SIFA 2019: Top 10 picks at the 42nd Singapore International Festival of Arts

Staff Writer, Singapore
·Editorial Team
Dionysus. (PHOTO: Dian P Susilaradeya via Purnati Indonesia)
Dionysus. (PHOTO: Dian P Susilaradeya via Purnati Indonesia)

Over 40 productions and talks will be featured at the 42nd Singapore International Festival of Arts this year, festival director Gaurav Kripalani announced on Monday (25 February).

Held from 16 May to 2 June, the three-week festival – commissioned by the National Arts Council and organised by the Arts House – is set to showcase productions beyond the traditional disciplines of music, theatre, and dance, including those incorporating technology and multidisciplinary works.

Here are our top 10 picks (in no particular order):

Dionysus by Suzuki Company of Toga & Purnati Indonesia (Japan/Indonesia)
Directed by Tadashi Suzuki
17 – 18 May at Victoria Theatre
$40 to 60; 1 hour 15 minutes with no intermission
Performed in Batak, Japanese, Javanese, Madurese, Manado, Mandarin, Sundanese, Rejang with English surtitles

An adaptation of the famous Greek tragedy, The Bacchae, the production is re-envisioned through Pan-Asian lens, showcasing a cross-cultural cast of Indonesian, Japanese and Chinese actors.

The Bacchae, written near the end of Athenian playwright Euripides’ life, premiered in 405 BC as part of a tetralogy. Said to be one of the greatest tragedies ever written, the play centres around the devastating wrath of Dionysus, the god of wine, who punishes King of Thebes Pentheus and his mother Agave for denying his divinity.

The Mysterious Lai Teck by Ho Tzu Nyen (Singapore)
17 – 19 May at SOTA Drama Theatre
$40; 1 hour with no intermission
Performed in Mandarin with English surtitles

Blending fact and fictional speculation, Singaporean visual artist Ho Tzu Nyen gives his spin on Lai Teck, a leader of the Malayan Communist Party and a triple agent for the French, British and Japanese secret police.

Through animatronic puppetry, shadow play, projections, and music, The Mysterious Lai Teck is also an extended reflection of Ho’s long-term project, The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia.

Beware of Pity. (PHOTO: Gianmarco Bresadola via SIFA)
Beware of Pity. (PHOTO: Gianmarco Bresadola via SIFA)

Beware of Pity: Schaubühne Berlin & Complicité (Germany/UK)
Directed by Simon McBurney
16 – 17 May, 7.30pm at Esplanade Theatre
$40 to 80; 2 hours with no intermission
Performed in German with English surtitles

Beware of Pity is an adaptation of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig’s 1939 novel of the same name (and his longest work of fiction). It follows the story of Anton Hofmiller, a young Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer, whom Edith, the paralysed daughter of a wealthy family, falls in love with. To convince Edith to take up treatment for her condition, Hofmiller promises to marry her when she is recovered – a misguided act of compassion that will later end in tragedy.

Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner by Checkpoint Theatre (Singapore)
Directed by Claire Wong
24 – 26 May; at Victoria Theatre

$40 to 60, 2 hours with no intermission

A new play about humanitarian workers caught in the crosshairs of a crisis, Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner seeks to explore the realities of the aid industry – idealism and heroism against the backdrop of politics and flawed nature of institutions.

ST/LL. (PHOTO: Yoshikazu Inoue via SIFA)
ST/LL. (PHOTO: Yoshikazu Inoue via SIFA)

ST/LL by Shiro Takatani, founder of Japanese artist collective Dumb Type, with music by Ryuichi Sakamoto (Japan)
24 – 25 May at Esplanade Theatre
$40 to 80; 1 hour 15 minutes with no intermission

The meaning of silence is dissected in this performance-installation. Just imagine: A stage overwhelmed with water; cutlery, books, and glasses, suspended in the air, free fall in slow motion; all to an ambient score by world-renowned composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and artist Shiro Takatani’s long-time collaborator.

(NOTE: Separately, the duo will also present Ryuichi Sakamoto – fragments, an intimate performance where the audience will join them on stage, on 28 May at the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets for this performance have sold out. Organisers are exploring the possibility of making more tickets available for the event.)

A Dream Under the Southern Bough: Reverie by Toy Factory Productions (Singapore)
Directed by Goh Boon Teck
31 May – 2 June at Drama Centre Theatre

$40 to 60; 2 hours 20 minutes including a 20-minute intermission
Performed in Mandarin with English and Mandarin surtitles

Adapted from 16th-century’s playwright Tang Xianzu’s play of the same name, the second installment of a three-part series by local production house Toy Factory follows its SIFA 2018 predecessor, The Beginning, as Chun Yu Fen continues his journey into the Ant Kingdom.

Chun now finds luck on his side, having been betrothed to the Kingdom’s princess and newly appointed as the governor of the Southern Bough. However, is it too good to be true for the once-disgraced naval officer? His misadventures will conclude in the final and third installment Existence, to be presented in SIFA 2020.

Peter and the Wolf. (PHOTO: Andi Crown)
Peter and the Wolf. (PHOTO: Andi Crown)

Peter and the Wolf by Silo Theatre (New Zealand)
Composed by Sergei Prokofiev; adapted by Sophie Roberts and Leon Radojkovic
18 – 20 May at KC Arts Centre Home of SRT
$30 to 40; 45 minutes with no intermission

The family-friendly adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 Peter and the Wolf, often called a “symphonic fairy tale for children”, takes a modern spin with live animation and puppetry.

The tale follows Peter, who is struggling to make new friends in his new home with his grandfather. An opportunity to impress the others comes when the young boy decides to capture a wolf that had escaped from the local zoo.

Frogman by curious directive (UK)
21 – 26 May at SOTA Studio Theatre

Frogman tells the tale of a thrilling murder mystery presented via live theatre and virtual reality. The thriller springs back and forth between two timelines in 2019, where Coral reef scientist Meera is informed by detectives that her father is being charged for the murder of childhood friend Ashleigh Richardson, and 1995, the year of Richardson’s disappearance.

100 Keyboards. (PHOTO: Minoru Sato via SIFA 2019)
100 Keyboards. (PHOTO: Minoru Sato via SIFA 2019)

100 Keyboards By ASUNA (Japan)
17 – 20 May at Gallery II, Festival House
$20; 1 hour 20 minutes with no intermission

Making its Singapore premiere at the festival, Japanese avant-garde sound artist ASUNA presents a site-specific listening experience featuring 100 battery-operated analogue keyboards. Look forward to enjoying overlapping notes and sonic textures, all slightly varying based on your location in the performance space.

One Day We’ll Understand by Sim Chi Yin (Singapore)
24 – 25 May at Play Den, Festival House
Free with registration at

Nobel Peace Prize 2017 photographer Sim Chi Yin re-tells the story of her paternal grandfather – a leftist deported to China during the Malayan Emergency who was later executed by the anti-Communist Kuomintang soldiers – in a performative reading.

The reading – which first began as a research and photography project – will be followed by a conversation between Sim and curator Sam I-Shan on her ongoing work to archive counter-narratives of the Cold War in Southeast Asia.

Tickets are available at, SISTIC outlets and via their hotline. $10 tickets for front row seats of selected shows are available for students.

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