15 new works for this year's festival of arts

Five Easy Pieces by Swiss director Milo Rau/IIPM – International Institute of Political Murder and Campo has children talking about adult issues.
Five Easy Pieces by Swiss director Milo Rau/IIPM – International Institute of Political Murder and Campo has children talking about adult issues.PHOTO: PHILE DEPREZ

The main season will be a line-up of 20 shows, featuring innovations in traditional theatre

Continuing last year's theme of presenting new work, this year's Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) has 15 creations in its main season line-up of 20 shows.

Among the productions running between Aug 11 and Sept 17 are eight collaborations between Singaporean and international artists, in keeping with the festival theme of Potentialities and the potential inherent in the individual in today's globalised world.

Israeli architect Ron Arad and Singapore's Brian Gothong Tan will create a cinema-theatre hybrid at Gardens by the Bay called Tropical Traumas: A Series Of Cinematographic Choreographies, which runs from Sept 2 to 4. Arad will first create his crowd-pleasing interactive outdoor installation, 7200, previously showcased in London and Jerusalem. The cylinder, 18m in diameter, is made of 5,600 suspended silicon cords that serve as the screen for film projections. It also houses a runway across its centre.

This is the stage on which Tan will direct a 70-minute play inspired by the writings of Victorian- era explorers including Sophia Raffles. Six performers will interact with one another as well as with Tan's multimedia creations.

Tan, 36, is no stranger to directing theatre; this is his fourth outing. But the stage in Gardens by the Bay presents challenges including competition from the nightly sound-and-light show.

Still, he says, he is excited. "Doing something for the festival, there's no limit to the imagination."

  • Highlights

  • Hamlet/Collage

    WHAT: Canadian director Robert Lepage and Russia's Theatre Of Nations turn the Shakespearean play into a one-man show performed in a spinning, suspended open-sided cube.

    WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre

    WHEN: Aug 12 and 13, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $40 to $80 from Sistic (call 6348-5555)

    INFO: In Russian with English surtitles

    Everything By My Side

    WHAT: Argentina's Fernando Rubio brings anintimate show featuring 10 actresses from 10 different countries - including Singapore's Margaret Chan. Each actress shares a bed with an audience member for 15 minutes and whispers childhood memories to him.

    WHERE: National Gallery Singapore

    WHEN: Aug 12 and 13, 6 to 9pm; Aug 13 and 14, 2 to 5pm

    ADMISSION: $10 from Sistic

    INFO: In English

    Paradise Interrupted

    WHAT: Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo partners Beijing Olympic Games ceremonies designer Jennifer Wen Ma in music theatre inspired by a classic love scene from the 16th-century Kun opera The Peony Pavilion. Singapore's T'ang Quartet perform and singer Qian Yi headlines.

    WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre

    WHEN: Aug 31, Sept 2 and 3, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $40 to $80 from Sistic

    INFO: In Mandarin with English and Chinese surtitles

    Ron Arad's 720o / Tropical Traumas: A Series Of Cinematographic Choreographies

    WHAT: Architect Arad creates a stage by suspending 5,600 silicon cords across an 18m diameter cylinder. These form a screen for film projections and house a stage for Tropical Traumas, a multimedia- theatre work by Singapore's Brian Gothong Tan.

    WHERE: The Meadow @ Gardens By The Bay

    WHEN: Sept 2 to 11, 7 to 11pm (for 720°); Sept 2 to 4, 9pm (for Tropical Traumas)

    ADMISSION: Free

    Time Between Us

    WHAT: In this 108-hour performance from Oliver Chong and Fernando Rubio, Chong inhabits a wooden house built from fragments of homes no longer in existence. Viewers are free to visit him, apart from some ticketed performance sessions.

    WHERE: Marina Bay Sands Event Plaza

    WHEN: Sept 7, 10am, to Sept 11, 10pm

    ADMISSION: $10 from Sistic. Registration required at sifa.sg/sifa/show/time

Festival director Ong Keng Sen says: "We are moving towards an entirely creation-driven festival. We are refusing to be a glamorous shopper going around the world shopping for productions, but instead, we're investing in the artists and the process."

This edition's focus on the future follows from the 2014 theme of examining 20th-century legacies such as apartheid and last year's theme, Post-Empires. The latter had 12 critically acclaimed homegrown productions re-examining Singapore's history and present- day issues such as immigration and housing woes.

Ong adds: "We've looked at global issues in the last two festivals. In this edition, we have to bring attention to the individual who is changing the world in his context. This is very important in Singapore, which always talks about the large, engineered plan, but not the individual in this large, engineered plan."

Other commissioned works in the $5-million festival include I Am LGB, artist Loo Zihan's re-examination of America-born Ray Langenbach's performance art created in Singapore in the 1990s - works which included drinking his own blood. Loo, 33, will use TheatreWorks' space at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road for the four-hour performance tailored for 60 viewers at a time. He pored over a decade of footage and archival material for I Am LGB and also speaks regularly with Langenbach, now a professor at the University of Arts in Helsinki.

Loo says: "It's probably the most ambitious work I've taken on. He was ahead of his time, talking about political ideology and indoctrination, and the audience was not ready for it."

Also pushing the envelope is the festival co-produced Five Easy Pieces, directed by Switzerland's Milo Rau. Performers are aged eight to 13, but perform for adults in a script about taboo topics such as paedophilia. Ong says he is curious how the Media Development Authority will rate this show; not all shows unveiled at the press preview yesterday have been rated.

He adds: "Will children be allowed to see it? It deals with the fact that children are harnessing power from a very young age. They know if they cry, their parents will react, for example. It's important that we don't shy away from that."

Also making its Asian debut is Egyptian play The Last Supper, a comedy about a family after the Arab Spring, the wave of protests that started in Tunisia in 2010 and spread through the Arab world. Ong says that among the potentialities the festival addresses are the post 9-11 fears of terror and the Arab world.

Similarly, the pre-festival programme The O.P.E.N., from June 22 to July 9, features talks, works and performances from little-heard communities, including Newsha Tavakolian, an Iranian photojournalist, and Perhat Khaliq, a rock star from the mainly Muslim Uighur community in China.

The main season features innovations in traditional theatre. The opening act at Drama Centre Theatre is Canadian theatre-maker Robert Lepage's Hamlet/Collage with Russia's Theatre Of Nations. This adaptation of the Shakespeare play is a one-man show performed by Evgeny Mironov in a spinning, suspended open-sided cube.

With Shakespeare on many minds this year - the Bard's 400th death anniversary - Ong will direct Sandaime Richard (Japanese for Richard III), a playful take on the play, from Sept 8 to 10 at Victoria Theatre. Shakespeare himself is put on trial with Singaporean Janice Koh playing his prosecutor Maachan of Venice (a play on The Merchant Of Venice) and professional Kabuki onnagata (female impersonator) Kazutaro Nakamura as Richard Sandaime. The script is from well-known playwright Hideki Noda, whose play about xenophobia, Red Demon, has been staged here at least twice, but has been trimmed and will be performed in Japanese, English as well as Bahasa Indonesia.

"It's a lot of international work with a deep local presence," Ong says.

•Tickets sales start tomorrow.

For more stories on Sifa, go to str.sg/ZtWh. For details and ticketing, go to www.sifa.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline '15 new works for this year's festival of arts'. Print Edition | Subscribe