my own artistry and aesthetics to open up a space for multiplicity.”
Singapore International Festival of Arts returns in 2022. More details and full line-up to be released soon.