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Tags: Festival Director, Gaurav Kripalani, SIFA2018

SIFA 2018 is the first of three years the festival comes under the baton of theatre practitioner Gaurav Kripalani. The 46-year-old former artistic director of SRT knows all eyes will be on it, and is electrified by the challenge. It is a huge task — one of putting together a line-up that doesn’t alienate loyal followers while making sure the 41-year-old festival has something that appeals to everyone. All this in a matter of six months as the festival is now in an earlier part of the year. As tall an order as that may sound, the final line-up that includes notable German director Thomas Ostermeier, a reinterpretation of a Chinese Kun Opera and an open access festival centre, seems to cover all grounds. We got Kripalani to give some highlights:

What can audiences look forward to in SIFA 2018 that will define SIFA’s direction as it evolves under your three-year tenure?

SIFA strives to be the pinnacle festival in Singapore working with the best in their fields, from here and around the world. Our goal is to excite audiences about new art forms and how work can be interpreted to be relevant today. We have a good representation of works from India, Palestine, Israel, German, French, America and over the course, Singapore. Over the next three years, every continent will be represented.

Will SIFA still be recognisable to loyal audiences who have followed the festival over the years? What will remain central to the festival?

For many in Singapore including myself, we grew up with the arts festival and remember it as an event everyone anticipates on the cultural calendar. In fact, it is the arts festival that shaped my own love of arts. I still recall going to a performance 25 years ago —Ninagawa’s Macbeth— and being blown away. It is this emphasis on great artistic experiences from the best in the world that is core to the festival and will be familiar to those who have followed it over the years. What I experienced years ago is the very same experience I want audiences to walk away with.

Some of the headline productions — 1984, Parable of the Sower, Enemy of the People — are either dystopian tales of possible futures we don’t want to go to, or at the least, reflect contemporary malaises of governmental surveillance or environmental degradation. Was this deliberate?

It was definitely a conscious decision to bring in shows that confront audiences with the current issues of the day. The threat of overreach by governments into private citizens’ lives, ecological destruction, displaced peoples, all these are global issues that are relevant around the world, perhaps ever more so. Good art expands the mind and heart, and I see this as an opportunity to take this commonality of a shared artistic experience to connect audiences to universal issues they can debate and discuss and be moved by.

The other deliberate act was in the choice of artists we are bringing in. All of them are at the top of their profession, and the other commonality they share is they are all iconoclasts in their own right.

The line-up is very international, with a tilt towards Europe and American acts. Where do the Singapore artists come in?

SIFA is an international festival, so it has to have an international line-up. We are working towards having a much bigger Asian component for the 2019, culminating with fully commissioned Singaporean works in 2020. Part of the reason for this is purely practical — we simply cannot commission a new work and expect it to be fully-fledged in six months. To develop new work from gestation takes time. And SIFA is wonderfully placed to give Singaporean artists the resources needed to do that.

This year we are presenting three works from Singapore-based artists in the Monuments series, a series of site-specific works centred around national monuments like the Armenian Church and National Gallery. We have also commissioned Toy Factory to present Dream of Southern Bough, which will be a reinterpretation of a well-known Kun Opera, presented as a straight play in Chinese.

One standout feature of SIFA 2018 is the integration of outdoor with indoor spaces in an area around the Empress Lawn, The Arts House and Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. How will this area come to life?

We want SIFA 2018 to be a festival for everyone and this is the idea behind the Festival House, where a community can come together around the arts. One of my favourite memories is from Toronto’s Luminato Festival where after a show, everyone gathers in the festival square for a bite and drink while free performances take place from the likes of K.D. Lang and Akhram Khan. This is what I am inspired by, that during SIFA, one can head down to the Festival House at anytime during the three weeks to catch great shows, meet like-minded arts lovers, and have good conversations over a drink.

Everyone is time-stretched. If audiences were to catch just two productions over the three weekends, what will they be and why?

I would say get our discounted ticket bundles that are available in threes or fives. These will give you easy access to shows of different genres — dance, music and theatre. Every one of these artists or companies are at the top of their game, so while you may not be familiar with all three genres, you can take a chance knowing that at the very least, you are accessing a top quality production.