The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) continues to break through with exciting debuts and triumphant conclusions in its 43rd year of festival-making. The first wave of productions for Singapore’s pinnacle performing arts event features new works from local theatre companies Nine Years Theatre, The Finger Players, and The Necessary Stage created in collaboration with international artists.
Toy Factory Productions will also reach a new milestone with the grand finale to their SIFA-commissioned trilogy, A Dream Under the Southern Bough.
“I have always sought to make SIFA an artist-led festival, providing a platform for artists to realise their dream projects. As part of the first wave of shows being launched for SIFA 2020, I am proud to announce four Singapore commissions that are all fruits of this vision.These include work by some of the best artistic talent in Singapore – Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan (The Necessary Stage), Chong Tze Chien (The Finger Players), Goh Boon Teck (Toy Factory Productions), and Nelson and Mia Chia (Nine Years Theatre). With SIFA’s support, these artists have spent two to three years developing and incubating work that is now ready to be shown to the world,” says Gaurav Kripalani, Festival Director.

Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani with Directors of SIFA 2020 Commissions (from Left: Goh Boon Teck from Toy Factory Productions, Nelson Chia from Nine Years Theatre, Gaurav Kripalani, Alvin Tan from The Necessary Stage,Chong Tze Chien from The Finger Players)
From farther afield, Canadian contemporary dance company Kidd Pivot will be making their Singaporean debut with their internationally acclaimed production, Revisor. Combining the visions of Kidd Pivot’s artistic director Crystal Pite and playwright-in-residence Jonathon Young, Kidd Pivot’s remarkable international cast of dancers are poised to deliver an astounding multidisciplinary performance in Revisor‘s Asian premiere.
“This is a wonderful coup for SIFA, and for Singapore. It is a sensational work not be missed,” comments Gaurav Kripalani, Festival Director.
Low Eng Teong, Assistant CEO (Sector Development), National Arts Council, adds: “SIFA, a key fixture in Singapore’s performing arts calendar, is a significant platform for our leading home-grown groups and practitioners to present their latest works. SIFA 2020 promises to be an exciting season featuring a unique line-up of Singaporean commissions that will challenge our artists and bring them to greater heights, as well as renowned international companies. We are confident artists and festival-goers will continue to embrace SIFA as a ground-breaking
and leading performing arts festival.”
Revered Stories Reinvented in Striking Visual Narratives
With innovation etched deeply within SIFA’s ethos, this year’s productions have not pulled any punches when it comes to taking on artistic risks. Inspired by history and myths from cultures abroad, fantastical narratives will be incarnated through an arresting visual language played out on the stage.
Highly dynamic and bursting at the seams with raw physicality, Revisor is anticipated to exhilarate audiences at SIFA 2020. Based off Nikolai Gogol’s farcical play, The Government Inspector, choreographer Crystal Pite translates the themes of corruption and conflict into a kinetic masterpiece of tragicomedy.
The constant flux of this performance – featuring a dizzying number of costumes, set changes, and dance genres – is synthesised into a coherent narrative with a colourful cast of characters. Writer Jonathon Young’s sharp and quirky dialogue is animated through Pite’s highly visual form of storytelling as the dancers’ movements reflect the characters they play, embodying their traits with deliberately exaggerated movements and expressions.
SIFA 2020 presents the Asian premiere of Revisor by Kidd Pivot, choreographed by Crystal Pite (Image courtesy of Michael Slobodian)
Oiwa – The Ghost of Yotsuya by The Finger Players also sees classic and contemporary sensibilities come together in an intricate mise-en-scene that ruptures the connections between actor, agent, and autonomy.
In this retelling of the famous Japanese ghostly legend of Oiwa, actors imitate the movements of puppets in an adaptation of the ningyo buri technique of Kabuki while the traditionally disembodied voice of the “puppeteer” takes on an uncanny physical presence on the stage.
Inspired by director and playwright Chong Tze Chien’s personal encounter with Oiwa’s shrine and fable, The Finger Players traverses between history and myth in an uncompromising visual choreography that promises to be a sight to behold.
SIFA 2020 presents OIWA The Ghost of Yotsuya (Image courtesy of Arts House Limited)
In a multilingual production jointly created together with New York-based SITI Company, Nine Years Theatre takes on Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s seminal play Three Sisters in an adaptation that is driven strongly by the visceral connections formed on the stage.
This work will be presented in an idiosyncratic style of movement informed by the Suzuki Method of Actor Training – a rigorous practice and acting exercise that demands acute awareness and control of even the most subtle, “invisible” movements of the body.
Bridging the gap between the diverse languages and actors, this timeless naturalist narrative of humans confronting an incoherent and unforgiving world is juxtaposed against a performance where the body becomes a common language.
SIFA 2020 presents Three Sisters (Image courtesy of Arts House Limited)
The world’s first modern theatrical adaptation of Tang Xianzu’s famous Kun opera A Dream Under the Southern Bough reaches its momentous conclusion in SIFA 2020.
A production in three parts, Toy Factory Productions’ Chief Artistic Director Goh Boon Teck has crafted immersive and fantastical dreamscapes unique to each instalment, with every aspect of the set and sound production meticulously designed to captivate audiences without straying from the essence of the original tale.
From the refined, minimalist black box production in 2018 to the larger and more elaborate theatre stage of 2019, the upcoming SIFA will see Toy Factory Productions continue this evolution as they build upon past visions towards a culmination of the dream.
In this last act subtitled Existence, the motif of reflection is incorporated as a crucial feature in the set design to mirror reality setting in – that as SIFA bids farewell to A Dream Under the Southern Bough, this final performance also augurs the inevitable awakening.
SIFA 2020 presents A Dream Under the Southern Bough (Image courtesy of Toy Factory)
Unprecedented Local and International Collaborations
SIFA’s efforts to connect artists all over the world has manifested in exciting collaborations between Singaporean artists and their international counterparts.
In what is the most necessarily collaborative production, The Necessary Stage brings the issue of climate change to the stage through an alliance of actors from Singapore and all over the region. The Year of No Return presents the environmental crisis from the perspective of different individuals and discourses, as conversations with researchers and scientists are translated into a dramatic constellation of light, sound, and multimedia elements on the stage.
Known for their incisive social commentary and commitment to the representation of marginalised voices, The Necessary Stage’s The Year of No Return dialogues with an increasingly conscious, critical, and outspoken public, providing an Asian perspective to a global emergency on SIFA’s international stage. Peeling back science and statistics, this intensely relevant new offering underscores the role of the arts as a site for a collaborative reckoning with critical social issues.
The Year of No Return by The Necessary Stage, one of four commissions in SIFA 2020 (Image courtesy of Tuckys Photography)
“Looking ahead, the diversity in our arts landscape will continue to shape our unique identities and shared experiences. SIFA embodies this spirit and has over the years, grown to be a beacon that illuminates Singapore as an international arts and culture destination. The month of May is an opportune time to celebrate Singapore’s position as a leading arts destination where visionaries take to the stage.” adds Sarah Martin, CEO of Arts House Limited.

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