15 new commissions from local artists at Singapore International Festival of Arts

Festival director Ong Keng Sen will also direct a Korean retelling of the Trojan War, staged by the National Theatre Of Korea.
Festival director Ong Keng Sen will also direct a Korean retelling of the Trojan War, staged by the National Theatre Of Korea. PHOTO: ST FILE

The spotlight is on local artists at this year's edition of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, which runs from June 28 to Sept 9.

Of the 23 productions curated by festival director Ong Keng Sen, 15 are from Singaporean or Singapore-based artists. These include the first original play from homegrown Mandarin troupe Nine Years Theatre, and the second original work from local troupe Pangdemonium.

Ong too will direct a Korean retelling of the Trojan War, staged by the National Theatre Of Korea and featuring a K-pop composer alongside a 70something Korean traditional singer, known for the art of pansori or musical storytelling.

Nine Years Theatre's founder Nelson Chia has adapted the well-known novel Art Studio by Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng Pway Ngon into a Mandarin script. It will be staged at the Victoria Theatre from Aug 17 to 19.

Chia, 45, has made his name adapting Western plays into Mandarin. This is his first time generating a full script from a work that has never been staged before, though he did work on a short excerpt for the Singapore Writers Festival in 2012. "I'm nervous and excited because there are so many possibilities," he says.

Pangdemonium will stage Dragonflies, a new play written by Singapore-born and UK-based Stephanie Street. It is set in a post-Brexit world where a UK-based Singaporean decides to take his family back home for their safety. The troupe's co-founder Adrian Pang, 51, plays the protagonist, Leslie Chen, and says the story is about hope, not just the terrible state of the world. "In this climate of cynicism and despair, it's important for us to reclaim that sense of humanity and taking control."

Enchantment in an era of disenchantment is the vision Ong has set for his final year at the helm of the arts festival. He reworked the programme heavily after the Brexit vote and United States President Donald Trump's election last November, which many saw as death blows to the ideas of globalisation and tolerance.

To make the festival "an antidote against populism, alienation, excessive rationality and control", he has programmed several participatory pieces meant to make Singaporeans consider what they have in common, as well as their differences. These include a massive picnic at the Malay Heritage Centre, and activities where Singapore residents open their kitchens to strangers for free cooking lessons.

Apart from such commissions involving locals, seven overseas productions make their Asia-Pacific premieres during the festival. Among them is famed American string ensemble Kronos Quartet's new work My Lai. The music tells the tale of the pilot who tried to stop the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. The quartet was last in Singapore in 1999 for the Singapore Arts Festival.

akshitan@sph.com.sg

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