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SIFA 2020: Sterling slate of shows
STORIES TOLD through actors’ fingers. Korean singers performing for you and only you in a room. The epic history of music recounted in two hours by a drag queen. Gravity-defying dancers performing on a stage perpendicular to the ground. Ghost stories, grief stories, Gogol and more.
The 2020 Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) is the third and last edition to be helmed by festival director Gaurav Kripalani. And it looks to be his best.
Arts lovers sometimes compare him unfavourably to his predecessor, the cerebral Ong Keng Sen, whose programming leaned towards challenging, iconoclastic works. But Mr Kripalani’s accessible, crowd-pleasing sensibility has truly come to fruition with this edition.
The slate of shows running in May looks set to please connoisseurs and casual audiences alike. It strikes a balance between small niche curios and flamboyant crowd-pullers, risky propositions and surefire hits.
Mr Kripalani says: “I had only six months to programme the 2018 edition, and there was still a lot of learning to do in 2019… but I feel that with this 2020 edition, people can see the clear arc of our concept and programming.”
When Mr Kripalani took over from Mr Ong in 2018, detractors rightly pointed out the Mr Kripalani could never contest the one high-wire act of Mr Ong – bringing an international touring production which Mr Ong had directed himself to every SIFA edition from 2014 to 2017.
Mr Kripalani, who is no director, sought instead to facilitate the collaboration of local arts groups with regional and international collaborators. This year, The Necessary Stage is premiering The Year Of No Return, co-created with Japanese, Malaysian and Filipino artists. Nine Years Theatre is debuting an adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters with the famous SITI Company of New York. The Finger Players is retelling the legend of Oiwa – The Ghost Of Yotsuya with Japanese actors.
Arguably, Mr Kripalani’s accessible programming – coupled with the industry savvy of presenting body Arts House Limited led by CEO Sarah Martin – has opened up SIFA to a broader audience base. Ms Martin says: “We’ve been able to attract new pockets of people who have never watched a SIFA production before. Our programming has appealed to a more diverse audience.”
Ms Martin, who was former festival director of WOMAD, said music is a key strategy: “Music, as a rule, has a lower barrier of entry.” Successes include programming millennial star Jacob Collier to attract younger audiences, coaxing Ryuichi Sakamoto to make a rare appearance, and having the legendary Duke Ellington Orchestra perform for free at the Botanic Gardens.
SIFA 2020 will open with Tan Dun’s large-scale choral work Buddha Passion, performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the Internationale Chorakademie Lubeck. The acclaimed Parisian group Ensemble Intercontemporain will hold court on the closing night.
Mr Kripalani says: “I’m thrilled about this year’s programme. There are a lot of things that took us three years to bring to the stage. So this represents a kind of culmination.”
The next festival director is Natalie Hennedige, artistic director of Cake Theatre.
SIFA 2020 runs from May 15 to 31, 2020. Visit sifa.sg for the full programme. Tickets from Sistic.
Top 10 shows at SIFA 2020
1. 100% SINGAPORE
By Rimini Protokoll
(May 29 & 30)
Berlin-based performance company Rimini Protokoll goes to various cities around the world and coaxes ordinary people to go on stage to talk about issues that matter to them. A cross between a social experiment and reality theatre, 100% Singapore will comprise 100 Singaporeans appearing on the Esplanade stage to present a portrait of the city from multiple perspectives.
2. AS THE WORLD TIPPED
By Wired Aerial Theatre
(May 29 - 31)
The big crowdpleaser of SIFA 2020 is As The World Tipped, which features a group of dancers performing vigorously on a platform that stands perpendicular to the ground. Over the course of the evening, the platform tips at various angles, a metaphor of how our climate is altering the world at an accelerating pace. This jaw-dropping spectacle will be staged at Gardens By The Bay.
3. BUDDHA PASSION
By Tan Dun, Internationale Chorakademie Lubeck and Singapore Symphony Orchestra
(May 15 & 16)
Inspired by Buddhist philosophy, acclaimed composer Tan Dun has created an extraordinary six-act choral work depicting various characters attaining nirvana on their journeys. The work has been performed in cities such as Los Angeles and Melbourne, where it received prolonged standing ovations.
4. COLD BLOOD
(May 15 & 16)
Imagine a drama performed by the hands and fingers of actors, telling moving stories of death and resurrection. Belgian theatre company Astragales has completely reinvented acting and storytelling by having its actors have each hand play a different character in various miniature sets. Overhead cameras project the action onto large screens for the audience to see.
5. NO LONGER GAGOK: ROOM 5↻
By Park Minhee
(May 22 – 24)
Gagok is a traditional Korean style of slow singing that is said to slow your heart rate and bring inner peace. Now imagine having gagok singer entertain you one-on-one in a private room, singing songs once favoured by Korean royals. This once-in-a-lifetime experience puts audiences in seven different rooms, including five in which they come up-close with the performers.
6. ENSEMBLE INTERCONTEMPORAIN
Featuring the Wind Quintet
Ensemble Intercontemporain is one of the world’s most lauded contemporary music ensembles. It comprises 31 accomplished soloists skilled at performing a wide repertoire of 20th and 21st century music, from Gyorgy Ligeti to Philip Glass. Only its wind quintet will be coming for SIFA 2020, but its exciting programme of Debussy, Cage and Berio will undoubtedly thrill.
By Kidd Pivot
(May 16 & 17)
Crystal Pite is one of most exciting choreographers in the world. Working with writer Jonathon Young, she’s created a modern masterpiece of dance-theatre based on Nikolai Gogol’s classic 1836 play Revisor (also known as The Inspector General). It tells a bittersweet tale of a lowly clerk who gets mistaken for a high-ranking government official.
8. SOURCE X AUDIBLE LANDS
By Eric Lee, Migrant Workers Musicians, Otomo Yoshihide and The Observatory
(May 24 & 25)
Singapore’s most famous experimental band The Observatory collaborates with Japanese maestro Otomo Yoshihide, filmmaker Eric Lee and various musicians from Singapore’s large migrant worker population to create a humane and unforgettable work that celebrates the sounds and songs on the peripheries of our city.
9. THE YEAR OF NO RETURN
By The Necessary Stage
(May 21 – 23)
The Necessary Stage’s debut production for SIFA, The Year Of No Return sees the iconic theatre company working with collaborators from Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines. The interdisciplinary production looks at the irreversible impact of climate change on the world’s inhabitants. The play will be performed in English, Malay, Japanese and Tagalog, with English surtitles.
10. A 24-DECADE HISTORY OF POPULAR MUSIC
By Taylor Mac
(May 22 & 23)
In 2016, American drag queen Taylor Mac recounted the 240 year history of American pop music in a stunning 24-hour performance with dazzling costumes. It was hailed by The Guardian as one of the top five most important theatre works of the 21st century. For SIFA, she is giving a 2-hour version of the same performance – though she resists calling it an “abridged” version.