Arts in fusion

The Singapore International Festival of Arts returns for a 45th edition with a blend of genres and disciplines in performances

Fashion models, Malay percussion musicians and Indian classical dancers will share the stage in Ceremonial Enactments, one of the headline commissions for this year's Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa).

It returns from May 20 to June 5 with new festival director Natalie Hennedige, 47, at the helm.

The founder and artistic director of Cake Theatrical Productions, known for her multidisciplinary approach to art-making, is organising her three-year tenure under the umbrella theme, The Anatomy Of Performance.

Guests at a media preview at the Pasir Panjang Power Station on Tuesday night got a sneak peek at what will be on offer this year, which is inspired by the subtitle Ritual.

Ceremonial Enactments brings together fashion designer Max Tan's Ang, a fashion performance inspired by his mother and South-east Asian birth rituals; Nadi Singapura's 293NW, a look at the ceremonies of a Malay wedding; and Yantra Mantra, which presents an ancient temple-cleansing dance ritual, by Bhaskar's Arts Academy artistic director Santha Bhaskar.

Hennedige said at the event that the emphasis on performance and the multidisciplinary process "is a way to reflect a dissolution of categories or labels, to invite instead and adopt artistically fluid collaborations and collaborators".

She noted that this is the way contemporary art is being made now and Sifa, which marks its 45th edition this year, aims to keep pace with current developments in a fast-changing and complex world.

"Sifa 2022, as such, gathers within individual creations a range of artistic disciplines, practices and perspectives, inviting practitioners of vivid cultural hues from different walks of life to embrace a blend of genres, artistic disciplines and internationality in performances made by artists with strong and unique perspectives in the plucky, dynamic and universal language of art," she said.

The cavernous space of the Pasir Panjang Power Station will host opening commission Mepaan.

The multimedia piece is anchored by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Borneo cultural agency The Tuyang Initiative. It will also feature Tan's costume designs, Singaporean Sean Lee's photography and Sarawak-based indigenous film-maker Harry Frederick's work.

Another home-grown production is Bangsawan Gemala Malam, Teater Ekamatra's remaking of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Artistic director Mohd Fared Jainal and director Aidli Alin Mosbit have transplanted the comedy into a Nusantara setting, referring to the historical term for the Malay archipelago. Their contemporary restaging will employ techniques of bangsawan, a traditional Malay opera form.

There is also a homecoming for theatre-makers Paul Rae and Kaylene Tan, who will present a new work, Devil's Cherry. The duo, who founded theatre group spell#7, have been based in Australia for nearly a decade.

While the pandemic has limited international exchanges, it has not stopped the festival from commissioning collaborations across borders. Musicians from the celebrated orchestra Berliner Philharmoniker will provide live music for The Once And Future, a cinematic experience by Young Artist Award recipient Yeo Siew Hua which looks at Argentina's beef industry.

Smaller-scale international productions will also feature in this year's line-up. American experimental musician Holly Herndon will make her Asian debut with Holly Herndon: Proto, which features a choir combining human and AI (artificial intelligence) voices.

British artist and 2019 Turner Prize winner Tai Shani will present a new iteration of her filmic performance The Neon Hieroglyph, with Malaysian actress Jo Kukathas in the role of the narrator.

For arts fans impatient for more fare, the festival's Life Profusion virtual programme will offer digital content as early as this month. The portal will offer bite-sized content ranging from music and work by new media artists to artist talks.

The festival's last component will be Sifa X, which features more cutting-edge live performances at Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2022, with the headline Arts in fusion. Subscribe