Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Groundbreaking and game-changing

May 15. 2019
“Dionysus” by Suzuki Company of Toka and Purnati Indonesia
“Dionysus” by Suzuki Company of Toka and Purnati Indonesia
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By Pawit Mahasarinand

The Southeast Asia premiere of Thai film is among the lineup of the 2019 edition of the Singapore International Festival of Arts

A few months ago when tickets for the annual Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) went on sale, a critic colleague, who covers both film and theatre for an online magazine, told me with sheer delight that he managed to book, while in a taxi, a ticket to internationally acclaimed Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s concert “Fragments” before they sold out less than an hour later. And with a good number of flights between Bangkok and Singapore, this is another day trip for him. 

Meanwhile, a group of Thai graduate students in theatre are currently on a study trip with their professor at SIFA to watch another Japanese master Tadashi Suzuki’s “Dionysus” on which he collaborates with Indonesia Purtani as well as the festival’s curtain raiser, “Beware of Pity” by Germany’s Schaubuhne Berlin and UK’s Complicite, which shows tonight at the Esplanade Theatre.

In a city that’s home to many international shows and events all year-round, an annual arts festival can still create excitement and draw attention, evidently not only locally.


"Beware of Pity” by Schaubuhne Berlin and Complicite opens the festival tonight.

In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Gaurav Kripalani, SIFA’s director, looks back at his first festival last year and expressed thanks to his team who helped curate it in six months. For the 2019 edition, he says, “We had a little bit more time this year, which allowed us to go broader and deeper when programming the festival.

“One big difference is that we’ve done away with segregating shows by traditional genres of music, theatre and dance – it’s hard for us to categorise the arts into traditional silos. Audiences can look forward to more cross-cultural collaborative pieces, more multi-disciplinary works featuring immersive presentation formats with the use of technology such as VR [e.g. “Frogman” by UK’s curious directive, “VR_I” by Switzerland’s Compagnie Gilles Jobin and Artanim] and animatronic marionette [e.g. “Peter and the Wolf” by New Zealand’s Silo Theatre]. We’re also looking at an entirely new lineup of artists with different perspectives – perspectives of movement [e.g. “Crowd” by France’s Gisele Vienne and “Korper” by Germany’s Sasha Waltz and Hans Peter Kuhn], classics reinvented [e.g. “Dionysus” and “A Dream Under the Southern Bough: Reverie” by Singapore’s Toy Factory].


“Fragments” by Ryuichi Sakamoto


Unlike many other festivals, or even some previous versions of SIFA or its predecessor Singapore Arts Festival (SAF), Kripalani firmly believes that there is no singular, overarching theme for SIFA. “We take pride in the diversity of our events that appeal to broader audiences. That’s the beauty of SIFA – we curate multiple journeys that allow audiences to select for themselves and explore multiple forms and multiple topics, and every single year it’s different,” he explains.

He then explains how he’s curated SIFA. “I adopt a methodology where I identify game-changing artists, who are redefining or groundbreaking in their respective art forms. I’ll talk to them, and paint them a picture of how rapidly Singapore’s arts landscape is evolving. I’ll then discuss with these artists the shows that they’ve done and how relevant they are to the current climate, not only within Singapore but worldwide.”


“Korper” by Sasha Waltz and Hans Peter Kuhn

Also part of SIFA 2019 are Asian Dramaturgs’ Network Conference and Asian Arts Media Roundtable. The Thai movie “Nakorn-Sawan”, is making its Southeast Asia premiere as part of “Singular Screens”, curated by Asian Film Archive (AFA) for SIFA, comprising, in Kripalani’s words, “a selection of exceptional new films that celebrate independent voices across the world as well as award-winning works that push the boundaries of traditional cinematography.”

Alongside the SEA premiere of Taiwanese director Tsai Mingliang’s “Your Face” and a FIPRESCI-winning film from Berlin International Film Festival “Die Kinder der Toten”, is young Thai filmmaker Puangsoi “Rose” Aksornsawang’s “NakornSawan”. AFA’s programmer and outreach officer Thong Kay Wee explains, “I appreciated the stylistic experiments in a docudrama hybrid and that they’re used to effect in a highly personal story. Rose deserves credit for her bravery in making bold cinematic choices and also sharing a highly personal story in her first debut feature. Both takes courage.”


Thai film Nakorn-Sawan 


Specifically for Thai audiences, Kripalani notes, “There’s bound to be something in the programme for everyone, from the first time SIFA goers to the seasoned art connoisseurs. We’d also recommend our friends from Thailand to make the most out of their trip by visiting The Arts House, which will transform into the Festival House. With meaningful engagement opportunities from artists’ talks, workshops, discussions and the festival bar House Pour, the Festival House breaks down the walls between artists and audiences to create unique experiences and inspiring artistic encounters.

Special thanks to Huntington Communications’ Juliana Tan for all kind assistance.

Short trip, anyone?

- SIFA 2019 starts today and continues until June 2. There are many free programmes, some of which require advance online registration. 

- For more details and ticket reservations, visit www.Sifa.sg.


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