Gaurav Kripalani Steers The Singapore International Festival Of Arts In A New Direction

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April 30, 2018 | BY Hashirin Nurin Hashimi

The new festival director on curating a programme for the next generation.

Gaurav Kripalani has fond memories of the Singapore Arts Festival, including watching a theatrical adaptation of Macbeth by acclaimed Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa in 1992. “I don’t recall watching a Shakespeare production in Singapore that blew me away like that. But seeing Shakespeare in an Asian context, where Birnam Wood was a cherry blossom forest and soldiers were samurais, changed my perception of the scale that it can be done. The festival shaped my appreciation and taste for the arts, and broadened my artistic horizon.”

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Now Kripalani is at the helm of the next three editions of the performing arts festival, now known as the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), taking over from theatre veteran Ong Keng Sen. The artistic director of Singapore Repertory Theatre wants to “programme a festival that would inspire young people”, just like it did for him those years ago. For one, he has introduced $10 front-row student tickets at this year’s festival, which is held from April 26 to May 12. And alongside George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984, and Toy Factory Production's contemporary take on the Ming opera epic, Dream Under the Southern Bough – The Beginning, the line-up also includes YouTube sensation and Grammy Award-winning jazz prodigy Jacob Collier, along with new initiatives such as a Festival House. Kripalani tells us more. 

What is your artistic vision for SIFA in its next phase?
Gaurav Kripalani (GK)
I want SIFA to be the pinnacle performing arts festival in Singapore, presenting a spectrum of works for diverse audiences. SIFA’s role is to give audiences the opportunity to see some of the world’s most exciting works and experience art forms they haven’t seen before. It also gives Singaporean artists the opportunity to produce works they may not be able to do otherwise, either in terms of time and money, or collaborate with one another or with artists internationally. 

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What are some of the festival highlights this year?
GK I wanted to work with game changers, people who are pushing boundaries in their respective fields such as German director Thomas Ostermeier, whose adaptation of An Enemy of the People is relevant to what’s happening in the world today; likewise for the acclaimed adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984—Big Brother is watching, state surveillance and fake news; and I really wanted American choreographer Michelle Dorrance’s The Blues Project.

Why did you want to programme a festival that would inspire young people?
GK Young people are the next generation. We want to make art a central part of their lives. I would encourage parents to bring their children, especially teenagers, to experience some of these shows. I would like to think that they’d have the same life-changing experiences that I had growing up. 

Tell us about the new Festival House initiative.
GK I’ve been to festivals where you can meet people and artists at the festival village. We have transformed The Arts House into a Festival House where you can engage in a meaningful discourse. It’s also where you can relax, find out what the next shows are, and buy tickets—it will be the heartbeat of the festival, and very much for the audience as it is for the artists.

What can we expect from the 2019 and 2020 editions?
GK The goal is to broaden the scope and spectrum of works to include more hard-hitting productions as well as shows for families so that the reach will grow. I’m building on the work of all the previous festival directors, not just Keng Sen, but all of them. I want everyone to own this festival collectively, and if we can rally everyone’s support, SIFA would have played a big part in Singapore’s growth as a cosmopolitan city. Wouldn’t it be great if people said, “I go to Singapore every year because they have some of the best art in the world”. 

Scroll through the gallery below to see our top 10 picks from the 2018 Singapore International Festival of Arts:

1984 by George Orwell — British theatre directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan breathe new life into this literary classic that explores the themes of surveillance, identity and the future.

Jacob Collier — With a musical style that is a fusion of jazz, a capella, groove, folk, electronic music, gospel, soul and improvisation, this young virtuoso is unlike any other YouTube superstar. For one, he’s already a two-time Grammy Award winner at just 23 years old.

Rhymes of Love: An Evening of Poetry and Conversation with Javed Akhtar & Shabana Azmi — Join the Bollywood power couple for an evening of lyrical Urdu poetry, along with stimulating conversation on poetry, cinema, the arts and social issues.

Singular Screens: A Man of Integrity (Lerd) by Mohammad Rasoulof — Curated by the Asian Film Archive, SIFA’s film programme features an international line-up of 13 films that celebrate independent voices across the world and power of the individual. This opening film is a scathing critique on the inherent corruption in contemporary Iranian society.

A Dream Under the Southern Bough – The Beginning by Toy Factory Productions — Director Goh Boon Teck’s modern adaptation of the 16th-century Chinese Kun Opera epic examines the thin line between living and dreaming.

The Hidden by Kamini Ramachandran — Roam the grounds of the Armenian Church, Singapore’s oldest Christian church, with the homegrown pioneer storyteller as she unearths tales of the lives of travellers, lovers and heroes from alternate realms, so much so that you find yourself suspended in time.

Octavia E Butler’s Parable of the Sower — The post-apocalyptic story of survival gets a operatic retelling by musician Toshi Reagon and singer, scholar and activist Bernice Johnson Reagon, who harnesses two centuries of Black American music.

The Blues Project — This creative collaboration between Michelle Dorrance, Derick K Grant, Toshi Reagon and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards offers a conversation between live music and tap dance, coupled with explosive energy and raw emotion.

An Enemy of the People by Schaubühne Berlin — Renowned German director Thomas Ostermeier injects his signature aesthetic and gritty realism into Henrik Ibsen’s 19th-century play about one man’s crusade to tell the truth at all costs.

Duke Ellington Orchestra — The orchestra performs some the landmark pieces from its namesake, the late American composer and musician who was one of the most influential figures in jazz. Joining them as guest vocalist are Singapore jazz crooners Alemay Fernandez and Nick Zavior.

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