Arts festival goes global this year

The Singapore International Festival of Arts will showcase famous artists and international and home-grown artists will create new productions

After using unconventional spaces such as the HDB heartland and Bukit Brown Cemetery last year for its shows, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) returns this year with a focus on the international.

The $5-million festival, which takes place from Aug 11 to Sept 17, will bring the works of world- renowned artists such as Israeli architect and designer Ron Arad, and leading Canadian theatre- maker Robert Lepage, to Singapore.

And the annual event will continue to shift its focus between international works and works from Singapore each year.

This year, the festival will comprise mainly international shows, but it will be a Singapore-heavy affair next year, with Singapore shows forming more than half the line-up.

Ong Keng Sen, who is in his third year as festival director, says: "Arts development in the world is also important to a global city like Singapore. Singapore cannot afford to be an ostrich with its head in the sand. This alternating focus allows us to have an inside-outside perspective to the arts in Singapore and the rest of the world."

And the festival is also moving towards becoming a platform for premiering new works. Both international and Singapore artists are invited to create new productions, which will make their Asian debuts at the festival.

One is Five Easy Pieces by Swiss director Milo Rau, among the most famed and controversial of theatre directors in Europe.

Premiering new works at the festival can give it a leg up in the crowded arts festival landscape in Asia and establish it as a trailblazer in the region, Ong says.

International artists are creating important works and people living in Singapore and Asia should have the opportunity to catch them as they are being made, he adds.

"I don't want our audiences to see such exciting works only five years later. For example, what is the edge of documentary theatre today in the world? What Milo Rau is doing should be seen by audiences in Singapore now. I would like Sifa to invest in such work and not just be a buyer of the arts."

The theme for the festival is Potentialities and it looks at the potential to develop in the future. Stunning visuals and the daring, innovative use of technology in some shows will offer a tantalising glimpse of this.

This year's festival highlights the potential of collaborations between Singapore and the international arts community too. A new element this year is the presence of Singapore artists in international productions, Ong says.

When Arad recreates his dazzling interactive installation 720, first exhibited as Curtain Call in London in 2011, for the festival, it will feature new creations from Singapore artist Brian Gothong Tan.

In the installation, nearly 6,000 platinum-cured silicon strands cascade from an 18m-wide ring, forming a playful curtain for films, images and animations to be projected onto it.

The festival will open on Aug 11 with Hamlet/Collage, which unites Canadian director Robert Lepage and Russian acting legend Yevgeny Mironov.

The one-man show - supported by almost two dozen backstage staff - sees Mironov running and leaping in a massive, open-sided cube suspended above the stage.

Before the main festival season opens in August, arts lovers can whet their appetites at The O.P.E.N., a pre-festival public engagement initiative that runs from June 23 to July 9.

It opens with Uighr rock star Perhat Khaliq, who rose to fame after taking part in The Voice Of China in 2014, with his unique take on the folk music of his people.

There will also be Club Malam, described by Ong as "an immersive experiential evening inspired by the nightclub scenes of the late 1950s and 1960s - yet different".

Among those involved is visual artist Speak Cryptic, whose artwork will be brought to life for the very first time by 100 performers. An open call for performers will be held on March 19.

There will be close to 30 programmes in both Sifa and O.P.E.N., many of them either world or Asian premieres. More details of this year's line-up will be released in April.

Tickets go on sale on April 8.

The open call for participants for Club Malam is on March 19. For more information, call 9397-7113 or e-mail

This article was first published on Feb 16, 2016.
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