Events

Singapore International Festival of Arts 2024


It’s a wrap for the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2024 organised by Arts House Limited (AHL). With the successful conclusion of this year’s edition, the curtains officially close on Festival Director Natalie Hennedige’s three-year arc, The Anatomy of Performance.

In line with this year’s Festival subtitle, They Declare, which sought to embrace a multiplicity of voices, SIFA 2024 presented a rich tapestry of artistic voices, styles, and perspectives through a dynamic lineup that reflected Hennedige’s commitment to pushing and expanding the possibilities of performance.

Through five Festival commissions, SIFA 2024 cast a spotlight on Singapore artists and the potential for the creation of progressive, original works in tune with the contemporary complexities of today.

This edition of the Festival also brought to our shores seven established international works that have left an indelible mark on the global stage, offering powerful contemporary perspectives that respond to the various themes explored through They Declare.

Hennedige further introduced two new programming strands for the third instalment of The Anatomy of Performance — Little SIFA, an all-new pillar for young audiences and their families, and Tomorrow and tomorrow, which saw works-in-process by ten esteemed Singapore theatre groups presented on a single platform.

Organised by AHL and commissioned by the National Arts Council (NAC), SIFA 2024 ran for three weeks from 17 May to 2 June, presenting a lineup of more than 90 performances and activities across 17 unique physical and online venues.

With about 30 sold-out shows, including shows from Wilful Machine, Sun & Sea, REFUGE and Tomorrow and tomorrow, the Festival featured more than 350 local and international artists and crew from 9 countries and regions.

The Anatomy of Performance — They Declare explored performance as a space where multiplicities can be manifested and embraced in form and content.

Anchored by the notion that people exist along the tension of things that unify and set them apart, SIFA 2022’s Ritual, SIFA 2023’s Some People and this year’s They Declare were named to reflect this idea of sameness and difference that exists in all of us.

While Ritual foregrounded our commonalities through the ceremonies observed by people, and Some People highlighted the fact that people experience the world differently, They Declare was a call for us to listen to each other in a world of clashing beliefs, offering a space where people could gather and allow the performing arts to shift them.

Festival Director Natalie Hennedige said, “The Festival is a space to gather and be touched by intellectual and emotional responses within and between us, where audiences from all walks of life can come together and observe unique ways of perceiving the world. Over the past three editions, the Festival has been a platform for evolving modes of performance expression that respond to shifting cultural moments. With They Declare, the Festival invites us to listen and be awakened by other voices that surround us, human and beyond human, taking in the kaleidoscope of stories surrounding us to be seen, heard and felt.”

As Singapore’s annual pinnacle performing arts festival, SIFA 2024 continued to showcase the heart and soul of the city through Singapore’s brightest creators.

Integral to Hennedige’s broader vision of a thriving local arts community, SIFA 2024 saw Singapore artists elevated to prominent roles, guiding the development of cutting-edge works across genres for a global stage.

Singapore music artist Safuan Johari worked with M?ori Choreographer Eddie Elliott for the first time on the interdisciplinary commission SUARA / ORO RUA, directing and composing original music performed by local vocalists Aisyah Aziz, weish, Rosemainy Buang and Felicia Teo Kaixin, in dialogue with the movements of dancers from Aotearoa.

Safuan said, “The experience of working together with Eddie Elliott for SIFA 2024 has totally humbled me. Words cannot express my gratitude and appreciation to all those involved in making SUARA / ORO RUA possible from both Aotearoa & Singapura.”

Haresh Sharma, who worked on SIFA 2024 commission, The Prose and the Passion said, “This project has been very meaningful to me. I am grateful to SIFA for investing in local artists and giving us a platform on an international scale.” Singapore theatre-maker Chong Tze Chien, who worked alongside Sharma added, “Local commissions have consistently been a cornerstone of the Festival. As both an artist and an audience member, I deeply appreciate the Festival’s ongoing commitment to highlighting these homegrown works in its programming.”

Visual artist Genevieve Chua, who presented Wilful Machine said, “The invitation to present Wilful Machine at SIFA 2024 has been a gift to me and my collaborators—it has expanded our horizons in all directions; offering us the freedom to experiment, to captivate, and to breathe, with a wide array of audiences.”

Staying true to this year’s Festival theme of embracing multiplicity, SIFA 2024 also saw a strong showing of invited international presentations that brought diverse and compelling perspectives on pertinent issues of the present day to Festivalgoers.

Norwegian director, actress, puppet-maker and artistic director of Plexus Polaire, Yngvild Aspeli, who spearheaded SIFA 2024’s opening show, Moby Dick, said, “It has been a great honour to present Moby Dick for the opening of SIFA 2024. It’s dreamlike to make our Asian premiere of this show in Singapore, and in a festival with such an impact as SIFA. It makes us remember how the force of theatre makes connections across cultural differences, language barriers and vast oceans.”

Internationally acclaimed experiential performance Sun & Sea made its Southeast Asian debut at SIFA 2024, transforming the iconic Esplanade Theatre into a spectacular beach.

On the experience of adapting the award-winning work for Singapore, artist Rugil? Barzdžiukait? said, “Sun & Sea was inspired in a country where people lie on the beach for hours to get tanned. Bringing this piece to Singapore, where beach habits are so radically different, was a major intrigue.” Local performers who had been cast through an Open Call were also invited to be part of SIFA 2024’s iteration of the work. Artist Vaiva Grainyt? shared, “One of the characters of the Sun & Sea sings about her former husband, who has drowned in Southeast Asia. It’s not only an honour to be part of the SIFA 2024 programme, but also a thrilling witness of fiction interwoven with real geography.” Artist Lina Lapelyt? added, “SIFA has an incredible programme of works and artists. It is a true honour to be in this diverse context and to collaborate with local performers to deliver the work!”

SIFA 2016 alumni, American dancer and choreographer Trajal Harrell also returned for this edition of SIFA to present The Romeo.

He said, “I am so honoured to have been a part of SIFA again this year in 2024. Having the Festival support my work through co-commissioning is an amazing gift. Though most importantly, the opportunity to continue a dialogue with the Singapore audience made for some of our most memorable performances.”

Àlex Serrano, founder of the Spanish theatre company Agrupación Señor Serrano behind the work Una Isla added, “Bringing our work to SIFA has been both a formidable experience and a challenge. You always want to show your work to as many different glances as possible, and in SIFA, that’s been especially interesting. It was also a challenge because crossing half of the world with your team and set design is always an adventure. We really hope we can come back again to establish an enduring relationship with the Festival and its audience.”

Future generations of arts lovers engaged through new programming pillar

With the launch of the newly conceived platform Little SIFA this year, the Festival boldly declared that it is also made for young audiences and their families.

Echoing SIFA’s position as a multi-genre, interdisciplinary festival, Little SIFA’s lineup introduces the young to the limitless world of the performing arts, its innovative possibilities, and all the fun and wonder it encompasses.

Sarah Fornace, Artistic Director of Emmy Award-winning performance collective, design studio, and film/video production company Manual Cinema that skillfully manoeuvred the puppets of Leonardo!

A Wonderful Show About A Terrible Monster shared, Manual Cinema had an incredible time at the Little SIFA Festival! It was our first time performing in Singapore, and we were so excited to share Leonardo with so many families here! We hope that our show inspired them to go home and make their own handmade puppet movies together.”

Jordà Ferré, Director of Antigua i Barbuda, whose interactive sculptures turned Cathay Green into an immersive old-style fair through The Dancer’s Fair, added: We are very honoured and grateful to have been able to participate in this wonderful festival. We are very happy with the public’s feedback and we hope that you liked our proposal and that you enjoyed these three days as much as we did and that you danced with the Ballerina. We have fallen in love with the country, its people and its culture. We hope to return soon, thank you SIFA. GRACIAS SINGAPORE.”

A parent who attended The Dancer’s Fair shared, “I like the installations around – they are very interactive. Each installation has different things for you to do and try out and can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.” 

Actress and content creator Megan Chia also shared her thoughts on SIFA 2024. She said, “I love that SIFA just gives Singaporeans the opportunity to watch productions from so many different places. As the art scene is growing, I think it’s so important for audiences and artists alike to just catch a variety of different creative productions to see how things come to life conceptually and on stage across different mediums, different art forms. I think just having that sort of opportunity to expand your mind is so important.”

Singapore-stamped presentations showcased the garden city’s dynamic arts scene

The energy of Singapore’s ever-evolving arts scene, which underscored the Festival this year, was undeniable. This was palpably felt through Tomorrow and tomorrow, a programme that provided audiences with a rare opportunity to witness a showing of diverse works-in-process by ten established local theatre groups on a single platform.

Alvin Tan, Artistic Director of The Necessary Stage and co-director and playwright of ANAK said, “I am very grateful that The Necessary Stage (TNS) was invited to participate in SIFA 2024’s Tomorrow and tomorrow showcase. It was a truly awesome, rare and precious platform for theatre practitioners and artists to share their works-in-progress and work methodology with the arts community and the public. I am ever thankful that TNS opted to showcase my first play, ANAK, which was given its second public reading during this showcase. This platform gave me the opportunity to invite new cast members, and through TNS’ devising method of improvisation, the work-in-progress evolved with new creative ideas, materials, energies and dynamics. My heartfelt thanks to Haresh Sharma for editing ANAK for the showcase, and to the inspiring and generous cast members for their numerous suggestions, comments and innovative diligence.”

Artist Nabilah Said, from Territori by Teater Ekamatra added, “My play is a rather complex one, dealing with the confluence of issues surrounding Singapore and Christmas Island, touching on history, identity and politics. With Tomorrow and tomorrow, we get to have fun while prototyping a version of Territori, and the audience’s response will help shape the eventual form of the play. I hope we can have more of such platforms in the future.”

SIFA’s virtual presence lives on in digital offerings hosted on SIFA’s official website. This includes a digital commission, ‘the light gleams an instant,’ by Singapore film editor Natalie Soh, as well as Fl(u)orescence, which presented critical responses to SIFA 2024’s offerings curated by writer, editor and producer Hong Xinyi.

This year, these thoughts and ideas were also expressed in real life through URL TO IRL: SIFA Digital. Hong shares, “It was a great pleasure to continue showcasing fresh and diverse voices in the curation of the creative responses to the Festival line-up, and welcome back some returning writers who were able to further develop their unique perspectives through their engagement with major productions this year. For the exhibition, we revisited the charms of analogue devices and formats, including a replica of a vintage portable cinema, a view master, and zines. Through these translations, we tried to re-present digital content in thought-provoking and visually interesting ways in a physical space.”

A fresh start for Hennedige’s fourth and final year as Festival Director in 2025

With her tenure extended for a final edition, Festivalgoers can look forward to another year of SIFA that bears Hennedige’s signature mark of artistically diverse, progressive and challenging programming.

Moving away from the The Anatomy of Performance arc, SIFA 2025 will also see presentations that explore notions of celebration, imagination, and momentum for the future, as Singapore commemorates its 60th anniversary of independence in 2025. The 2025 edition will be held from 16 May to 1 June 2025 (subject to change).

Low Eng Teong, Chief Executive Officer of NAC, said, “Sharing common experiences, young and old. Bonding over diverse art performances, local and international. Art Festivals continue to underscore the value of the arts in building a more connected and inclusive Singapore. Indeed, this year’s edition of the Singapore International Festival of the Arts or SIFA, has brought new and meaningful arts experiences to audiences from all walks of life; from engaging the young through Little SIFA to transforming the Esplanade Theatre into an indoor beach for an opera, “Sun & Sea”. SIFA 2024’s strong lineup of international presentations and local commissions has offered fresh perspectives to Festivalgoers and continues to inspire them through the diverse works of Singapore’s artistic talents. Kudos also to Natalie and the Festival team for the dynamic programming this year, and we look forward to yet another great Festival next year!”

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