As we approach the endemic phase of COVID-19, and live performances no longer require audience members to be safely distanced, we look forward to an increasing number of venues filled once again, as the arts truly returns to a new normal. Coinciding just in time with that is the hotly-anticipated line-up reveal of the upcoming 2022 Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) this May, as helmed by new festival director Natalie Hennedige.
Organised by Arts House Limited (AHL) and commissioned by the National Arts Council (NAC), SIFA 2022 begins Hennedige’s three-year tenure as Festival Director with a bang, as she announced the first wave of programmes, under the festival’s new ‘curatorial arc’ The Anatomy of Performance. Placing increased emphasis on original creations, new iterations of works by local and international artists in both the physical and online space, and the invitation and presentation of works by outstanding international artists, all three editions of Hennedige’s stint will see a different subtitle accompanying it and guiding the festival’s programming focus, starting with 2022’s Ritual.
Ritual invites audiences to consider our shared social rituals which are echoed in performance as both adhere to the conditions of time (duration), artefact (costume, installation, symbolic objects, clothing), and gesture (expressive movement, charged stillness). These conditions thus become passageways to discover the anatomy, or structural inner-workings, of each performance expressed in the nuanced language of art to convey varied narratives and perspectives.
“The performing arts remains an important space for reflection, creative articulation and nuanced expression,” says Hennedige. “SIFA 2022: The Anatomy of Performance – Ritual gathers within individual creations, a range of artistic disciplines and perspectives, inviting practitioners of vivid cultural hues, from different walks of life to embrace a blending of genres, artistic practices and internationality, to imagine the possibilities of performance made by exploring and expanding notions of Ritual in varied, unexpected and nuanced dimensions. My sincere wish is that during the span of SIFA 2022, we might all, in precious fleeting moments, be moved by the beauty, power and generosity of art.”
“Coming into the festival, I looked at the festival’s beginnings, paying homage to its origins as the Singapore Arts Festival before considering how it would evolve and how its core tenets might develop,” says Hennedige. “We’ve been in preparation for over a year now. To place emphasis on the title, we wanted to build the reveal event here at Pasir Panjang Power Station as a performance, injecting performative elements into every part of the event”
Under Hennedige, the festival has now been split across three distinct ‘layers’ to organise programmes. The first of these is Creation, a platform for SIFA’s prime offerings encompassing new commissions, fresh iterations of works by local and international artists in both the physical and online space, and the invitation and presentation of works by outstanding international artists.
Housed within the Creation umbrella are SIFA’s medley of headlining commissions. This year, SIFA will open with MEPAAN, a visually arresting sonic journey by Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Borneo cultural agency, The Tuyang Initiative. Translating to ‘always’ in the Kayan language, MEPAAN promises to evoke the sublime rituals of Southeast Asia and its native people in this grand music performance combining indigenous music, vocal tradition from Southeast Asia, and soaring orchestral compositions to transport audiences straight to the rainforest.
Ritual comes to the fore in Ceremonial Enactments, where fashion label MAX.TAN, percussion ensemble Nadi Singapura, and Indian classical dance company Bhaskar’s Arts Academy weave together three re-enactments of culturally specific customs, rites and local rituals. Set to play at the Esplanade Theatre, MAX.TAN will open the evening with ANG, a fashion performance inspired by Chinese and Southeast Asian birth rituals, with clothes that embody ideas of birth, re-birth and Samsara.
This will be followed by Nadi Singapura, who, led by Artistic Director Riduan Zalani, will combine dance, narrative and music to present one of the grandest ceremonies within the Malay community – the wedding. Finally, Ceremonial Enactments will close with Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’s Yantra Mantra, an enactment of an ancient dance ritual performed in Hindu temples, intended for cleansing.
Regarding such an ambitious three-way collaboration Hennedige explains the importance of conversation and how it was important for everyone to feel free to speak their own mind. “Everyone was very open to discussion. Even though these are three distinct festival commissions, there are unifying elements – such as the same core team of designers. Also in several moments the performers from each piece will share the same space with each other in transitions, very deliberately designed in the choreography. Individual in their separate pieces but untied in presentation”
“In speaking to Max, who typically designs for productions, I invited him to helm this work and to work into his concept something that was significant to him. In response, Max conceived the work with his mother in mind, placing her in the center of his creation, which is in essence a sartorial love letter to her. With Nadi Singapura, Riduan begun with three concepts and shared them with us. We were excited by his proposal to create a wedding ceremony performance in its examination of union and the deep symbolisms inherent in the Malay wedding.” Mrs Bhaskar conceived of the cleansing ritual, something the world needs right now,” adds Hennedige. “The beauty of collaboration is that when you place your trust in each other, allowing the conversation to grow and watching the seeds of these collaborations come to bear fruit.”
Golden Leopard-winning filmmaker Yeo Siew Hua will present The Once and Future, an expanded cinema experience taking place in the not-so-distant future, contemplating the human journey as humanity looks towards planetary exodus to escape extinction. Paired with live music from musicians of the Berliner Philharmoniker, and featuring compositions by Eugene Birman, get ready for an out of this world sonic and filmic experience.
Local playwright Eleanor Wong and Philippines-based filmmaker John Torres join forces in Remotes X Quantum, a work that marries themes from Torres’ futuristic film The Remotes and Wong’s recent text, The Quantum of Space. Blending film, poetry, theatre and sound in a swirling multi-disciplinary live installation, join in this meditation on the physicality, spirituality, and politics of human bodies.
Expanding to the international sphere, The Neon Hieroglyph by British artist and 2019 Turner Prize Winner Tai Shani makes a new iteration of her work for SIFA. Narrated and performed by Malaysian actress Jo Kukathas, The Neon Hieroglyph offers up a psychedelic filmic experience, as we take a deep dive into a speculative history of ergot, a fungus that grows on common grains, linked to mass hallucinations in Europe.
SIFA even makes room for a little Shakespeare, just not as how you remember it, as Teater Ekamatra presents Bangsawan Gemala Malam, a Malay bangsawan version of the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Set against the exuberance of the Nusantara, expect to see your favourite characters completely reimagined in the Malay world, as conceived by Artistic Director Mohd Fared Jainal and directed by Aidli Alin Mosbit.
Better known for their work as spell#7, Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae present Devil’s Cherry, where Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin star as two lost Singapore souls crossing the Devil’s path in Australia. As they reckon with personal demons and the ghosts of the landscape, will they be an easy catch, or has the Devil met his match? Set where urban life meets the Australian Bush, Devil’s Cherry is a fantastical tale of ordinary desire, the escape it promises, and the dreams it damns. Playing at Pasir Panjang Power Station, the cast is completed by Elizabeth Sergeant Tan – and mohiniyattam-trained Indian-Australian queer dancer Raina Peterson.
Over at the Victoria Theatre, SIFA is bringing in American musician Holly Herndon to perform PROTO, as she fronts and conducts an electronic pop choir, comprised of both human and A.I. voices, over a musical palette that encompasses everything from synths to Sacred Harp stylings; it’s A.I. babies meets timeless folk traditions, in this exhilarating concert from a musician at the forefront of today’s technological revolutions.
Besides Creation, SIFA 2022 also introduces Life Profusion, a virtual stage which runs parallel to the live festival. Available from today, Life Profusionacknowledges and expresses how the digital stage is a new reality for performance and artistic presentation. For SIFA 2022, its five unique content categories are exclusive to this virtual stage and are not digital recordings or archival documentation of the physical production. These digital programmes under Life Profusion include: +DREAM, +EAT, +READ, +GROW, +DISCUSS.
These programmes are designed to expand, organise and deepen the profusion of ideas and artistry radiating from the festival. Life Profusion is also set to launch the world premiere of world-renowned science fiction artist, filmmaker, inventor and body architect Lucy McRae’s astounding performance film Delicate Spells of Mind, highlighting SIFA’s commitment to commissioning high-profile creations for the virtual space. Scheduled to be released regularly, Life Profusion kicks off with a capsule under +EAT, with releases from local musician and illustrator Anise, and a debut three-way collaboration between CyberCesspool, Claude Glass and deførmed.
“Life Profusion is a fresh imagining of SIFA’s virtual presence. Running parallel to the festival in May (and beyond), it serves to connect artists, ideas and festival attendees near and far, bolstering SIFA’s international reach with creative zest. A world changed irrevocably by the pandemic requires a fresh response to the virtual,” says Hennedige.
Finally, under the banner SIFA X, more alternative performance offerings will be featured at Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre, allowing for more diverse and eclectic programming.
The inaugural edition is helmed by SATheCollective’s artistic director, Andy Chia, who delivers oneirism, a chance to access an irregular state of consciousness, in which dreamlike illusions are experienced – all while wide awake, as our reality overlaps with the spirit realm.
In showing such diverse works, the festival puts forth its goals of expressing the current fluidity and intersections between art forms locally and internationally, and how in practice, many artists go beyond the conventional limits of artistic genres and producing multilayered, diverse creations and artistic practices. By being the platform for local and international artists of varied disciplines and perspectives to collaborate and exchange ideas, SIFA 2022 acts as a catalyst for creative intersections and bold artistic innovation.
“In the last two years, SIFA as with other festivals, has had to adapt to the ever-changing necessity and relevance of the new metaverse,” says Executive Director for SIFA Organiser Arts House Limited (AHL), Tan Boon Hui. “This year, we continue to push boundaries with the festival as we embrace the fluidity of digital platforms as new frontiers for creation, while discovering new ways of experiencing the in-person experiences that our local and international audiences have surely missed. We hope that SIFA 2022 will not only reimagine the vast possibilities of performance today but also awaken to how the experience of art is crucial to enriching our lives and encouraging a sense of new possibilities.”
“Audiences can look forward to a cultural highpoint with a multitude of performing arts programmes starting with SIFA in May,” adds Chief Executive Officer of the National Arts Council (NAC), Rosa Daniel. “The arts continue to play an integral role in people’s lives, and we are excited to see how SIFA’s creative vision will come to life, as we anticipate the diverse offerings which create space for meaningful cross-cultural connections between Singapore and the world.”
“To capture ritual, you are drawing from a resonance that comes from an ancient way. It was important for us to engage with these art forms that are so deeply rooted in custom and ritual, and for audiences to connect with these works with contemporary elements shining new light,” says Hennedige. “Rituals are about conviction; they are about transformation within ourselves and in our immediate surroundings – which can happen once we define our own rituals for ourselves, and follow through with them.”
Photo Credit: Arts House Limited
SIFA 2022 runs from 20th May to 5th June 2022. Early bird tickets for SIFA 2022, which offers audiences savings of 20% are on sale now till 31st March 2022 11.59pm. Tickets and more information available from sifa.sg.