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An Insider's Take On This Year's SIFA, Singapore's Art Scene And More

To say that this year’s edition of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) is especially exciting would not be a stretch; you’ll probably have read by now that tickets to Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s one-night-only performance together with his long-time collaborator, artist Shiro Takatani, promptly sold out within the night of going on sale.

Sarah Martin

SIFA, arguably the premier arts festival in Singapore, turns 42 this year and a key figure behind the festival is Sarah Martin, CEO of not-for-profit organisation Arts House Limited, which presents the festival.

Martin is a powerhouse in the local arts scene, having managed international music festival Womad for a decade before moving on to become the director of operations at Singapore Grand Prix. As CEO of Arts House Limited, she manages SIFA as well as a whole list of art venues in Singapore, including the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, Goodman Arts Centre, Aliwal Arts Centre and more.

With SIFA coming up soon (it takes place May 16 – June 2), we turned to Martin for a quick overview on what to expect from this year’s edition, Singapore’s art scene as a whole and more:

On how SIFA has changed (under new director Gaurav Kripalani):

“It is important that SIFA delivers different viewpoints with each festival director-cycle. Art is ever-changing, as artists explore new boundaries. Likewise, this should be the case for our national festival. Under different leaderships, the audiences will be able to explore different dimensions with this festival.

It is crucial that SIFA, as Singapore’s pinnacle performing arts event, we present the best of Singapore and from around the world to ignite and inspire artists and audiences in spite of the different cycles of leadership.”

Pictured here: Dionysus, a cross-cultural adaptation of Greek tragedy, The Bacchae, that features an diverse cast of Indonesian, Japanese and Chinese actors.

On securing Ryuichi Sakamoto for this year’s SIFA:

Everyone in this festival is a highlight, and we are thrilled that Sakamoto-san has agreed to perform in SIFA. Sakamoto-san is delighted that his oft-collaborator, Shiro Takatani,  is in Singapore doing a performance of ST/LL, and they both thought it would be a perfect opportunity to do another special performance together in the form of Fragments.”

On the challenges of organising the festival:

“The key challenge last year was there was a very short runway to put the festival together – we had six months to pull together a multigenre, multidiscipline national arts festival. As with all festivals, we have many conversations with artists that we would like to be able to present. And the choices to be made between them all will always be a difficult one. The festival has limits on what can be presented in its three-week format, as well as the financial resources to do so. We are heartened by the partners that have come on board to date, and we hope that this national festival will be embraced by more partners who believe in the power of the arts.”

Korper, a dance that ” investigates the structure of the body against the mortality of human existence” by celebrated Berlin choreographer Sasha Waltz

On how 2019’s edition differs from last year’s:

This year, we are looking at an entirely new line-up of artists, bringing together international luminaries from the performing arts world to perform alongside the very best from Singapore.

This includes renowned directors Simon McBurney and Tadashi Suzuki, as well as music powerhouses Ryuichi Sakamoto and Bill Frisell who will be making their debut in Singapore. Choreographer Sasha Waltz will also be presenting her work for the first time in Singapore. Singaporean artists to look forward to include Huzir Sulaiman, Claire Wong, Ho Tzu Nyen and Goh Boon Teck. SIFA 2019 will be Goh Boon Teck’s second consecutive SIFA, directing the second instalment of A Dream Under the Southern Bough, a three-part SIFA commission.

With all artists, Gaurav sought to identify gamechangers who are constantly bringing new perspectives to their work and pushing the boundaries.

It is also becoming increasingly difficult to categorise the arts into its traditional silos as we see the rise of multidisciplinary works. Hence, what we’ve done this year is to curate multiple journeys that audiences can explore for themselves. Whether you’re a first-time festival go-er or a seasoned art lover, there is an opportunity to broaden your horizon and enjoy works that extend beyond your comfort zone.”

On SIFA’s role in Singapore’s arts landscape:

SIFA is this country’s national arts festival, with a history that spans four decades. We are the pinnacle platform within the local landscape whilst we are positioned globally on the world’s landscape. SIFA allows for the presentation of great work with artists who are game-changers in their field, and it allows for audiences to connect with them in various intimate settings to carry forward the topical themes or inspirations behind the works presented.”

The Mysterious Lai Teck, staged by local artist Ho Tzu Nyen in a portrait of one of Southeast Asia’s most shadowy historical figures.

On Singapore’s art scene in 2019:

The arts scene is incredibly vibrant, given the range of experiments and creative use of spaces in Singapore. The country has gone from strength to strength in its capability development of artists from the point of educational platforms, and there are more opportunities for them compared to the past. Arts as a career choice has a greater acceptance now, and this is very heartening for the society.”

On what could be changed about the local art scene:

Whilst there is great vibrancy in the scene, the outreach in terms of its marketing to more segments of society is still something that could be worked on further. This is an opportunity for the arts community, not an easy task, but something that should be done.”

Beware of Pity, an “emotionally-gripping” play about the treacherous nature of pity.

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November 2019
Events & Promos