Singapore arts festival to enchant

American string ensemble Kronos Quartet, comprising (from far left) Sunny Yang, Hank Dutt, David Harrington and John Sherba, will give their new work My Lai its Asia-Pacific premiere during the festival.
American string ensemble Kronos Quartet, comprising (from far left) Sunny Yang, Hank Dutt, David Harrington and John Sherba, will give their new work My Lai its Asia-Pacific premiere during the festival.PHOTO: JAY BLAKESBERG

Highlights include Nine Years Theatre's first original play and Pangdemonium's second original work

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

Of the 23 productions curated by festival director Ong Keng Sen, 15 are commissions involving Singaporean or Singapore-based artists.

Highlights include Mandarin troupe Nine Years Theatre's first original play - an adaptation of a novel - as well as local troupe Pangdemonium's second original work.

Seven international productions will stage their Asia-Pacific premieres during the festival.

Among them is famed American string ensemble Kronos Quartet's new work My Lai. The music is inspired by the pilot who tried to stop the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.

The quartet were last in Singapore in 1999 for the Singapore Arts Festival.

  • BOOK IT / THE O.P.E.N.

    WHERE: Various locations

    WHEN: June 28 to July 30

    ADMISSION: Single entry tickets at $10 or $45 for an O.P.E.N. Pass for all programmes from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to The O.P.E.N. Pass offers one entry to O.P.E.N. Kitchens and entry to up to six films, as well as discounts for Singapore International Festival of Arts main season shows. Go to

    INFO: Registration for all programmes is required at

Coupled with Trojan Women, the National Theatre of Korea's retelling of Greek tragedy - directed by Ong - these works may seem odd choices for a festival with the theme Enchantment.

However, Ong says: "Enchantment in this age of disenchantment is to stay connected to issues, to still believe, to still engage because it is important."

This is the last of his four years at the helm of Sifa, a festival revamped in 2014 from the former Singapore Arts Festival.

The line-up revealed at The Arts House yesterday cost about $4.5 million to programme and was reworked in November, after Brexit and the election of United States President Donald Trump, to provide "an antidote against populism, alienation, excessive rationality and control".

As in previous years, the festival starts with the O.P.E.N., a series of talks, film screenings and activities leading up to the main season of Sifa in August.

Several participatory events in this festival give control back to the audience.

The O.P.E.N., for example, begins with Art As Res Publicae on June 28 and 29. Here, about 100 members of the public, who have yet to be selected, will discuss the value of works such as Eleanor Wong's 1995 play Wills & Secession, about family conflict and sexuality.

The original idea was to discuss scripts in progress, but Ong said it made more sense to discuss a play that has endured, rather than one that would be sensational now.

"We had to give a guarantee that there would be law and order and not chaos - no one screaming in the session," he adds.

The O.P.E.N. Kitchens series has Singapore-based home cooks giving free cooking lessons to strangers in July, then on three weekends from Aug 5 to 20, the main season of Sifa presents Open Homes. Thirty homes will be turned into spaces to share theatre and stories with visitors, revisiting a concept that debuted in the 2015 arts festival. Theatre-maker Jeffrey Tan spearheads the project this year.

Back in traditional theatre spaces, Art Studio will be staged at Victoria Theatre from Aug 17 to 19. It is adapted by Nine Years Theatre founder Nelson Chia from the novel of the same name by Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng Pway Ngon, which looks at artists over several decades in Singapore's history.

Chia, 45, has made a name for himself adapting Western plays into Mandarin. This is his first time generating a full script from a work that has never been staged before. He did try a short text for the Singapore Writers Festival in 2012.

"I'm nervous and excited because there are so many possibilities," he says.

On Aug 25 and 26 at Victoria Theatre, Pangdemonium stages a new play written by Singapore- born and Britain-based Stephanie Street. Dragonflies is set in a postBrexit world, where a Britain-based Singaporean takes his family back home for their safety.

The troupe's co-founder, Adrian Pang, 51, plays the protagonist, Leslie Chen. He says the story is not just about the terrible state of the world, but also about hope. "In this climate of cynicism and despair, it's important to reclaim that sense of humanity and taking control."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore arts festival to enchant'. Print Edition | Subscribe