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Above: Ong Keng Sen's hybridised version of Greek tragedy Trojan Women infuses elements of changgeuk (traditional Korean opera) and pansori (traditional Korean narrative music) into the 2,400-year-old tale.

Lebanese chef Kamal Mouzawak's Make Food, Not War movement invites everyone to the Malay Heritage Centre on July 9 for an O.P.E.N Picnic of free Lebanese meals cooked by chefs from Beirut.

Ong says that the festival is spending less on programming this year as it is holding back S$1 million of its S$4.5 million budget to hand over to the next festival administrators.


Kronos Quartet.

A more modest fest before Ong exits

The Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017 edition is the last to be headed by the iconoclastic Ong Keng Sen.
Apr 21, 2017 5:50 AM

WE never make the festival safe - the only constant is that we don't have a template, says Ong Keng Sen, director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) which runs from June 28 to Sept 9. Yet, the last festival to be headed by Ong does feel smaller and less potent than previous editions.

Ong has been helming the festival since 2014. When his contract ends later this year, he will be succeeded by Gaurav Kripalani, the longtime artistic and managing director of the Singapore Repertory Theatre.

Past festivals took enormous risks with high-concept propositions such as Robert Wilson's dark and baroque Peter Pan; Milo Rau's frightening examination of paedophilia performed by a cast of children; Buren Cirque's tiny circuses staged on an open field in Bugis, and Fernando Rubio's 10-minute plays performed by actresses lying in bed with the audience.

But Ong says that the festival is spending less on programming this year as it is holding back S$1 million of its S$4.5 million budget to hand over to the next festival administrators.

"Last year, we were also given S$4.5 million from the National Arts Council (NAC), but we managed to raise an additional S$2 million to make a giant programme. This year we are working within the budget that NAC gave us. And, as a team, we want to leave our successors not in the red, but with a margin of S$1 million ... So I had to find a selective programme. I had to do the math and ask myself if it makes sense to bring a show that has a cast and crew of 30 or 40 people, versus one with 10 people."

This year's line-up consists of 23 productions, 15 of which are by Singaporean or Singapore-based artists. The highlights include Art Studio, a theatrical adaptation by Nine Years Theatre of Yeng Pway Ngon's fine novel about Singapore artists; Becoming Graphic, a collaboration between hot graphic novelist Sonny Liew and cool theatre maker Edith Podesta; Dragonflies, a new post-"Brexit" play written by Stephanie Street and staged by the acclaimed company Pangdemonium.

But apart from Ong's own genre-defying Trojan Women blending Greek tragedy with Korean music, three performances by the world-famous Kronos Quartet, as well as a retrospective on Filipino cinematic legend Lav Diaz, several of the festival offerings are more modest in scale compared to the ambitious eye-watering productions of previous years, such W!ld Rice's five-hour century-spanning play Hotel, Drama Box's multiple-location It Won't Be Too Long trilogy, and Ong's own six-hour durational performance with actors from 18 countries titled The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers.

The festival, however, still maintains its two-month-long pre-festival event O.P.E.N. which has its own share of compelling shows. They include K Rajagopal's Lizard On The Wall, a live filming of a wedding scene from Balli Kaur Jaswal's novel Inheritance where the audience will get to play the wedding guests and be simultaneously filmed.

There is also O.P.E.N. Kitchens where several Singapore residents across the island open their homes to strangers to teach the latter how to cook the hosts' favourite dishes. Inspired by Lebanese chef Kamal Mouzawak's Make Food, Not War movement, which started in the Middle East as an attempt to bridge differences between people, it will culminate in the O.P.E.N Picnic at the Malay Heritage Centre on July 9 where everyone is invited for a free Lebanese meal cooked by chefs from Beirut.

Tickets are now on sale at Sistic.
For more detailed information on the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) and its pre-festival event O.P.E.N., please visit
An O.P.E.N. pass will get you entry into all the pre-festival programmes with prior registration. Purchasing an O.P.E.N. pass will also entitle you to a 25 per cent discount on all the shows in the main festival SIFA

BT's top 5 picks

HERE'S our list of must-see shows at the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017:


By National Theater of Korea and Ong Keng Sen

Outgoing festival director Ong is certainly leaving with a bang - at least with his own hybridised production of the classic Greek tragedy Trojan Women. Ong's version infuses elements of changgeuk (traditional Korean opera) and pansori (traditional Korean narrative music) into the 2,400-year-old tale, such that the plight of these long-suffering women take on a new force and dimension.


By Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort

In recent years, Germinal has been one of the most talked-about new productions on the festival circuit. The work consists of an empty stage on which four performers create a brand-new world with its own set of laws. With this, Defoort and Goerger - who consider themselves actors, musicians, philosophers and pranksters all at the same time - bring theatre back to its basic elements.


By Nine Years Theatre, Nelson Chia and Yeng Pway Ngon

The rise of local Mandarin theatre company Nine Years Theatre has been nothing short of meteoric. By delivering solidly directed and acted old-fashioned drama, it has attracted a loyal following among theatre-goers. This is the first time the company is adapting a novel instead of translating an existing classic script into Mandarin. Yeng's 2011 novel tracks the lives of Singapore artists from the 1940s to the 1970s.


By Sonny Liew and Edith Podesta

Set to be one of the fastest-selling tickets of the festival, graphic novelist Liew (of international best-seller The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye fame) collaborates with Edith Podesta, an extraordinary theatre director and writer, to bring his latest new book to life for the stage.


By Kronos Quartet, Rinde Eckert and Van-Anh Vanessa Vo

One of the most enduring and celebrated string quartets in the world, Kronos Quartet returns to Singapore after a 20-year absence to perform an evening of classic and contemporary numbers on Sept 2. But on Aug 31 and Sept 1, it is teaming up with tenor Rinde Eckert and multi-instrumental artist Van-Anh Vanessa Vo to perform a sensational 90-minute operatic monodrama composed by Jonathan Berger and Harriet Scott Chessman in response to the massacre of innocent Vietnamese villagers by American soldiers in My Lai, Vietnam, in 1968.