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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia
Image: Crispian Chan

Singapore International Festival of the Arts 2017: An Enchanted Swan Song from Festival Director Ong Keng Sen

By Akanksha Raja

(770 words, 9-mintue read)

The 2017 edition of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) returns with the theme “Enchantment”. It is the fourth and final edition helmed by Ong Keng Sen as Festival Director, and presents a range of artforms and interdisciplinary crossovers. It runs from June 28 to September 9, covering three months. This is a significant change from the past four editions when the pre-festival event, The O.P.E.N., and SIFA took place a month apart, each spanning a few weeks.

In reaction to the slate of turbulent world events since 2016 – Brexit, the election of Trump, unrest in Syria, and more – the team felt the need to rework the approach to this year’s festival. SIFA 2017 thus champions the theme of Enchantment as a crucial “antidote against populism, alienation, excessive rationality and control” that is increasingly prevalent in the current zeitgeist.

Image: Garçon Design
Image: Garçon Design

Audience empowerment is a key goal of the festival this year, as participatory experiences form a significant aspect of SIFA 2017. The O.P.E.N. commences with Art as Res Publicae, a dialogue session about art and the public, created by 100 discussants who will be chosen from the public through an open call. The conversation will also include commentators, moderators, and will open the floor to attendees. The selection of discussants promises to cater to diverse demographics, so as to give space to multiple viewpoints.

The O.P.E.N. Inspiration: Kamal Mouzawak. Image: Souk el Tayeb
The O.P.E.N. Inspiration: Kamal Mouzawak. Image: Souk el Tayeb

Eating as a participatory act is presented in a few O.P.E.N events: Open Kitchens, where over 30 Singapore residents – including Noorlinah Mohamed, Anita Kapoor and Lok Meng Chue – invite audiences to cooking sessions within their homes. Open Kitchens is inspired by Lebanese culinary activist Kamal Mouzawak who will deliver the O.P.E.N keynote about the importance of the mindful and responsible consumption of food in a globalised world. Four chefs from his social enterprise project Tawlet (Table) will join him to play host to the O.P.E.N. Picnic, a mass fiesta free to the public – which emphasises the benefits of cooking as an act of sharing and togetherness in an increasingly unstable world.

Tawlet (Table). Image: Souk el Tayeb.
Tawlet (Table). Image: Souk el Tayeb

Also part of the O.P.E.N. is filmmaker K Rajagopal’s Lizard on the Wall project – inspired by Singaporean novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Inheritance – where audiences become both actors and spectators of the work. The final filmed work will be screened at the closing gala of the festival.

Image: Akanga Film Asia
Image: Akanga Film Asia

Moving into SIFA 2017, audiences can look forward to Open Homes – an site-specific theatre concept by Jeffrey Tan that sets performances within the intimacy of HDB homes, bringing audiences into 30 different residences across Singapore. Virtual interactive performance features in Guilty Landscapes III by Dries Verhoeven, a one-on-one video installation where people on the news turn around to look back at the solitary viewer.

While the festival is inspired by the idea of “a Grand Tour of the world”, featuring several international and cross-national productions, there is a decidedly strong focus on Singaporean works. The festival promises over 90 unique events headed by Singapore-based artists and members of the Singapore public. It showcases 16 commissioned works by Singaporean artists, including two Singapore collaborations with international artists – Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz and the National Theater of Korea.

Image: Sonny Liew
Image: Sonny Liew

Theatre company Pangdemonium will present an original play set in Singapore, Dragonflies, that responds directly to today’s troubled world, and choreographer Daniel Kok sets a group of nine dancers in various urban spaces. A crossover of artforms is presented in Becoming Graphic, by acclaimed Singaporean graphic novelist Sonny Liew and prolific theatre-maker Edith Podesta, whose innovative collaboration will meld the two different languages of illustration and performance. Other local artists in the programme include Mandarin theatre company Nine Years Theatre and visual artist Robert Zhao with his Institute of Critical Zoologists.

Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013 © Jay Blakesberg
Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013 © Jay Blakesberg

Aside from local productions, seven festival events will come from international artists whose works will see their Asia-Pacific premieres at SIFA 2017. This includes An Evening with Kronos Quartet, which sees the internationally lauded, contemporary classical music group’s return to Singapore after 20 years. For those who prefer more thumping beats, Le Syndrome Ian from French choreographer Christian Rizzo is a dance event that mingles disco, post-punk, clubbing and stage dance. Other events hail from far afield as South Africa (And So You See… by Robyn Orlin) and Chile (Vegetative State by Manuela Infante.)

Festival Director Ong Keng Sen highlights the importance of the sustainability of the festival – while the audience is both a spectator and participant in most of the events, it is crucial for the festival’s survival that audiences pay by purchasing the O.P.E.N. passes and SIFA event tickets.

 

For further information and ticketing for the O.P.E.N, click here.

For further information and ticketing for the main SIFA season, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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