Singapore's golden jubilee next year is a big year for the arts too.
From the visuals arts to theatre to musicals and concerts, the country's arts organisations are burnishing their offerings for Singapore's 50th birthday.
Highlights include the opening of the National Gallery Singapore, blockbuster exhibitions on Buddhist and Peranakan art at museums, the inaugural US$50,000 (S$62,000) Singapore International Violin Competition organised by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory and the Singapore International Festival of Arts featuring the best of local artists.
It is not too early to bookmark these events in your calendar.
Local productions fly the flag for Singapore
Theatre lovers, mark your calendars. Next year's offerings from local theatre companies are a mix of classic plays, contemporary hits and original works.
Wild Rice's Singapore flag-inspired 2015 season, with four original productions, promises to unleash your ImagiNAT!ON.
The company's five shows will each be pegged to one of the ideals represented by a star on the Singapore flag: democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.
The season opens with democracy in April, in the form of Henrik Ibsen's Public Enemy. It will be followed by Tikam Tikam (peace) in June. Resident playwright Alfian Sa'at will be curating a series of texts from local books, reports and articles, while the same will happen across the Causeway. Ivan Heng will direct a Singaporean cast performing Malaysian texts, while Jo Kukathas does the inverse.
August sees the premiere of Hotel (progress), a Singapore International Festival of Arts commission. The play, set in a hotel room, takes place from 1915 to 2015.
The final two productions of the season are annual pantomine The Emperor's New Clothes (equality), a Singaporean take on fairy tales, by Joel Tan in November, and Cold Store (justice), about the 1963 arrest of antigovernment activists during Operation Cold Store, in March the following year.
Kicking off the season for Pangdemonium is Circle Mirror Transformation by Pulitzer Prizewinning American playwright Annie Baker. The show will run from Jan 29 to Feb 15 at the DBS Arts Centre.
Four strangers - a beautiful actress, a shy divorcee, a moody teenager and gregarious, gung-ho James - meet in an acting class which will transform their lives forever.
The show stars Adrian Pang, Nikki Muller, Selma Alkaff, Daniel Jenkins and Neo Swee Lin.
The other two Pangdemonium productions for next year are Tribes by Nina Raine in May and Chinglish by David Henry Hwang in October.
Meanwhile, The Necessary Stage will begin next year with a restaging of Untitled Women Number One and Untitled Cow Number One in January, both written by Haresh Sharma and directed by Alvin Tan. The plays explore the pain of loss as well as process of grieving.
The company's creative research and development programme, The Orange Playground, will also be putting on a showcase in late February.
The Necessary Stage's Theatre For Seniors will be staging Pioneer (Girls) Generation, about a group of sassy women who are not afraid to say what is on their minds, some time during the year.
Singapore International Festival of Arts
Spotlight on local artists and works
For jubilee year, the Singapore International Festival of Arts has lined up the best of local artists, from dance pioneers Goh Lay Kuan and Santha Bhaskar to comedian Kumar and theatre company Wild Rice.
About $2.5 million has been spent in commissioning home-grown productions in response to the festival theme, Post-Empire. At least 12 are confirmed, featuring established artists and rising talent.
Festival director Ong Keng Sen, 51, says: "I wanted to give the sense to local artists that the festival is also for you; the kind of ownership the artists who are commissioned feel, is different."
Commissioning began last year and he has also asked associate curators such as Kok Heng Leun from Chinese theatre company Drama Box to develop programmes within the festival repertoire. Zizi Azah and Fared Jainal from Malay contemporary theatre group Teater Ekamatra will showcase the 200th anniversary of a fictional Malay empire, while classical musicians from the T'ang Quartet will mentor four-member musical ensembles of varying ages, from primary school pupils to retirees.
Among the most expensive productions in the works is Homing Fish, choreographed by Cultural Medallion recipient Goh and budgeted at $350,000. She revisits her trademark piece of the same name from the 1990s and will combine elements of Chinese lion dance, Malay dikir barat and Indian bharatanatyam dance in the new piece.
Bhaskar Arts Academy also revisits the past in Memory Routes, a revival of an epic work of kathakali dance theatre first shown in Singapore in 1954 at the then newly revamped Victoria Theatre. "It's like coming back to remember the journey of kathakali in Singapore," says Bhaskar, 75, who will work on the new performance with the original presenter of the 1954 show, Indian dance institution Kerala Kalamandalam.
Wild Rice will stage Hotel, a new drama written by Alfian Sa'at, which shows Singapore from 1915 to 2015 through the changing staff and guests at a grand hotel. Director Natalie Hennedige of Cake Theatrical Productions is expanding from her well-known intimate theatre to a 30-strong production, The Last Empire, in which a film-maker makes an epic movie based on a script with the last page missing.
Also lined up are comedian Kumar, taking his stand-up comedy to HDB void decks; Chris Lee from Asylum; fashion designer Reckless Erika and multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan; while Lasalle College of the Arts students will restage the revolutionary drama of Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, with Wang Chong, artistic director of Beijing-based experimental theatre group Theatre du Reve Experimental.
Singing about Singapore roots
Two musicals about Singapore's founding years are slated to open in the second quarter of next year.
In February this year, The Straits Times reported that both would focus on the life of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. However, as the productions have developed, the focus has changed.
Singapura: The Musical is "not about the life of a single person, but of Singaporeans who lived in the years 1955 to 1965", says Ed Gatchalian, 71, director of Manila-based The 4th Wall Theatre Company.
He was inspired to create the musical as "Singapore has a story to tell the world, but nobody's telling it".
The production is set to be staged at the newly renovated Capitol Theatre when it opens in April.
In order to be as historically accurate as possible, he adds that the production team has done "lots and lots of research, looking at documentation and conducting personal interviews".
While the plot of the musical is still being developed, he has already finished writing the songs.
"I started writing in 2012, and by now it has been completed many times over. As we work, we make a lot of changes. I think that now, we're on the 38th draft," he says with a laugh.
The other set-in-Singapore show, Lee Kuan Yew - The Musical, was originally slated to be an opera, but it evolved into a musical because "it was hard to find sponsors" for an operatic venture, says Mr Alvin Tan, director of Metropolitan Productions.
Mr Tan, who studied opera at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in America, says: "In the United States, there are a lot of contemporary operas, so I was hoping to do an original opera in Singapore.
"But there are not a lot of opera fans in Singapore, so I was thinking of how to attract people to watch it. And I thought that maybe if it was about Lee Kuan Yew, people would want to watch it."
The musical will focus on the life of Singapore's founding father from the Japanese Occupation to 1965.
Mr Tan, 34, says: "It will feature Mr Lee Kuan Yew's growth, his political endeavours, as well as his relationship with his wife. It will cover both his personal as well as his political life."
He has assembled a star-studded production team. Music will be composed by veteran songwriter Dick Lee, with lyrics by Olivier Award nominee Stephen Clark.
Prolific musician Bang Wenfu will be the arranger, while Indian-Swiss author Meira Chand crafts the story and Singapore Repertory Theatre founder Tony Petito writes the book.
New international violin competition to put Singapore on the map
A new international violin competition with a top prize of US$50,000 (S$62,000) will put Singapore on the classical music map next year.
The Singapore International Violin Competition is open to violinists aged 17 to 30 and will be held every three years. Entries are currently open until Sept 30.
The Yong Siew Toh Conservatory is hosting the competition and head of strings, award-winning violinist Qian Zhou, is chairing the jury.
Prizes of US$25,000, US$15,000, US$6,000, US$5,000 and US$4,000 will also be awarded in this contest, supported by the National Arts Council, Far East Organization, Hong Leong Foundation, Lee Foundation and businessman Rin Kei Mei, known for loaning valuable string instruments to local musicians.
Twenty-five international musicians have sent in recordings so far and after a blind screening process, about 30 contenders will be flown in for the live rounds from Jan 10 to 21.
Apart from playing in the final round with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the winner will play at a concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the South Bank Centre, and have his music released by famed label Naxos, says Professor Bernard Lanskey, director of the conservatory.
Organisers have been working overtime to get the concert ready to launch in Singapore's jubilee year. Prof Lanskey says: "It will be a fantastic event to celebrate many special aspects of Singapore."
The contest repertoire includes a Mozart concerto for the finalists and is not for the faint-hearted, says Prof Zhou. "If you're not an artist, you can't play this repertoire," adds the 45-year-old, who saw her career boom after she won the 1987 Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition in Paris. The win opened doors to concert halls across Europe for the China-born violinist, who is now an American citizen.
Music lovers are hoping the Singapore competition will give winners a similar headstart. Mr Goh Yew Lin, chairman of the SSO and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, says: "It would be really great if the people who come through this competition find their careers started in a place like Singapore."
There will be three live rounds and a grand final, with the first two selection rounds held at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall, with participants accompanied by the conservatory orchestra. The third selection round will be held at the Victoria Concert Hall, also with the conservatory orchestra, and the final, at the Esplanade Concert Hall, with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. All rounds except the first are ticketed and ticket sales begin on Oct 13.
With a star-studded nine-member jury, including much-decorated violinists Pierre Amoyal of France, Shmuel Ashkenasi of Israel and Nam Yun Kim of South Korea, the Singapore International Violin Competition is set to join the ranks of renowned contests such as the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium.
Prof Lanskey says: "There are so many competitions in the world, but the real ones, like this, are trying to create a platform for real artists. These are the sort of things contestants want as well as prize money. They want to say: 'We worked with legendary figures and played in national halls'."
Singapore Writers Festival
Back to The Arts House with new head
Next November, the Singapore Writers Festival will be under new leadership and will return to The Arts House and hold its activities in the Empress Place Civic District.
The new director will be poet and former Straits Times journalist Yeow Kai Chai.
Current director Paul Tan, who is also deputy chief executive officer of the National Arts Council, says: "We look forward to Kai Chai joining the SWF team in December. He is in Iowa now for a writing residency programme as he is a poet in his own right. We'll be sharing more details when he comes onboard."
Mr Tan, 43, says that next year's literary programmes would "have a strong focus on Singapore authors and themes" but did not reveal any names.
He adds: "We are also publishing an anthology of 50 original works by Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award recipients in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
"This will be launched during the festival. We expect an exciting read spanning the genres of short fiction, poetry, plays and even graphic novel extracts."
No authors have been confirmed, though 47 have been approached.
Since 2011, when Mr Tan took over, the festival has been held in tents on the Singapore Management University campus green because of the restoration works at Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.
The Arts House, which co-hosted the 2007 and 2009 editions of the festival when it was a biennial event, has remained a festival partner.
Mr Tan says: "This will be our 18th edition and we are definitely looking forward to being part of the arts and culture buzz around the area next year."
National Gallery Singapore
When the gallery opens in November next year, look out for its two major galleries.
The opening exhibition at the DBS Singapore Gallery will offer an overview of Singapore art, its development and links with South-east Asia, Asia and the world.
Starting from the 19th century, the storyline will unfold through five major themes placed in a chronological sequence, each examining a key phase of Singapore's art history.
The show will draw from Singapore's National Collection and will present more than 300 artworks including pioneer artist Chua Mia Tee's 1959 oil on canvas titled National Language Class. The 112x153cm painting is regarded as an iconic work in Singapore's art history and it has inspired local playwrights.
The South-east Asia Gallery will offer an overview of art from South-east Asia. It will be centred on four major themes - Authority and Anxiety, Imagining Country and Self, Manifesting the Nation, and Redefining Art.
Each theme will capture the significant artistic impulses shared across the region as it experienced the tumultuous times of colonial encounters, nation-building, modernisation and globalisation.
Drawing from both Singapore's National Collection and important institutional and private collections within and outside of South-east Asia, the show will feature more than 300 artworks by significant artists such as Indonesian Raden Saleh and other regional masters including Malaysia's Redza Piyadasa.
When: November next year
Peranakan Museum Great Peranakans
This exhibition celebrates the achievements of 50 prominent Pernakans who have shaped life and culture in Singapore over the past two centuries. The names of these pioneers are being finalised and they will include those who have made important contributions in several fields including art, education, business, popular culture, governance and public service. Their stories will call for greater reflection and contemplation about evolving Peranakan and Singaporean identities.
When: Early next year
Asian Civilisations Museum Buddhist art exhibition
During her recent visit to Singapore, India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj announced a major Buddhist art exhibition at the revamped Asian Civilisations Museum. While details of the show are being worked out, what is known is that it is being curated by the Indian Museum, Kolkata. The museum is known for its extensive collection of Buddhist artefacts.
When: June next year
National Museum of Singapore
The revamp of the museum, scheduled to be completed late next year, will see changes to the permanent galleries. Children and families have their own dedicated space called the Play@NMS.
Next year, expect to see exhibitions that delve deeper into the Singapore story with specially curated exhibitions on the post-1965 chapters in Singapore's history. The full exhibition of 50 made-in-Singapore products, from Axe Oil to Khong Guan biscuits, will be showcased at the museum. Some of these items are now on show in libraries.
When: Through next year
Singapore Art Museum The Five Stars Project
This contemporary art project brings together five visual art luminaries of Singapore to re-visit Singapore's founding values of democracy, peace, justice, progress and equality. The project will consist of two components - an exhibition of core values as represented by the five stars on the Singapore flag and an outreach programme as represented by the crescent moon. The crescent outreach programme will include discussions, public lectures and artist-led workshops. The names of the artists are being finalised.
When: July 9 next year to Jan 11, 2016
Fifty creative Singaporeans, whose names will be released at a later date, will dream about Singapore's future, in forms that they work and dream best in. The 50 dreamers can be artists, writers, architects, chefs, engineers, scientists, academics, lawyers, entrepreneurs and chief executives. The forms of their expression could range from a poem or song, a model of a city, a new recipe for a celebratory drink, an essay, a drawing - anything their dream takes shape in. 50 Dreaming will culminate in a publication.
When: March 19 to Aug 10 next year
ArtScience Museum Prudential Singapore Eye
To be held during the Singapore Art Week, which is anchored by the Art Stage Singapore fair, the Prudential Singapore Eye will be one of the biggest exhibitions on contemporary Singapore art next year. It is likely to feature the works of 25 Singapore artists curated from an open call. The names of the artists are being finalised. After its Singapore debut, the exhibition will travel to London and show at the prominent Saatchi Gallery. A book featuring the works of 75 Singapore contemporary artists will be published.
When: January next year
Nan Qi's Dot
Art Plural Gallery is commissioning 50 limited-edition prints of prominent Chinese artist Nan Qi's iconic 2011 piece titled Nan Qi's Dot. This painting of a big red dot is the artist's defining work, capturing his skill and control in traditional Chinese ink painting as well as his fascination with pointillism - the art of painting in dots. These signed limited- edition prints will be launched at the contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore.
When: Jan 22 to 25 next year
Where: Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre
Give Me Five
In August next year, Chan Hampe Galleries marks its fifth anniversary and Singapore's 50th with an exhibition curated by art curator and historian Savita Apte. Give Me Five features newly commissioned artworks by Singapore artists such as Dawn Ng, Sookoon Ang, Tay Bak Chiang and Kumari Nahappan. The show will explore, among other things, the way street symbols are adapted and transformed. Through a range of artworks in different media, the show will look at what we remember and what we want to remember.
When: August next year
Where: Chan Hampe Galleries, Raffles Hotel Arcade, 01/21, 328 North Bridge Road
First Student Art Competition by Art Stage Singapore
To mark Singapore's 50th anniversary, the top contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore presents its first Student Art Competition. Centred on the theme We are Asia. We are Singapore. We are Home, the contest calls for reflection on the fair's Asian identity and is a celebration of Singapore roots and identity.
An open call has been made for students studying visual arts and other arts-related subjects such as film, design and photography to submit their works. Submissions for the competition, supported by the National Arts Council, close on Nov 21. The top five winners in each category - secondary and preuniversity and tertiary - will have their works exhibited at the fair.
When: Jan 22 to 25 next year
Where: Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre