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Preview: Singapore International Festival of Arts 2023, The Anatomy of Performance – Some People

Following a successful 2022 edition of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), the annual international arts festival returns from 19th May to 4th June 2023, where a plethora of art takes over the city for three weekends. This year’s title is The Anatomy of Performance – Some People, and marks the second year of Natalie Hennedige’s three-year tenure as Festival Director.

Across Hennedige’s tenure, the Festival Director has decided to adopt the recurring title – The Anatomy of Performance, accompanied by a changing subtitle. 2022’s subtitle, Ritual, invited audiences to consider shared social rituals echoed in performance. With the new subtitle – Some People, SIFA 2023 invites audiences to come together, and find new ways of relating to other people through art, opening their hearts to each other’s perspectives. Through the four newly commissioned productions, 11 invited international presentations, and other work online, SIFA hopes audiences meditate on the spectrum of the human experience and to find and develop a personal, emotional response.

“This year’s Festival is an invitation to meditate on the spectrum of the human experience. We live in this world, but we do not experience the world in the same way – our pathways differ depending on the given, or imposed circumstances,” says Natalie Hennedige. “SIFA 2023 will feature prominent local and international artists on our physical and virtual platforms responding to the festival title across diverse artistic formats. SIFA 2023 intends to inspire reflection on the depth and diversity of human experiences and how we can find empathy and expand our worldviews by taking in performance.”

ANGEL ISLAND. Image courtesy of Brian Gothong Tan.

A total of four commissions will be produced and presented for SIFA 2023, featuring unexpected cross-country and interdisciplinary artistic collaborations. Co-directed by Asian-American composer Huang Ruo and Singapore performance maker Brian Gothong Tan, Angel Island is a music theatre piece based on the nearly 100-year-old Chinese verses written on the walls of the immigration station on Angel Island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay area, and the Chinese Exclusion Act that led to years of discrimination and brutal conditions in this detention centre. This iteration of Angel Island features San Fransisco-based Del Sol Quartet performing in collaboration with award-winning modern choral ensemble Taipei Chamber Singers.

Realm of Silk. Photo Credit: Sougwen Chung

Canadian multidisciplinary artist Sougwen Chung’s Realm of Silk investigates intersections between humans and other-than-humans. Inspired by silkworms and algorithms, Realm of Silk combines the hand-drawn line with different types of algorithms, inspired by the beauty of silk and the natural, complex art of the silkworm, whose silk embodies the potential for transformation and metamorphosis, just like technology. Realm of Silk also features Singapore master cellist Leslie Tan, who provides live string music in response to the work.

The School. Image courtesy of Ric Liu

A collaboration between Singapore artists Jean Ng, Li Xie, and Joavien Ng, The School is a unique promenade-style, participatory theatre performance where audience members don uniforms and go back to school, taking part in communal assemblies, group lessons, solo journeys, unexpected assignments, and strange encounters at Stamford Arts Centre.

Pompeii. Image courtesy of Joseph Nair.

Finally, Australian-born artist Edith Podesta collaborates with Singapore filmmaker K. Rajagopal on Pompeii, a multi-media theatre performance inspired by the lives impacted by the sudden destruction and rediscovery of the city of Pompeii. A meditation on the archaeology of intimacy, Pompeii plays out on a live soundstage, in which the lives of an imagined apartment building’s inhabitants materialize before us, inviting audiences to question if the objects and spaces that we leave behind in death represent that which we were or betray the true nature of ourselves, denied in life.

We Will Slam You With Our Wings. Image courtesy of Joanna Dudley and Tabatha Howard

Thanks to newly open international borders, eleven international works by prominent international artists will also be featured at SIFA 2023, reflecting on the range of human experiences. Video and sound installation work We Will Slam You With Our Wings by Australian artist Joanna Dudley will run throughout the festival at Victoria Theatre, with 7 screens, representing a series of 19th Century imperialistic portraits replaced by images of young girls aged between 8-16 years, imagining the world anew.

A Day, 2023. Image courtesy of Lai Chih-Sheng

Taiwanese artist Joyce Ho’s spatial mixed media installation, A Day, 2023 lays its foundations in perceptions of the familiar, dailiness and everyday situations inviting audiences to be present in the moment, participate and observe. Combining performance and video installation, audience members are invited to wander through doors at the Arts House, while wondering about what lies behind the doors that remain closed, and imagine how everything connects.

£¥€$ (LIES) by Ontroerend Goed

£¥€$ (LIES) by Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed transposes the world of high finance into a game-like setting, offering a captivating glimpse into the recesses of human behaviour when faith in money and markets begin to wane. Role play as a member of the super-rich, call the shots and start your own bank. In this den of scheming and trading, it’s your adrenaline and investment decisions – not the roll of dice – that matter. There may be no time for ethics; you’re in to win. Do you take a risk, trade in debt? Are you really in control or are you being played?

CUCKOO. Image courtesy of Radovan Dranga.

South Korean artist Jaha Koo presents two works at SIFA 2023, namely Cuckoo and Lolling & Rolling. In the former, expect talking rice cookers that provoke reflection on the personal and social impact of economic crises that South Korea, and in the latter, watch as Koo explores the phenomenon of tongue-tie surgery, an operation performed in South Korea to pronounce the English-accented “r”, prompting commentary on linguistic imperialism.

NEW-ILLUSION. Photo credit: Ryohei Tomita

Japanese artist Toshiki Okada presents NEW-ILLUSION a series manifesting chelfitsch’s innovative theatre style EIZO-Theater, where reality and fiction blur into each other and life-size projected images of a man and woman begin talking about a play set in the theatre. Reality and fiction, present and past, and existence and absence overlap on the stage.

Humans 2.0. Image courtesy of David Kelly

Australia-based circus performance group Circa, presents Humans 2.0, an acrobatic performance that fiercely celebrates what it means to be human as the performers find redemptive power in strength. Humans 2.0 follows ten individuals as they begin to move in harmony with each other, before their rhythms shift and physical limits are pushed to the extreme, as they grapple with the struggle to find balance amid constant uncertainty. More than just a showcase of the skill and virtuosity of individual performers, Humans 2.0 is about the collective power of the ensemble and its endless sculptural forms and variations.

MATERIA. Photo Credit: Milan Szapura

In MATERIA, Italian artist Andrea Salustri presents a remarkable performance of object theatre that explores the possibilities of polystyrene as it comes alive and becomes the protagonist of the events on stage. MATERIA inspires us to consider how we engage with objects, allowing them to perform their own artistry and create their own magic. The piece tries not to force a narrative but rather let the audience project their own narrative on the images presented on stage. Within a set score, objects are free to perform and take initiative.

BLKDOG. Photo Credit: Camilla Greenwell.

BLKDOG by Olivier award-winning UK dance artist Botis Seva, is an emotionally charged, genre-defying blend of free-form antics and hip hop that delves into notions of inner-city coping mechanisms, portraying depression and the ultimate hunt for acceptance. The stage becomes a figurative battlefield for adult traumas and haunting childhood memories, with high-energy moves and captivating athleticism, that explores the connections between self-discovery and self-destruction.

Abyss. Photo Credit: Jaehoon Jeong

South Korean choreographer Hyerim Jang’s Abyss is an elegy expressing the sorrow of human emotions through dance, presented with an all-female cast. Expressing a deep resentment, Abyss considers the suffering of Korean lives from wars and colonialism, as they try to talk, laugh and cry together, to confront the sadness and let it go.

Me, You, Then, Now . Image courtesy of Lona Foote

Finally, American-based choreographer-dancer Muna Tseng is now in her 70th year. Having emerged from the feverish New York Downtown 70s arts scene, she creates Me, You, Then, Now where we are invited to join her on a retrospective journey, from her days of being a young artist weaving her web of identity within the urban mythology of downtown NYC, through to the present with her meta-meditations on making new art today. 

Breaking away from the usual spaces to experience art, SIFA X brings in new works that expand and extend our idea of the arts, embracing alternative expression and carving out platforms to nurture new writing and performance works-in-process. Setting the stage at Singapore’s iconic nightclub CÉ LA VI, SIFA X presents Love Divine featuring artists SUKKI (formerly Sukki Singapora) and Daniel Kok & Luke George in a display of burlesque, vaudeville, and rope performance-installation.

Centre 42’s There Is No Future In Nostalgia presents a suite of new performances drawing inspiration from Arthur Yap’s 1971 poem of the same name, dramatising the rapid sweep of Singapore’s urban development. Works include a lecture performance by Robin Loon, Casey Lim and invited artists drawing on Centre 42’s archival of theatre in the 90s, double bills of new plays by writers Ahmad Musta’ain Khamis, A Yagnya, Rachel Chin and Danial Matin, and a special edition of Centre 42’s ongoing Headline Acts Series, an evening where writers present short dramatic pieces in response to archival headlines.

Image credit: Rueangrith Suntisuk

SIFA X in collaboration with BIPAM – Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting, and George Town Festival co-produce Intermission featuring Thai veteran folk music artist Champa Saenprom and Thai contemporary dancer Vidura Amranand, with Thanapol Virulhakul’s unique choreographic lens, reflecting Thai artistry and cultural nuances over generational divides.

SIFA’s virtual platform LIFE PROFUSION will continue to exist as a parallel virtual entity in relation to the live festival experience, creating a space for artists to create in a way that speaks to the digital imagination and aesthetic. This year, artist MOJOKO will present PR1V4CY, a series of animated digital works that relate to privacy in the digital sphere and writer Hong Xinyi will present prompt: PLAY, creative responses by a range of contributors, to SIFA 2023’s offerings.

“As Singapore’s pinnacle performing arts event, the Singapore International Festival of Arts appeals to diverse audiences by bridging powerful artistic voices with distinctive festival experiences,” says Sim Wan Hui, Director of Programming and Producing at SIFA organisers Arts House Limited. “With the resumption of travel and opening of Singapore’s borders, we are pleased to present invited works by renowned international artists alongside new creations and collaborations by and with our established Singapore talents that capture one’s imagination with compelling stories and engaging performances that hold contemporary relevance.”

“In Natalie’s second year as Festival Director, the Festival continues to provide a platform for creative exchange, showcasing remarkable performance pieces from Singapore and beyond, presenting great artistic experiences by world-class artists and art collectives that push and expand the possibilities of performance. Through the Festival’s diverse and nuanced offerings, we hope to inspire audiences to explore the world from the different lenses of Some People involved in SIFA 2023.”

Chief Executive Officer of the National Arts Council, Rosa Daniel, says: “The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) is a key event on the cultural calendar that presents the creativity and dynamism of the performing arts scene. By bringing quality arts experiences to places where Singaporeans live, work, and play, the Council hopes to create a distinctive city that is iconic, cultural, and inspiring. As we continue with our local and international engagement efforts in co-developing the next national strategic arts roadmap, we hope that audiences enjoy and appreciate the performing art season here in Singapore with the Festival and look forward to a stronger, more cohesive and connected society bonded through the arts.”

This year, experience works that encompass the spectrum of relations, as we witness and experience those who grieve, transform, remember, dominate, disappear, feel, prevail, linger, shimmer, observe, reclaim, endure, dare, and transcend, only at SIFA 2023. 

The 2023 Singapore International Festival of Arts runs from 19th May to 4th June 2023. Tickets and full details of programme available here

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