The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) returns with its strongest focus yet on creating brand new works. With the attention back on the international arts scene, SIFA 2016 will present 20 productions for the main festival, with a record 15 that are new creations. The O.P.E.N. (Open, Participate, Engage, Negotiate), its pre-festival of ideas, will present 43 programmes, including a bumper 25 films. 

Paradise Interrupted; Credit: Julia Lynn Photography
Paradise Interrupted; Credit: Julia Lynn Photography

Continuing the journey from past (2014, Legacies) to present (Post-Empires, 2015), the future is suggested by the 2016’s season which centres on the theme of POTENTIALITIES – the potential to develop in the future and transform society.

“Potentialities is the in-between state between Potential and the actual realisation.  It is about this in-between state where the power of the unknown is taking shape and developing. That unknown gives forth to so many possibilities and that is the attraction,” said Ong.

I Am LGB By Loo Zihan, Ray Langenbach
By Loo Zihan, Ray Langenbach

This year, SIFA moves towards becoming a creations Festival, where there are an increasing number of productions commissioned for the Festival. 15 new creations in total – the most yet – forming the majority of the SIFA line-up. These creations are from major artists from the international domain such as Milo Rau, and from the Singapore scene such as Checkpoint Theatre;  and ranges from emerging artists such as Loo Zihan to master artists – Bill T. Jones and Wu Man, who have developed the potential of many others. A key element, eight productions involve Singaporean artists collaborating closely with international artists in the presentations here. This situates Singapore at the core of the creative process globally.
Ong Keng Sen, Festival Director, Singapore International Festival of Arts explains,

“We want to bring Singapore audiences brand-new, fresh productions from around the world and if possible in collaboration with Singapore artists.  We will steer the Festival in these directions which will be exciting for audiences.  These directions will also go a long way in creating a unique identity for the Festival; enhancing the pinnacle festival concept of SIFA both nationally and internationally.  The investment of supporting and developing artists, rather than simply shopping for productions around the world, will set SIFA apart in a crowded landscape of arts festivals in Asia.”

Ron Arad's 720° By Ron Arad
Ron Arad’s 720°
By Ron Arad

There are five trajectories in which Potentialities are being considered. Innovation, where established artists break the ‘rules’ of the art they have mastered and move into unchartered territories, pushing themselves to explore beyond. For example, Ron Arad’s 720° uses an experimental form that provides an inimitable way of exploring and experiencing contemporary culture, where film visuals are fed into 6,000 platinum-cured silicon strands in a structure that measures 18 metres in diameter. One of Singapore’s most talented contemporary artists today, Brian Gothong Tan, is creating a new multimedia performance – Tropical Traumas: A Series of Cinematographic Choreographies, in Ron Arad’s 720°. Southeast Asian art is also celebrated with a major restropective of this region’s dance master – Sardono W. Kusumo. Through three different presentations – Expanded Cinema, Solo Live Painting and Black Sun, Sardono looks back on what he has learnt from working and performing in the last 50 years with traditional cultures and arts of Indonesia through film, painting and contemporary respectively.

Paradise Interrupted Composed & Conducted by Huang Ruo | Directed & Designed by Jennifer Wen Ma | Featuring Qian Yi, T'ang Quartet
Paradise Interrupted
Composed & Conducted by Huang Ruo | Directed & Designed by Jennifer Wen Ma | Featuring Qian Yi, T’ang Quartet

Individual trajectories with tradition are also examined. Huang Ruo and Jennifer Wen Ma’s Paradise Interrupted is an arresting new music theatre that blends traditional classical Chinese idioms from the Ming Dynasty and contemporary music; sensually set against a beautiful garden  inspired by origami and calligraphy. A creations piece by Checkpoint Theatre – The Last Bull: A Life in Flamenco, centres on the life of 75-year-old Antonio Vargas, one of the world’s leading Flamenco dancer-choreographers who is now based in Singapore.

space-time relationships with audiences will also be explored in Fernando Rubio’s Time Between Us. For five days, over 108 hours, audiences can visit an individual in a house specially designed and constructed for the Festival. Oliver Chong is our storyteller, an individual who has chosen to find new relationships in the world by leaving his past behind. Egyptian independent theatre director, Ahmed El Attar, looks into Future visions of the world with his production, The Last Supper, a darkly comedic piece that offers a zesty microcosm of what Egyptian society has become after the Arab Spring, while in Still Life, Dimitris Papaioannou explores apocalytic beauty in his inimitable passion hybrid of visual physical theatre and performance art.

In the Mood For Frankie By Trajal Harrell
In the Mood For Frankie
By Trajal Harrell

Lastly Found potentialities includes Trajal Harrell’s The Return of La Argentina and In the Mood For Frankie. Hailed as one of his generation’s most prominent dancer-choreographers, Harrell has embarked the long-term research and production of dance pieces related to the work of the late butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata. In both productions, Harrell rethinks the relationship between two seemingly different dance forms – unsettling, surrealist Japanese butoh and highly stylised Harlem voguing.   In a witty satire of power, Shakespeare is put on trial for falsifying history in the 400 aniversary of his death in Sadaime Richard, while SIFA’s opening production Hamlet | Collage – original, imaginative and totally inspiring – promises to be a visually stunning take on one of the Bard’s familiar favourite.


With The O.P.E.N., audiences will get to further discover what individuals are doing in the world through pop, fashion, performance, clubbing, photojournalism and film. Programmes happening at The O.P.E.N. are not limited to the genres of dance, theatre, music and visual art, but rather, follow the communication modes that individual artists are creating with audiences.


With the largest number of programmes to date, the 2016 O.P.E.N. puts the spotlight on individual artistic voices who are making a difference through the potentialities within them.  Artists who are transforming their worlds through their expressions and their visions.

Ong added, “The power of the individual is often overlooked when it should not be so. Individuals can have influence to break stereotypes and be a catalyst to change the world. This year’s theme will also allow us to celebrate ‘future’ individuals in our audience as well.”

I Know Why The Rebel Sings By Newsha Tavakolian, Curated by Vali Mahlouji
I Know Why The Rebel Sings
By Newsha Tavakolian, Curated by Vali Mahlouji

Through her iconic photographs, 35-year-old self-taught Iranian photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian makes shrouded personal stories and inner lives as tangible as the flesh-and-blood people she shoots. Tavakolian’s exhibition I Know Why The Rebel Sings is one of her most comprehensive exhibitions of her work to date. Perhat Khaliq, a Uyghur rock star that attracted public attention with his participation in The Voice of China, will set off an electrifying start to The O.P.E.N. as he performs with his band Qetiq in both Uyghur and Mandarin. Olivier Saillard, one of fashion’s premier curators and the Director of the Musée Galliera in Paris will be putting up a performance he designed to give runway models a voice in Models Never Talk. Mexican fashion designer Carla Fernández will bring fashion pieces made with traditional Mexican weaving methods that both preserves the heritage, and gives women in indigenous Mexican communities a livelihood.


Documentary in performance is also explored through Markus&Markus’ Ibsen: Ghosts, a radical performance on euthanasia focused on 81-year-old Margot who chooses her individual path to the very end, and Riding on a Cloud by Rabih Mroué, who directs his brother Yasser, who was maimed by a sniper when he was 17-years-old.  Despite this tragedy, the performance celebrates Yasser’s potentialities. Arabian Nights and Fire At Sea directed by Miguel Gomes and Gianfranco Rosi (Golden Bear award winner for Best Film at the 2016 Berlinale) respectively are two award-winning films that will have their Singapore premiere, opening and closing the widest range of films to be premiered at The O.P.E.N. to date.
SIFA is introducing for the first-time, one O.P.E.N. Pass to access all programmes, inviting members of the public to greater engage with the arts with the purchase of just one single ticket. O.P.E.N. Pass holders will also automatically be a SIFA Friend and enjoy 25% discount on tickets purchased for SIFA 2016 productions.

“Potentiality nurtures hope and inspires imagination. Since the return of our national arts festival in 2014, SIFA has been on the hunt for potential, probing artists as well as audiences to actualise their potential through the issues presented at the Festival and I for one, am looking forward to what the 2016 season brings,” commented Lee Chor Lin, Chief Executive Officer, Arts House Limited.

The Singapore International Festival of Arts is presented by the Arts House Limited. Tickets for this year’s Festival will go on sale on Friday, 8 April 2016 at all SISTIC outlets and online at Early bird sales end on 8 May 2016. For more information, please visit


Tickets go on sale at SISTIC this Friday, 8 April. New this year is the O.P.E.N. Pass ($45), which is a single access for all programmes at The O.P.E.N.. Pass holders will also be entitled to 25% discount for SIFA productions.