Free hammocks on a carousel, multi-genre works, Ryuichi Sakamoto and more

It’s been a year since the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) first did away with its six-week programming, in favour of a condensed festival period—as per Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani’s direction towards creating a more accessible festival. In the blink of an eye the national performing arts festival is back, and it’s another exhilarating line-up of performances and programmes packed into three short weeks.

Happening May 16-Jun 2, the 42nd edition of the festival will continue to bring in ground-breaking works spanning all genres. If you previously enjoyed how performances were categorised by discipline—namely theatre, music and dance—you might have some trouble choosing what to watch this year. In order to accommodate many of this year’s multidisciplinary works, SIFA has done away with the traditional listing, so audiences can choose their own “journeys” during the festival.

“The artists we speak to are very often creating genre-defying works that sometimes do not fit into any of these boxes,” echoed Kripalani. And it’s clear that this year, they’ve stepped up the spectacle.

Choices are aplenty. If you’re into sensorial storytelling, you’ll want to catch Bedtime Stories, a riveting one-man show where storyteller and actor Thomas Dudkiewicz (from Dutch collective URLAND) takes audiences on an aural journey at a secret location. Another immersive work from The Netherlands, free installation De Relaxerette features a literal merry-go-round of hammocks, inviting you to lie down, slap on a pair of headphones, and listen to Dutch and Singaporean short stories. The installation will debut at Our Tampines Hub on May 10, following which it will be moved to The Plaza at National Library Building May 23-Jun 2.


Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner. Photo credit: Joel Lim at Calibre Pictures

Prefer your art gritty and in-the-now? There’s no more dystopian focus; but SIFA continues to spotlight real-world issues with the likes of Checkpoint Theatre’s Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner, a multidisciplinary play on humanitarian workers overcoming challenges in a refugee camp. Musical piece Oreste by Ifigenia performed by Tan Shou Chen and Ng Tian Hui retells a Greek myth from the woman’s perspective, addressing issues that remain relevant even today. And UK director Simon McBurney’s Beware of Pity will explore pity, moral paralysis and guilt, with actors from the Schaubühne Berlin—the same group who performed here in An Enemy of The People at SIFA last year.

This year’s edition also brings in some of the world’s biggest names in performance art. World-renowned director and founder of the Suzuki Method of Acting, Tadashi Suzuki, will be restaging his masterful Dionysus, a monumental work marrying tongues and cultures onstage.

The widely revered Japanese composer Ryuchi Sakamoto, best known for his soundtrack for 1987 film The Last Emperor, will be making his Singapore debut at the festival in two separate shows. The first, ST/LL, is an interdisciplinary performance-installation in collaboration with artist Shiro Takatani, which will explore stillness and the idea of silence to music by Sakamoto. The second will see Sakamoto in a solo improvisatory performance, Fragments, where the audience sit right onstage alongside Sakamoto; the one-night only show is already sold out.


Ryuchi Sakamot in concert

In keeping with its mission to support and shine a light on homegrown artists, the festival will be presenting three Singaporean SIFA commissions. Checkpoint Theatre’s Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner should already be high on your list; otherwise, be mesmerised by visual artist Ho Tzu Nyen (yes, he did One or Several Tigers) in his intricate shadow play of Malayan political leader Lai Teck, The Mysterious Lai Teck. And if you caught last year’s A Dream Under the Southern Bough: The Beginning by Toy Factory, follow through with the second installment of the three-part series, Reverie.

In addition, look forward to a host of free programmes and participatory works—like Canadian artists Daily tous les jours’ We Can Dance, an interactive imitation piece that records your dancing (to a choreography created by local dancers ScRach MarcS), and projects it onto a wall to dance with other projections.


We Can Dance. Photo credit: Martine Doyon

It’s not all uncomfortable change. Making a comeback are the popular $10 student front-row tickets, in a bid to hold the younger crowd drawn last year. The Festival House’s pop-up bar House Pour will return too, as a space for conversations and discussions between audiences and artists. For even more intimate access, you can sign up for exclusive talks by Tadashi Suzuki, musician Bill Frisell and other featured artists at the festival. We suggest you don’t sit on it.


SIFA 2019 returns May 16-Jun 2 at various venues. Tickets are on sale on Sistic. More info here.