Update: Based on the latest advisories, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) has made adjustments to some programmes in its opening weekend line-up by capping capacity at 100 for selected shows and reducing capacity to 50 at the Oldham Theatre. A refund exercise based on the date of purchase has also been implemented due to the reduced capacity, and patrons affected by the reductions have been contacted by Sifa’s ticketing agent, Sistic. There will also be a venue change for Cosmogony, which will now be taking place indoors at the Esplanade Theatre, from May 14 to 16. The programme is free with registration.
When the Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) was forced to take a hiatus last year in light of Covid-19, the organisers wasted no time in programming Sifa v2.020. Not only did the series of curated virtual events comprising talks, workshops and performances engaged and entertained audiences during the pandemic, but it also provided valuable lessons for when it came time to reimagine an arts festival for the future.
“One of the things that this pandemic has brought on is it has shown the resilience and creativity that is possible within the arts,” says Gaurav Kripalani, whose three-year tenure as festival director was extended for another year. “When some of the best artists around the world found that they could not present their work physically in a theatre, they were able to adapt and present their work online and in a hybrid manner.”
Featuring a line-up of 60 shows and 300 performances, including a bumper crop of eight festival commissions, presented over 16 days, from May 14 to 30, Sifa 2021 returns with a hybrid format, comprising live and digital programmes and, at times, a blend of both. Many of these programmes showcase works created in response to the here and now. Kripalani cites Scottish illusionist and mentalist Scott Silven’s The Journey. When it no longer became possible to perform the original show with 30 people sitting at a long dining table during a three-course meal, the performance artist created a new show for the digital stage. The 30 people are now invited to travel virtually across the globe to his home in rural Scotland while exploring the transformative power of place.
Besides presenting a spectrum of works for diverse audiences, Kripalani has also stayed true to the vision he shaped from his first edition of the festival in 2018 by providing opportunities for Singapore artists to produce original works as well as encouraging collaborations between local and international artists.
One such collaboration at Sifa 2021 is the festival commission between Singapore’s Nine Years Theatre, and New York-based Siti Company, which is co-founded by theatre luminaries Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki. Transcending language, cultures, geographical space and generations, the two companies—which have developed a close relationship of over 15 years—will present a Chinese-English adaptation of Russian playwright Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters, while utilising digital technology to create a part-live-part-digital performance.
Kripalani explains, “Both companies are masters at using Suzuki’s method of acting to stage their works. Sifa presented Suzuki’s Dionysus in 2019, so audiences will get to see a continuation of the programming arcs, where one of the best companies in the US and in Singapore [will both] utilise his technique.” In fact, international cultural exchanges and collaborations have been part of the Siti Company’s DNA, and this production marks its return to the stage during the pandemic as well as its 30th and final season before taking a final bow in 2022. Even so, its teaching and training work will still continue.