Arts fest returns with a riskier proposition

Main event has 15 new commissioned works, many of which are cutting-edge and conceptual.

RISK is Ong Keng Sen's favourite game. And the third and latest edition of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) boasts its biggest gamble yet. Of the 20 works to be presented at the festival, 15 are new commissioned works. And anyone familiar with the festival circuit would know that presenting this many new works can go horribly wrong - new works don't have the benefit of being tried and tested before audiences and reworked thereafter.

But Ong, the festival director, says: "We refuse to be a glamorous shopper, just going around the world and buying productions. Instead, we want to invest in the artists and the process of creation. We want to be part of the commissioning cycle and bring art to Singapore early. We want to move towards collaboration models between Singapore and the international art world. We are Singaporeans living in an international space."

The main festival runs from Aug 11 to Sept 17, with a pre-festival called The OPEN running from June 22 to July 9.

The highlights of the main festival include a work by one of the world's most sought-after directors, Milo Rau, whose Five Easy Pieces centres on the trial of murderer and paedophile Marc Dutroux. Yet, for such a provocative subject, the work will be performed by seven Dutch children aged eight to 13.

Meanwhile, long-time cult director Robert Lepage will present his version of Hamlet (titled Hamlet/Collage) in which one Russian actor plays the entire cast of Shakespeare's characters. There's also The Sardono Retrospective which looks at the life of one of Indonesia's greatest performing artists Sardono W Kusumo through his choreography, paintings and films.

Ong himself will be co-directing a twisted interpretation of Shakespeare's Richard III with well-known Japanese director Hideki Noda. Titled Sandaime Richard, the play puts William Shakespeare on trial for defaming the King of England with his play.

Meanwhile, other festival works by Singapore artists include Checkpoint Theatre's The Last Bull: A Life In Flamenco, about famous flamenco dancer Antonio Vargas who now resides in Singapore. And there's also I Am LGB, Loo Zihan's piece on the performance art of Ray Langenbach.

Ong says that Singaporean art "tends to deal with the realities of Singapore". But he's more intrigued by works that "move into a kind of conceptual space".

He says: "Art is perceived to be not very important in Singapore. Only art that is seen as transforming the economy - like, say, the Art Stage, where art that can be bought and sold - is deemed important ... So we want to shift the paradigm by looking at ideas, concepts, potentialities and future visions."

Last year's total attendance figure of 62,000 was a dramatic jump from the inaugural 2014 edition's figure of 22,000 - an indication to Ong that the public is receptive to the festival's cutting-edge programming.

For a full list of events in SIFA 2016 and The Open, visit its website Tickets are now available from Sistic

Top SIFA highlights

Five Easy Pieces
Aug 18-20
Victoria Theatre

This is perhaps the most provocative work in the festival. Directed by Milo Rau, it centres on the trial of murderer and paedophile Marc Dutroux - but it is performed by children aged eight to 13.

Still Life
Aug 25-27
Victoria Theatre

Through stunning images, ground-breaking Greek director Dimitris Papaioannou explores the impact of the Greek debt crisis on its people.

Sandaime Richard
Sept 8-10
Victoria Theatre

Ong Keng Sen and Hideki Noda adapt Shakespeare's Richard III, putting William Shakespeare on trial for defaming the King of England with his play. The esteemed international cast includes Singapore's Janice Koh.

Paradise Interrupted
Aug 31-Sept 2
Drama Centre Theatre

Leading China-born American composer Huang Ruo collaborates with acclaimed Chinese artist Jennifer Wen Ma to create an exquisite opera based on the 1598 classic The Peony Pavilion.

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