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Exploring Potentialities

by August 23, 2016 General

Ron Arad 720 (Courtesy of Asa Bruno/SIFA)

Hamlet. One actor. In Russian. Nearly two-and-a-half hours. No intermission.

One of Shakespeare’s favorites was given a new take for the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), right at the time the world is observing the 400th anniversary of his death.

Hamlet I Collage, one of the festival’s opening shows, is the first Russian production by legendary Canadian stage director Robert Lepage designed for only one actor: Russia’s national artist Evgeny Mironov, who plays all the characters — from Ophelia to Polonius — while walking, running, leaping and reposing on the cube-shaped stage.

Enhanced by Lepage’s lighting and video design, which turns the cube from a cell of a mental asylum into a bubbling pond, the result was a visually stunning performance.

“Technology has been widely used in performances abroad, but the thing that interests me most is how the technology and the actor blend in,” said Indonesian dance maestro Sardono W. Kusumo with praise after the show.

Singaporean actor-playwright Oliver Chong said the technology made the performance interesting. “I felt wowed and wished for more ‘tricks’,” he said.

Everything By My Side (JP/Stevie Emilia)

Other festival highlights include Ahmed Al Attar’s dark comedy The Last Supper, a smart and humorous play that offers a zesty take of what Egyptian society has become after the Arab Spring, and Argentine artist Fernando Rubio’s Everything by My Side — a dreamlike 10-minute play where in 10 white beds, 10 actresses lie side by side with individual audience members, whispering childhood memories to these silent observers.

The festival, which runs until Sept. 17 and presents 20 productions, including five Asian premieres, is managed by the Arts House Limited and commissioned by the National Arts Council.

Inaugurated in 1977, the annual festival went on a hiatus after 2012 and returned in 2014 under the baton of festival director Ong Keng Sen, who, with the mission to artistically reinvigorate and transform the event, renamed it the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Keng Sen said this year the festival investigates the future by examining potentialities – of tradition, modern archives and contemporary technology.

“Potentiality is the possessing of latent power or capacity capable of coming into being or action. It is an optimism that looks to the future rather than at the grimness of the present. With this as an organizing theme, SIFA looks around the globe at world issues through a different lens,” he says.

Upcoming shows include:

The Last Bull: A Life In Flamenco: A love story between one man and the art of flamenco — a seductive play that revolves around Antonio Vargas, one of the world’s leading flamenco dancers and choreographers. Born in Casablanca to a family of French-speaking Spanish Jews, the 75-year-old Vargas has lived around the world and is now in Singapore. He has worked with luminaries of the arts and entertainment worlds, from his dance interpretation of She Loves You with The Beatles to his acclaimed performance in Baz Lurhmann’s romantic comedy, Strictly Ballroom, and sensuous choreography in John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II. (Aug. 25 to 27)

Still Life: Dimitris Papaioannou, the creator of the Athens 2004 Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies and the first European Games’ opening ceremony in 2015, explores apocalyptic beauty in his inimitable passionate hybrid of visual physical theater and performance art. Still Life is his silent elemental vision of the birth of a strange new world, devastated by crisis and threatened by a heavy, poisoned sky — which seems to suggest the duality and ambiguities of the recent traumas of Papaioannou’s homeland, Greece. (Aug. 25 to 27)

Paradise Interrupted: Huang Ruo and Jennifer Wen Ma’s Paradise Interrupted, an arresting new music theater piece blending traditional classical Chinese idioms from the Ming Dynasty and contemporary music, is sensually set against a beautiful garden inspired by origami and Chinese painting. (Aug. 31 and Sept. 2 and 3)

In The Mood for Frankie:
Hailed as one of his generation’s most prominent choreographers and dancers, Trajal Harrell makes his Asian debut with two hauntingly mesmerizing performances, In The Mood For Frankie (Sept. 1 to 3) and The Return Of La Argentina (Sept. 4). Each rethinks the relationship between unsettling, surrealist Japanese butoh and highly stylized Harlem voguing, two seemingly different dance forms that started more than 50 years ago.

Ron Arad’s 720º: Designer extraordinaire Ron Arad presents 720°, a monumental outdoor video installation that will wow people with its immense size and creativity. Placed at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, the massive installation is made up of 5,600 silicon cords totaling more than 37 kilometers in length and suspended from a height of eight meters that serve as an interactive video screen for both sides of the 360-degree stage. (Sept. 2 to 17)

Time Between Us
: Celebrated Argentine artist Fernando Rubio collaborates with award-winning Singaporean actor and director Oliver Chong in Time Between Us, which will have the audience enjoying new space and time perspectives. (Sept. 7 to 11)

Sandaime Richard: In this witty satire of power, Shakespeare is put on trial for falsifying history and defaming Richard Sandaime, the grand master of Ikebana. Shakespeare is being prosecuted by none other than Maachan of Venice. Who will win? Sandaime Richard is written by talented contemporary Japanese playwright Hideki Noda. From Noda’s script, festival director Ong Keng Sen creates an extravaganza of comic turns with his signature style of juxtaposing Asian traditional performance forms. (Sept. 8 to 10)

Making and Doing: Bill T. Jones is one of the world’s foremost multi-talented artists with an illustrious and award-winning career as a dancer, choreographer, theater director and writer. Through rapid movement and gesture, Jones speaks about creativity (Sept. 14). He also presents A Letter/Singapore, a site-specific work created especially for Singapore. (Sept. 15 to 17)

For more info, visit:

— JP/Stevie Emilia