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Singapore International Festival of Arts 2022 Brings A Refreshing Take to Performing Arts

From examining performance rituals to introducing a multi-layered festival, Natalie Hennedige sets a radical direction with new possibilities in her maiden year as Festival Director

Singapore, 8 June 2022 - The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) successfully concludes its 45th year, marking the first year of Natalie Hennedige’s tenure as Festival Director, and the beginning of her three-year arc for the Festival with an overarching title of The Anatomy of Performance.

With the lifting of restrictions for performance venues in Singapore in March for the first time in over two years, Singapore’s pinnacle international performing arts festival saw the strong comeback of live performances across the island. SIFA 2022 celebrates the imagination and possibility of vibrant creativity and planning during the thick of the pandemic with both live and digital creations and experiences which had been imagined, developed and delivered during the course of the past two years. Over 430 local and international artists were involved in this year’s SIFA programming across over 70 performances and activities in-person and online, including 17 physical programmes, with a record number of 11 commissioned works for this year’s Festival.

Commissioned by the National Arts Council and organised by Arts House Limited, the Festival ran for three weeks from 20 May to 5 June, with an extended SIFA on Demand period from 20 June to 10 July.

Returning to Ritual in a period of instability

SIFA 2022 is unique, with its beginnings rooted in the budding stages of the pandemic, and its emerging to the public amidst the shifting sands of the current world.

Natalie Hennedige, Festival Director for SIFA 2022-2024, said, “SIFA engages with the complexities of the moment in the language of art, a vocabulary that triggers the imagination. The Anatomy of Performance - Ritual has been an invitation to come closer to the rich multiplicity of artistic voices reflecting, projecting and reclaiming what it means to be human and to live in a complicated world in this moment in time, and how our rituals, individually and collectively, defined and redefined, help navigate our pathways that connect lines between the past, present and future.”

This year’s works draw out a dichotomy of new experimentation by artists who have adapted to the ever-changing pandemic measures and restrictions, while paying homage to the familiar yet under-studied subject of Ritual.

Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae, Co-Directors for Devil’s Cherry, said, “It was a great privilege to be supported by the festival so we could work in a sustained way on bringing Devil's Cherry to fruition. Creating an intimate show on the epic scale of the Pasir Panjang Power Station was certainly challenging, but it enabled us to explore in a very direct and visceral way the Singapore dream of escape to Australia's wide open spaces, and the strange things that happen when those dreams come to life.”

Maestro Tsung Yeh, Music Director for the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and for opening show MEPAAN, said, “MEPAAN has been a heartfelt and spiritual journey for me and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. Together with the three indigenous artists from Borneo and the SIFA team, we have certainly enjoyed a magnificent March towards Eternity!”

Meenakshy Bhaskar, Co-Creator of Yantra Mantra for Ceremonial Enactments, shared, “The honour of being part of Ceremonial Enactments for all of us at Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, was greater than just the honour of fulfilling my mother’s commitment. Ceremonial Enactments afforded all of us to look deeper within ourselves, heal from the trauma of this year and years past which for us artists is important and to look at our art from a non-traditional perspective. It was truly exciting and exhilarating to be a part of this year’s SIFA in this manner.”

Drawing out unique multi-disciplinary characteristics of shows and venues

This year, Natalie took the unconventional approach of involving key designers across various disciplines for several productions, for aesthetic consistency and adding to the creative vitality of the festival shows. This includes Brian Gothong Tan as the multimedia artist for shows MEPAAN and Ceremonial Enactments; Max Tan as costume designer for MEPAAN and Ceremonial Enactments; Andy Lim as the lighting designer for MEPAAN, Ceremonial Enactments and Devil's Cherry; Wong Chee Wai to conceptualize the set for MEPAAN and Devil's Cherry; and Randy Chan as set designer for Ceremonial Enactments as well as the spatial and set designer of all festival productions taking place at the Pasir Panjang Power Station, including MEPAAN and Devil's Cherry. Drama Box and Teater Ekamatra also collaborated with Max Tan for their respective festival commissions.

Max Tan said, “It was truly an amazing experience to be able to work on the many different shows for SIFA 2022. The challenge to retain consistency while making sure costume designs for each show stands on its own was a rewarding experience. I also treasure the opportunity to have been able to highlight my discipline – fashion design, in ANG for Ceremonial Enactments. I hope this starts a conversation on how fashion design can be a part of the arts; standing alongside traditional and familiar forms of other disciplines such as theatre, dance and music.”

Apart from iconic performance venues such as The Arts House, Victoria Theatre, Esplanade Theatre and Goodman Arts Centre, historic and idyllic venues including Pasir Panjang Power Station and Pulau Ubin also served as sites for key SIFA commissions, with these destinations holding as much charm and meaning as the actual performances.

Kok Heng Leun and Koh Hui Ling, Co-Directors for ubin, shared, “It is a privilege to be able to create a work on Pulau Ubin, to hear the stories of the orang pulau, the people who have deep feelings there. We are also humbled by the process of learning how to create an artistic response in nature, learning to be present, to be with nature and all the elements there.”

Expanded possibilities of performance

In her first year as Festival Director, Natalie also drew out multiple dimensions to the Festival, providing an opportunity to showcase the versatility of local and international performing artists, who in the last two years have emerged with new forms of artistic expression through alternative means. SIFA 2022 saw the first iteration of its virtual venue, Life Profusion, which ran in parallel with the actual festival and provided an expanded platform for experimentation with digital as a key performance medium.

Life Profusion is home to digital-exclusive works, including the world premiere of Delicate Spells of Mind by world-renowned body architect and science fiction artist, Lucy McRae. She said, “For the last five years, I've been showcasing physical works, in the form of installation and immersive experience – the opportunity and challenge to make a new work, that defied geography (I live in Los Angeles) and current pandemic limitations, a performance film allowed us to impact audiences through dance and movement, in their own homes. On set, we used the camera like a microscope, determining the composition of props and dancers by looking through the lens. This digital ticketed experience brings a physicality and moment to a work that can be seen globally for the duration of the festival.”

Cherry Chan and Kiat, curators for Life Profusion capsule +EAT, shared, “SYNDICATE had long wanted to explore if and how a performance can be augmented when it begins with a screen-first approach. During the pandemic, we had the experience of live-streaming music performances and running shows on Twitch but often came away feeling there was an opportunity in developing screen-first works that are more exploratory in its form and creation. It was a delightful challenge for the artists to create and reimagine from an alternate space, and they have developed highly original works which are varied and slightly different from their usual outputs. In +EAT by @syndicatesg, you will see various modes of displays, new digital artefacts, variations on time(duration) and show access, and how a performer or performance can be experienced as we stage an alternative beyond a live show recording. We are very grateful for the opportunity given by Natalie and team to be able to explore the 2022 festival theme The Anatomy of Performance, and to be able to participate in the cultural shift in which technology is playing a role, giving a chance to uncover new ways of experiencing an artist’s work.”

Life Profusion extends beyond the festival proper, and will continue to be a key digital venue for the next two editions of the Festival. The SIFA 2022 experience continues on Life Profusion with five portals featuring over 50 artists to deepen audiences engagement with new ideas and new creations. From now till 10 July, audiences may still catch four commissioned programmes MEPAAN, Ceremonial Enactments, Bangsawan Gemala Malam and Delicate Spells of Mind via SIFA On Demand at sifa.sg. Tickets can be purchased on https://sifa.sg/vod at S$15 per show or S$25 for bundle of 4*, see Annex A for details.

The 2022 edition also saw the inaugural edition of SIFA X: oneirism curated by Andy Chia, adding a third layer to the Festival with alternative performance offerings at the landmark Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre.

Andy, who is also the Artistic Director for SAtheCollective, shared, “SIFA X: oneirism brought together interdisciplinary artforms of Music, Dance, Puppetry, and Arts Installation, into an experience spanning across the physical world and in our dream state that connects Human, Nature, and Technology, in line with the festival theme of Ritual. For many Singapore artists, the iconic landmarks of Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre are filled with stories. oneirism evokes the feeling of both memories of these spaces and imagined futures, enveloping audiences into worlds within the world that the artists have collectively created. I am honoured to have worked with such a stellar group of artists who have made the state of oneirism possible, and who have brought forth positive energies that are much needed in the world at this time.”

Cross-collaborations beyond borders

Adopting digital means to enable international collaboration and cross-border work allowed SIFA to foster strong and effective productions with local and international artists despite the ever-shifting safety and travel regulations.

Holly Herndon who held her first concert in Asia at SIFA 2022 with PROTO shared, “Our ensemble felt warmly welcomed by the SIFA team and audience, and we enjoyed performing at the beautiful Victoria Theatre. It was especially fun to be able to speak directly with the audience afterwards via a live interview and demo on stage. Our excellent interviewers also gave us fun questions which led to a lively discussion.”

Ken Tan, Senior Director, Programming & Producing at Arts House Limited, said, “SIFA 2022 would not have been a success without the efforts and grit from all of our artists, technical, production and events teams, the media, patrons and public, who have continued to show their support for the Festival despite the ever-changing circumstances. We thank them all for bringing life into SIFA once more.”

Looking ahead to two more editions

With SIFA 2022 having set the stage for Natalie’s three-year trajectory, audiences may look forward to the coming two years under her wing – SIFA 2023, The Anatomy of Performance – Some People, explores a means of sharing each other’s perspectives, and lived or inherited experiences in the open space that art defines. The 2023 edition will be held from 19 May to 4 June 2023 (subjected to changes).

SIFA 2024, The Anatomy of Performance – Confession, will explore confessions, or truths, which are embedded at the heart of great art.

Mrs Rosa Daniel, Chief Executive Officer of the National Arts Council said, “The full resumption of all arts activities has been welcome and timely for the successful presentation of Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2022. With the experiences of the past two years, SIFA 2022 has demonstrated how we have furthered artistic excellence, originality, and creativity to deliver to our diverse audience. The confident presentation of diverse works across the digital and physical realms, art forms, and cultures highlights the value of the arts as a medium to inspire new perspectives and connections that deepen our sense of belonging and identity. We thank Natalie for bringing the first edition of The Anatomy of Performance to audiences here and abroad and look forward to the next two years of the Festival under her leadership.”

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About Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA)

As Singapore's annual pinnacle performing arts festival, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) presents captivating and diverse works across theatre, music, dance, film and visual arts. First launched as the Singapore Festival of Arts in 1977, the festival has gone through several evolutions and inspired generations of arts lovers and practitioners. Today, the highly anticipated festival is a high point on Singapore's arts and cultural calendar. SIFA continues its festival mission to champion the creation and presentation of Singaporean and international works.

About Arts House Limited

Arts House Limited (AHL) is a not-for-profit organisation committed to enriching lives through the arts. AHL is the cultural place manager of Singapore's Civic District. It manages two key national monuments – The Arts House, a multidisciplinary arts centre with a focus on literary programming, and the Victoria Theatre & Victoria Concert Hall, a heritage building that is home to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. It also runs performing arts space Drama Centre as well as three creative enclaves for artists, arts groups and creative businesses - the Goodman Arts Centre, Aliwal Arts Centre and Stamford Arts Centre.

AHL organises the Singapore International Festival of Arts – an annual pinnacle performing arts festival; as well as the Singapore Writers Festival – a multilingual festival presenting the world's leading literary talents. In addition, AHL manages Our Cultural Medallion Story – the showcase on Singapore's Cultural Medallion recipients at The Arts House.

AHL was set up in 11 December 2002 as a public company limited by guarantee under the National Arts Council and was officially renamed Arts House Limited on 19 March 2014. For more information, visit artshouselimited.sg/.

About the National Arts Council

The National Arts Council champions the arts in Singapore. By nurturing creative excellence and supporting broad audience engagement, our diverse and distinctive arts inspire our people, connect communities and profile Singapore internationally. We preserve our rich, cultural traditions as we cultivate accomplished artists and vibrant companies for the future. Our support for the arts is comprehensive – from grants and partnerships to industry facilitation and arts housing. The Council welcomes greater private and corporate giving to and through the arts so that together we can make the arts an integral part of everyone's lives. For more information on the Council's mission and plans, visit www.nac.gov.sg.

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