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The 2019 edition of SIFA might feature a musical about Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore.

Gaurav Kripalani, the new festival director, notes that 2019 marks the second centennial of the country's founding. Hence he's interested in curating artistic works that explore the life and legacy of the British statesman.

Musical on Stamford Raffles for SIFA 2019

The life and legacy of Singapore's founder may be explored in more than one work at the Singapore International Festival of Arts.
31/03/2017 - 05:50

A MUSICAL about Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, may debut at the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) in 2019.

The new festival director Gaurav Kripalani, who takes over from Ong Keng Sen later this year, notes that 2019 marks the second centennial of the country's founding. Hence he's interested in curating artistic works that explore the life and legacy of the British statesman.

Raffles arrived in Singapore in January 1819. The following month, he signed an official treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor that gave the British East India Company the right to set up a trading post in Singapore.

Kripalani says: "We're learning a lot about Raffles now - both positive and negative - and I think that has amazing potential for creation of theatre, music and dance. I expect these works to be very interesting and very different from what we saw during the 50th anniversary of Singapore."

Kripalani is no stranger to historical musicals. He helped put together the team that created the award-winning The LKY Musical in 2015 which looked at the early years of Singapore's late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT), of which Kripalani is artistic and managing director, also produced one of the country's biggest hit musicals, Forbidden City, in 2002. The musical is set to return in August this year.

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Kripalani explains: "One of the things that's important to me is commissioning and developing works on a two- to three-year horizon, so that the work can be workshopped and rewritten properly before it is shown to the public. As a national festival, SIFA needs to put in the resources for that process to happen."

Kripalani accepted the job earlier this month, which was followed by an official announcement on March 23. He will head three editions of the festival from 2018 to 2020. In 2014, it underwent a major revamp under Ong and his team.

Instantly, members of the arts community wondered aloud if Kripalani would programme works that veer towards the commercial and the crowd-pleasing, in sharp contrast to his predecessor Ong who favours conceptual provocations that often divide audiences.

SIFA under Ong, however, has been able to distinguish itself quickly and clearly from the other institutions that showcase the performing arts, such as Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands. Kripalani notes: "Keng Sen's programming has stretched the limits of my taste. There are stuff he's brought here I would not have seen on my own. But I have my own perspective on the festival, and my demands of the SIFA audience are different from his.

"I'd like to bring works where the audience can get excited by what they see and debate the issues presented to them. For SRT, I've brought works such as The Pillowman, Disgraced and the upcoming Hand To God. I've also brought shows such as Yaël Farber's Mies Julie, or The Bridge Project that featured Shakespeare's classics such as The Winter's Tale with Ethan Hawke and King Lear with Ian McKellen."

In 2013, SRT successfully co-presented with the Esplanade a series of plays by whom they billed as the "Three Titans of Theatre", namely Yukio Ninagawa, Peter Brook and Simon McBurney. Kripalani says: "I would love to have the three of them back again for SIFA."

Kripalani could not comment on whether the new festival will retain the various elements introduced by Ong and his team, such as the OPEN pre-festival, film segment and visual arts exhibitions. For now, "everything is on the table", he adds.

But there is one thing he's sure of: the festival will be shorter and more concentrated, and not stretched out over several weeks as it is now.

Kripalani says one of the reasons why he accepted the job, which officially begins on May 1, is that he thinks his tastes in the arts are similar to that of Sarah Martin, chief executive officer of Arts House Ltd (AHL), which runs the festival: "I like her vision for the Arts House, I like how direct she is, and I think we have a similar aesthetic."

While he's not stepping away entirely from his responsibilities at SRT during his tenure at SIFA, SRT's executive director Charlotte Nors will take over the position of managing director while associate producer Juliet Chia will assume the role of deputy artistic director.