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Arts fest expands its scope and ambition
A FOUR-HOUR, two-part play by Alfian Sa'at about Singapore spanning 100 years. A two-part play by Mandarin group Drama Box that begins at 5.30am at a real cemetery and continues at 8pm in a school. Kumar and his band of comedians invading the heartlands of Upper Serangoon, Tampines, Marsiling Lane and Jurong East to give free comic perfomances to "uncles and aunties".
And those are the just the highlights of the Singapore productions - not the foreign ones.
The Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) is back and looks bigger, bolder and more ambitious than it has ever been in its 36-year history. Festival director Ong Keng Sen - in his typically uncompromising, take-no-prisoners mode - has conjured up a massive spectacle that begins on June 16 with a pre-festival called OPEN and ends on Sept 19 with Mr Ong's own main production, a five-hour durational performance titled The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers.
Ticket sales opened on Thursday for the 65 events across three months. Mr Ong jokes that he asked the local arts practitioners to create "works that you can't do in your normal season and they came back with all these difficult works."
Indeed, if last year's festival - the first curated by Mr Ong - drew raves from hardcore arts lovers and rants from those who were stumped by the offerings, this year's festival is not likely to appease the latter group.
If anything, Mr Ong has applied his intellectual rigour to the entire festival, determined as he seems to be to bring the larger Singapore audience kicking and screaming into the challenging universe of contemporary art. His theme for the festival is Post-Empire, an expansive one covering a gamut of complex issues from post-colonial politics to post-capitalism and neoliberal economics.
Among the foreign highlights is a highly acclaimed theatrical piece from Chile titled The Imagination Of The Future. The work imagines a different course of history for Chile had President Salvador Allende not killed himself in 1973 before the country was taken over by brutal dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
Another must-see political work is Dementia from Hungary. The allegorical play by Kornel Mondruczo examines the end of communism and the rapid rise of capitalism in his country through a modern-day parable. Last year, Mondruczo's film White God bagged the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
A third politically themed highlight is Taiwan Dreams Episode 1: Dreams Hotel, based on Luo Yi-Chun's groundbreaking novel Xixia Hotel which examines the interlocked history of Taiwan and China through a mix of historical narrative, magic realism and erotic fiction. On the dance front, an extensive Dance Marathon across 16 days involving seven Japanese and seven South Asian dancers will see the latter group taking inspiration from the former's artistic vocabulary to create new works.
Also intriguing is the collaboration between three local dance pioneers from three races - Goh Lay Kuan, Som Said and Santha Baskhar - that will result in Homecoming, a contemporary dance that draws from the traditional aesthetics of Chinese, Malay and Indian dance forms.
The music highlights include Cabinet Of Curiosities, a new composition by Chinese-American composer Phyllis Chen and performed by Singapore-born doyenne of the toy piano Margaret Leng-Tan; three different concerts by the T'ang Quartet; and Dirtsong, a stunning celebration of indigenous Australian music.
Marking Singapore's 50th anniversary, 12 of the 19 main productions in the festival are local commissions, coming together for what Mr Ong describes as the "big bang of local productions". Each costs a minimum of S$400,000 to produce - which is not an excessive figure considering that a modest-scale production in Singapore already costs about S$200,000.
Lee Chor Lin, CEO of Art House Limited which runs the arts festival, aptly describes Sifa 2015 as "rich, intense, diverse and intellectually gripping".
For a full list of shows in the pre-festival OPEN and the main festival Singapore International Festival of Arts, please visit sifa.sg to download the festival guides. Copies of the guide will be available on a later date. Tickets are now on sale, with early bird discounts of 20 per cent till May 10
Hotel by Wild Rice
HOTEL is one of the most ambitious works ever by a Singapore playwright. Alfian Sa'at has written a four-hour play that depicts life in Singapore across a century. Set in a colonial hotel room, not unlike the ones in Raffles Hotel, it begins in 1915 with the Sepoy Mutiny and ends in 2015 with the 50th anniversary of Singapore. But Alfian says he's less interested in depicting the historical landmarks than the domestic dramas that play out against them.
Six Characters In Search Of An Author by Theatre De La Ville
Luigi Pirandello's 1921 play remains one of the most important works in the Western canon. The absurdist metatheatrical play depicts six fictional characters who are trying to shape their own destinies - independent of the author who created them. This production is by Theatre De La Ville, one of the most respected theatre companies in Paris, and directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota.
Smriti Padha by Bhaskar's Arts Academy and Kerala Kalamandalam
In 1954, Dussasana Vadham, an episode from the Indian epic Mahabharatha, was staged at Singapore's old Victoria Theatre. Now Cultural Medallion recipient Santha Bhaskar is restaging the work with dancers from India's Kerala Kalamandalam and her own company, Bhaskar's Arts Academy in the newly-refurbished Victoria Theatre. The brand new work combines the fine traditions of kathakali, kalaripayattu and mohiniyattam.
Winterreise starring Matthias Goerne
Acclaimed baritone Matthias Goerne is performing Franz Schubert's 1828 song cycle Winterreise against the backdrop of animated images by renowned South African artist William Kentridge. Playing in New York five months ago, Winterreise received glowing reviews. The New York Times raved: "(Goerne's) voice is strong, dark and rich. Though he can easily summon chesty power and chilling intensity, he can also bend a phrase with tenderness."
Cabanons by Daniel Buren and Buren Cirque
Reconstructing and deconstructing the circus experience, famous minimalist artist Daniel Buren is pitching three circus tents at the Bayfront Avenue. A rotating cast of aeralists, tightrope walkers, acrobats and jugglers perform before the audience in each tent, while simultaneous sounds from the neighbouring tents (or cabanons) make up part of the external soundscape and add to the magic.