With an invitation for audiences to look within, Natalie Hennedige continues to propel the Festival forward with her radical vision while nurturing openness and empathy
SIFA 2023 opened on 19 May 2023 with the stunning and emotive interdisciplinary performance ANGEL ISLAND at the new Singtel Waterfront Theatre. Images courtesy of Moonrise Studio.
Singapore, 7 June 2023 - The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2023 successfully concludes its 46th year, celebrating its second year under the helm of Festival Director Natalie Hennedige and her overarching title, The Anatomy of Performance with this year’s subtitle, Some People.
Driven by the continued dedication to spur dynamic collaborations and creative intersections between local and international artists, SIFA 2023 presented four new commissions that featured local artists in key artistic positions alongside international names. The rousing return of this year’s Festival also saw a strong showing of 11 invited international presentations brought to our shores, introducing an exciting line-up of artists who offered compelling responses to the Festival subtitle of Some People. Continuing in her mission to position Singapore as an energetic and vibrant arts city, Hennedige also brought to the fore works that showcased SIFA’s multiplicity and agency as a platform for contemporary performance through SIFA X, the Festival’s platform for experimentation, and with Life Profusion, SIFA’s parallel virtual venue.
Organised by Arts House Limited (AHL) and commissioned by the National Arts Council (NAC), SIFA 2023 ran for three weeks from 19 May to 4 June, presenting a lineup of more than 90 performances and activities across 14 venues island-wide, which involved the participation of over 200 local and international artists from 11 countries and regions.
Where diverse perspectives converge
The Anatomy of Performance – Some People continued in its journey of exploring the notion of performance, and persisted in unpacking the inner workings of performance to imagine its potentials and possibilities unencumbered by categories or genres. While last year’s Ritual considered the conditions of time, gesture, and artefact imbued in performance, Some People called for reflection and introspection on the depth and diversity of the human experience, engaging with the pertinent issues and contemporary complexities of today.
Natalie Hennedige, Festival Director for SIFA 2022-2024 said, “In exploring the vast spectrum of the human experience, The Anatomy of Performance – Some People was an invitation for audiences to meditate on the different narratives that chapter our lives – the trials, triumphs and transformations that have shaped how we perceive the world – while also creating space for taking in the perspectives of others and finding empathy through performance.”
As Singapore’s pinnacle international performing arts festival, SIFA 2023 continued to be an exciting gathering of minds, disciplines and cultures, where celebrated international artists are presented alongside and in collaboration with Singapore’s brightest creators. Grounded in her vision of a flourishing local arts community, Hennedige remained devoted to positioning Singapore artists and practitioners in key artistic positions steering new, progressive works for an international stage. This year, several local artists have also been invited following their supporting roles in 2022 to helm the commissions for SIFA 2023.
Brian Gothong Tan, who was involved in SIFA 2022 as a multimedia designer, co-directed this year’s opening show and new commission ANGEL ISLAND with Asian-American composer Huang Ruo. He shared, “Working on ANGEL ISLAND with both local and overseas artists has been an extraordinary journey, marked by a genuine exchange of ideas that has resulted in a profound work I’m immensely proud of. The positive audience feedback underscores the success of our efforts, all thanks to Natalie and the SIFA team's vision and commitment to pushing boundaries and stretching the horizons of our local arts scene, laying groundwork for innovative future explorations.”
A one-of-a-kind performance which intersects the worlds of visual art, performance and technology, Realm of Silk is an investigation of the collaborative potential of human and robot
Canadian artist Sougwen Chung who worked with Singapore master cellist Leslie Tan on the world premiere of REALM OF SILK said, “It's been a joy and inspiration to work with the legendary Leslie Tan. His virtuosity on stage catalyses a transformative energy for myself and the robots painting I won't soon forget. An unforgettable presence for the debut of REALM OF SILK.”
The Festival also provided local artists with an avenue for experimentation, encouraging and supporting the development of original and diverse creations.
The School takes participants donned in uniforms through a series of communal assemblies, group lessons, solo journeys, unexpected assignments, and strange encounters.
Jean Ng, who led promenade-style participatory performance piece THE SCHOOL alongside Li Xie and Joavien Ng, shared, “It was a wonderful experience and we loved this opportunity and platform to experiment and create.”
Futoshi Moriyama (left) and Sharon Au (right) starred in Pompeii, a live-cinema experience that explores the archaeology of intimacy.
Edith Podesta, who performed in SIFA 2022, made a return to SIFA’s stage as writer and director of SIFA 2023 commission POMPEII, alongside Singapore filmmaker K Rajagopal. She added, "Pompeii has been the cumulation of 2 years of work and an apex of my own artistic practice and the performance and poetic languages that have been integral to my work for the last decade. It has been such a joy working with K.Rajagopal on this and realising the multiple layers and depths of this work through the duality of artifice and truth that live cinema offers. After being a performer and moderator at SIFA for the past few editions, it has been great to come back to making work for the festival."
Dynamic international performances that explore nuanced notions of the human experience
As the world moved out and on from the pandemic, Hennedige took the opportunity to invite international works that reflect the voices of prominent and promising international artists, whose powerful contemporary perspectives across various disciplines gave expansion to the notion of performance within Some People’s frame.
Toshiki Okada, Playwright and Director of NEW-ILLUSION, pioneer of innovative theatre style EIZO-Theater, said, “I am very excited that an experimental form of theatre like NEW-ILLUSION has been presented at SIFA. It has been a huge pleasure to be a part of this vibrant international festival. This opportunity has fed my curiosity for how the Singaporean audience will react to and experience my piece.”
In the world premiere of Me, You, Then, Now, Muna Tseng performs her self-portrait in movement, video and words: a performative archive.
Muna Tseng, Creator and Performer in ME, YOU, THEN, NOW, shared, “As a 70 year old Chinese-American woman artist from Hong Kong/Vancouver/New York, I share my journey devoted to my craft, the knowledge and experience from my geographical migrations seeded by my ancestral and genetic strands. I hope this work resonates with the Singapore audience, to “Some People”, to think and reflect, to their hearts. My art is personal and universal in a humanistic way. Person to person: Me, You, Then, Now.”
Samir Veen from Ontroerend Goed, the collective behind immersive and participatory performance £¥€$ (LIES), added, “We are thrilled and proud to have contributed to this year’s SIFA which we know to be a prestigious and intriguing festival from previous editions. We premiered £¥€$ six years ago (almost to the date) and were touring the production globally before the pandemic hit. We are very pleased that SIFA selected it for this year’s edition of the festival, as we feel that the theme is still very relevant in today’s context and were curious to find out if and how the performance will resonate differently in a now changed world.”
Andrea Salustri, Creator and Performer for MATERIA, shared, “Performing MATERIA for SIFA 2023 has been such a joy and a heartwarming experience. I felt a particular connection with the audience, and I really appreciated exchanging with them in the after-show talk. I had the sensation that my work resonated strongly with the theme of the festival, and it felt like a very good match with the contemporary and experimental aesthetic of SIFA.”
Teenage girls from CHIJ Katong Convent performed before the video and sound installation of seven screens, representing a series of 19th century imperialistic portraits in We Will Slam You With Our Wings at Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall Atrium.
Joanna Dudley, Creator of WE WILL SLAM YOU WITH OUR WINGS, said, “I have been lucky in that this has included not only the festival directors, production and technical teams but also a wonderful group of young Singaporean women and girls. Together we are creating an ever-growing international community of creatives of all ages looking to organically develop new ways of creating together and making change.”
16 years old Myisha Nur Binti Mohd Nadz, one of the student performers from CHIJ Katong Convent, shared, “My experience with WE WILL SLAM YOU WITH OUR WINGS was one that I would never forget. Joanna Dudley was an amazing person to work with and she was very open to hearing our thoughts and ideas. She was extremely inclusive and made sure that all my friends had an important role to play in the performance. We learnt many relevant skills during the workshop and rehearsals that we could use in our coursework. Performing for the first time in front of an audience was nerve-racking but we felt the support of everyone present that day. It was truly an honour working with Joanna Dudley and performing for SIFA."
Possibilities of performance brought to new heights
Alternative and experimental expressions were given shape and form through SIFA X, which focused on nurturing performance works-in-process and new writing for SIFA 2023. The platform for wilder offerings ventured to the iconic rooftop nightclub CÉ LA VI, taking performance to new and unexpected heights with LOVE DIVINE, a performance spectacle that treated audiences to a burlesque and vaudeville feast choreographed by SUKKI and an electrifying rope art performance by Daniel Kok & Luke George with surprise guest stars Nathan Hartono and Grace Kee.
At CÉ LA VI, SIFA X: Love Divine featured acclaimed singer Nathan Hartono (above left) in a durational rope art performance in Still Lives (Marina Bay) and contemporary sensual performer Francesca Harriman (above right) in Children of Venus.
SUKKI, Creative Director of CHILDREN OF VENUS said, “There's been no greater pleasure than working with SIFA to bring such a boundary-pushing show to the Arts scene here in Singapore. To be able to be unapologetically bold and to highlight local voices and stories that may never have ordinarily had a mainstream platform or acceptance has been so important. It gives me hope that freedom of expression is being welcomed, and I'd like to think that our show is just the start of a public spotlight on more artists who aren't afraid to push the envelope for our society's growth, understanding, exploration and compassion, because that's what Art should be all about.”
SIFA X also saw collaborations with Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting (BIPAM) and George Town Festival to present INTERMISSION, an evolving piece that offered insight to Thanapol Virulhakul’s choreographic processes, as well as with Centre 42 for THERE IS NO FUTURE IN NOSTALGIA, where resident artists and invited guests gathered to put up a series of performances inspired by Arthur Yap’s 1971 poem of the same name.
Traditional Thai music and contemporary dance practice intertwine to examine the body as a political site and the sociopolitical power of dance in Intermission.
Thanapol Virulhakul, Director of INTERMISSION, shared, “The way I see choreography and many inspirations that I use in my work is very specific to the Thai socio-political context. I'm very glad to share my work under SIFA X and see how this work can resonate with international audiences and what connectivities we have amongst the region.”
Transformative potentials of technology explored through the screen and beyond
This year, Hennedige continued to seek out multiple dimensions to the Festival through its virtual venue, Life Profusion, where digital-exclusive works were hosted. This included PRIVACY, a selection of animated digital works by eight moving image makers curated by artist MOJOKO. He said, “It was a fantastic opportunity to bring together some very exciting visual artists who are working in mediums which have not yet been fully defined. Most are cross-disciplined image-makers who have been experimenting with animation, coding and AI. The internet is the life blood of their work and it is evident in their responses to the theme. The more I see of their work, the more I want to see… It’s addictive.”
Local writer Hong Xinyi reprised her role and assembled a diverse team of writers, who formed creative responses to SIFA 2023’s presentations through prompt: PLAY. Reflective of Hennedige’s intention to highlight arts writing as an important extension of the Festival, the series of writing served as a crucial source mapping out the broader ideas and perspectives across SIFA 2023’s various productions for readers and audiences. She shared, “It’s been a great pleasure working with this diverse and talented group of writers on this project. Through their different perspectives and by exploring a wider variety of creative ways to engage with the performing arts creations of SIFA 2023, we hope to communicate vibrant ways of reflecting on the ideas in these productions and extending the fruitful conversations they spark.”
The SIFA 2023 experience continues on Life Profusion at sifa.sg, extending beyond the live festival experience and providing an expanded platform for experimentation with the digital as a key performance medium. Local and international audiences can continue to access the free animated works and creative responses on Life Profusion and this virtual platform remains as a key digital venue for next year.
Setting the stage for the final year of The Anatomy of Performance
Following two successful editions under her leadership, Hennedige will present the final edition of her three-year arc as Festival Director next year. Audiences may expect the unexpected as they look forward to SIFA 2024, The Anatomy of Performance – Confession, which explores confessions, or truths, embedded at the heart of great art. The 2024 edition will be held from 17 May to 2 June 2024 (subject to change).
Mr Low Eng Teong, Chief Executive Officer of the National Arts Council said, “The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) continues to enrich our cultural landscape and showcase our vibrant arts ecosystem. We are pleased to see how the Festival has sustained its mission of growing audiences and nurturing Singaporean artists while establishing dynamic cross-cultural and international exchange networks. The Anatomy of Performance – Some People demonstrated new and exciting possibilities in contemporary performance through the thoughtfully curated selection of diverse programmes that highlighted art as a way of inspiring a connected society. We thank Natalie and the Festival team for their dedication and extend our heartfelt gratitude to all artists and collaborators for showing us the transformative power of the arts in our daily lives.”
For more information, please contact:
Emily TeoSenior Associate
M: +65 8790 4998
Rachael LimSenior Associate
M: +65 9221 8190
About Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA)
As Singapore’s annual pinnacle performing arts festival, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) presents captivating and diverse works across theatre, music, dance, film and visual arts. First launched as the Singapore Festival of Arts in 1977, the festival has gone through several evolutions and inspired generations of arts lovers and practitioners. Today, the highly anticipated festival is a high point on Singapore’s arts and cultural calendar. SIFA continues its festival mission to champion the creation and presentation of Singaporean and international works.
About Arts House Limited
Arts House Limited (AHL) is a not-for-profit organisation committed to enriching lives through the arts. AHL is the cultural place manager of Singapore's Civic District. It manages two key national monuments - The Arts House, a multidisciplinary arts centre with a focus on literary programming, and the Victoria Theatre & Victoria Concert Hall, a heritage building that is home to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. It also runs performing arts space Drama Centre as well as three creative enclaves for artists, arts groups and creative businesses - the Goodman Arts Centre, Aliwal Arts Centre, and Stamford Arts Centre.
AHL organises the Singapore International Festival of Arts - an annual pinnacle performing arts festival; as well as the Singapore Writers Festival - a multi-lingual festival presenting the world's leading literary talents. In addition, AHL manages Our Cultural Medallion Story – the showcase on Singapore's Cultural Medallion recipients at The Arts House.
Arts House Limited is a public company limited by guarantee under the National Arts Council. First set up as The Old Parliament House Limited in 2002, it was renamed Arts House Limited in 2014. For more information, visit https://artshouselimited.sg/
About the National Arts Council
The National Arts Council champions the arts in Singapore. By nurturing creative excellence and supporting broad audience engagement, our diverse and distinctive arts inspire our people, connect communities and profile Singapore internationally. We preserve our rich, cultural traditions as we cultivate accomplished artists and vibrant companies for the future. Our support for the arts is comprehensive – from grants and partnerships to industry facilitation and arts housing. The Council welcomes greater private and corporate giving to and through the arts so that together we can make the arts an integral part of everyone’s lives. For more information on the Council's mission and plans, visit www.nac.gov.sg.