NYS: Any last thoughts on the Festival?
OKS: I think something else I enjoyed was how all the groups responded by making their festival items epic. You can be epic in terms of spectacle and you can be epic in terms of your imagination.
Hotel, some people would say its not epic because its set in one room, but it was epic in its whole time and space, and its something W!ld Rice would not have done by itself because they would not have seen the dollars and cents balancing out for them. But I think now W!ld Rice has done this, they have a product they can bring back. It was as epic as Drama Boxs scope of doing both the Cemetery and Toa Payoh in completely different ways.
Everybody challenged themselves in different ways. Tang Quartet may never hade done Black Angels by themselves because within their repertory its a stretch, but they responded to my call to do something unusual.
But this larger issue that I think the Festival is sitting on I dont know if youve read about he migration crisis in Business Times, and I think the Festival is on the brink of all these discussions, like with Border Crossers.
And I must say there are moments when I think, Oh god, are we supporting PAPs agenda in doing a work like this, or are we critiquing the oppositions negativity about migration? So sometimes I felt a little bit uncertain about the stand in Singapore. Because on a certain level I believe in Border Crossers, I believe in having more foreign workers, because I think Singapore is too closed and I dont think anything can change until we have more foreignness in Singapore.
And I think does this support PAP? Why is the opposition so xenophobic and inward-looking? Because the only way they can get support is to come out against foreign workers. So for myself, I have to think what this means for me as a Festival director. Being Singapore, being cosmopolitan.
I think for me it was very important to change the name to SIFA, so it plays to an international level. And I dont mean more atas I can say SIFA is not just here to discuss communities as framed by Singapore politics.
I think we have a larger discussion about how Singapore politics is framing migration, because we are the Singapore International Festival of the Arts. And that has been the biggest advantage of changing the name. The first year, when I did get a call from MCCY about why there is no Chinese production, I said there why is there no Malay production, and I said we have to put all candidates that are possible for the Festival and decide what to bring on a government-to-government cultural exchange. Because its called SIFA this gives it a kind of leverage, that we are not just concerned with Singapore politics and Singapore voting concerns.
And of course this year, it ends with Border Crossers, and the idea of what is the Post-Nation possibility, is this photograph...
There are still some things the festival is not known for. Singaporeans have a buying pattern for classical music: they go to the SSO or look at the Esplanade. So I agree that SIFA is not necessarily the first avenue these audiences go for. Because they are thinking of having a subscription to classical music, and they go to the SSO. So although we may present Matthias Goernes Winterreise, thats not being picked up by classical music lovers. And for us we are never going to be a subscription oriented type festival, unlike the SSO where you can pick up six concerts to bring your child to. And we have concerts with lets say 12 foreign works that we bring, we cant just spend it all on classical concerts.
I think one of the things thats coming across is that SIFAs getting much more a of a pull for its experimental edge. People want to see something new, like something like Dirtsong is seen to be too pop in a way. Dementia and Six Characters in Search of an Author, they are not easy theatre, but they sold much better than an Aboriginal music concert. I think audiences expect something different from SIFA at the end of Six Characters, we only had 40 tickets left to sell for the three shows. So that was quite interesting. I would think that absurdist theatre, people would say its difficult to sell, yet it sold.
NYS: But they're very famous texts.
OKS: I think in a way SIFA does believe in bringing in the absurd canon. Because I dont think that Beckett and Pirandello is hard to sell, because it is the canon of absurd theatre. But I think most curators and programmers in Singapore would not plan to do something like that. So I think the festival does stand out. We take a slightly more edgy approach.
NYS: Would you do anything different next year?
OKS: I would consider, next year, whether or not I would put in the first week a show by emerging artists.
Maybe it would be better to represent it later. Like Wang Chong with LaSalle students: by the time that came a certain kind of energy had formed, had taken root. So next time Ill think hard before putting an emerging artist group there.
I took that risk because I didnt want to open with established companies: I didnt want to open with Hotel or Versus. And it was a once n a lifetime opportunity to do SG50 work: we could invite Lay Kuan back in a way, and it was an appropriate event for leaders to see: large-scale work which has not been adequately supported.
Making contemporary dance from ethnic dance is something that Singapore still struggles with and I believe some very bold moves should have been made in the 90s, like it was made n Taiwan with Cloud Gate: that was when Chinese dance became contemporary dance. And we missed that boat in Singapore. But in presenting returning, I feel its a great opportunity, because its right for politicians to look at this work. I think it will be harder to bring politicians to Versus, mainly because its an artistic language that demands a lot. I think that was a good opening fit for the politicians.
And Ive done another kind of opening last year: Facing Goya, Michael Nyman, biogenetics an arty opening was put on the table. So this is a continuing conversation about what is an appropriate opening, and not every year will we find the right show. Its very much about the arts: it depends on the planets coming together in a certain way. On chance, on luck. A certain kind of randomness.
Photo by Michael Dames
I think that with classical music, I imagine if I ever did a commission again, I would insist on a new composition. It may not be a new composition from Singapore, but from the world. It was exciting to see Phyllis Chens work coming together, where it was performed for the first time. I think I will insist on at least one new classical composition.
Many people say the think this is the best festival theyve seen. But I think we cant do another festival like this, because well kill ourselves. 69 shows, one Open Homes which became 25 homes, one Dance Marathon which became 14 productions
So I think thats the reality pill that we will have to take for 2016. We cant go on in this way. We are an indie structure which is not completely funded to do this kind of large scale. We dont have the infrastructure of the National Museum to do the Night Festival, where they have full salaried staff. Those are the things that Im thinking about a lot.
Where is the future? I do believe that SIFA is still a niche festival, a specialized festival, a boutique festival, because inflation is so high the cost of living has gone so much, that $6 million in 2012 is no longer $6 million in 2015.
I think weve proven naysayers wrong, who say you cant do this in Singapore. But it takes a lot out of you; you need a more independent structure. One of the contradictory things about SIFA is that its not institutional yet. It doesnt have a building.
Its still quite indie. In terms of that we can say, OK, we dont have a formula, we can explore different things.