Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2022: a raw perspective from a first-timer

Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2022: a raw perspective from a first-timer

A little background

SIFA2022 cover
The official SIFA 2022 visual.

Believe it or not, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2022 marks the first arts-related festival I’ve ever attended in Singapore. As someone whose perspective on the arts is limited to his primary and secondary school art classes, it’s safe to say that my opinion on SIFA 2022 is a relatively uncomplex one.

I ventured into the festival realm with little guidance, and next to no expectations. Here’s a raw perspective of the two performances I caught at the festival: Mepaan and Delicate Spells of Mind. Keep in mind that I won’t be going into too much detail to avoid spoiling the performances for others.

Before the festival

When I first heard that I was assigned to attend SIFA, I thought, “Huh? What’s that?” followed by, “Why me? I don’t know anything about art.” As it turns out, revealing the latter was precisely the reason I was offered the opportunity. It fits perfectly with the requirement of this article – to showcase a fresh perspective of this iconic arts festival.

If you’re wondering what SIFA is, here’s a quick one-liner: SIFA is a 17-day festival celebrating the arts across Singapore and on its digital platform, featuring local and international music, dance, theatre, fashion, film, and more.

A few days later, I got a ticket to my first show: Mepaan. I hopped into a cab and rode to Pasir Panjang Power Station, where the performance was held. Mepaan, a musical performance that kicked off the festival, ishelmed by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) and The Tuyang Initiative (or Tuyang), an arts agency that works with Dayak communities – the natives of Borneo.

At the festival: Mepaan

Pasir Panjang entrance SIFA 2022
The entrance to Pasir Panjang Power Station, where Mepaan was performed.

According to SIFA, Mepaan – meaning “always” in the Kayan language of the indigenous Kayan people of Borneo – is a sonic and visual trip into the wellspring of spiritual and cultural nuance embedded in Southeast Asian native culture.

I arrived at Pasir Panjang Power Station and was greeted by excited smiles. The check-in process was seamless with the use of a virtual ticketing system. I was ushered to my seat, from where I saw a traditional Kayan attire fitted on a mannequin, surrounded by a stage packed with traditional Chinese instruments. This made me wonder if I was about to be lulled to sleep by old tunes.

MEEPAN pre-show SIFA 2022
Pre-show: the stage featured traditional Chinese instruments and traditional Kayan attire.

Before long, the SCO, led by Music Director Tsung Yeh, together with artists from Tuyang, Adrian Jo Milang and Mathew Ngau Jau, took the stage. The lights dimmed and the stage lit up. As the performance began, any qualms I had prior vanished.

The first note sung by the indigenous performers immediately roused me from any lethargy I felt minutes before. The entire venue was quickly filled with the musicians’ raw energy, mingled with the unbridled passion of the vocalists. While I am generally a fan of mainstream music, I couldn’t deny that the atmosphere and sounds I was experiencing were on a whole different level.

Sape’ Master Matthew Ngau Jau of The Tuyang Initiative showcasing a snippet of traditional music rooted in the Kenyah Ngorek community – a Bornean indigenous ethnic group from Long Semiyang in Sarawak.

I felt goosebumps spreading across my skin, and they stayed on throughout the performance. Towards the end, it was no surprise that the crowd responded with roaring applause that seemed to last for a while. It appeared that everyone else appreciated the performance as much as I did – if not more.

MEEPAN bow SIFA 2022
Members of the SCO and Tuyang taking a bow after a stunning performance.

Pictures were taken, excited conversations exchanged, and a satisfied audience left the venue with nothing but smiles on their faces. Like me, they were probably looking forward to more of what SIFA had to offer.

Mepaan has ended its run at SIFA 2022, but check out our list of upcoming must-see performances here.

At the festival: Delicate Spells of Mind

Delicate+Spells+of+Mind SIFA 2022
Cover poster for Delicate Spells of Mind.

Delicate Spells of Mind is a performance film that challenges viewers to stretch their creativity and craft their interpretations of art. Initially, it seemed like the epitome of stereotypical “modern art”. But as I watched the film, the messaging became clearer, especially towards the end. It also helped that there was an explainer in the behind-the-scenes footage.

control panel FROM Delicate Spells of Mind SIFA 2022
A scene from Delicate Spells of Mind.

The performance film is screened online on LIFE PROFUSION, SIFA’S virtual platform. This meant that I could stay in the comfort of my home while venturing into my second show of SIFA 2022.

“Intriguing” is the only word that comes to mind if asked to sum up Delicate Spells of Mind. As soon as the film began to unfold, I knew that it would be the more “modern” of the two shows I was assigned. It features a group of performers clad in non-operable motion capture spandex suits. It loosely reminded me of the Chandelier music video by Sia.

The performers were juxtaposed by another “entity” operating a large, vintage control panel. From what I understood, one group represented “freedom”, while the other represented “control” – two opposing forces portraying different mental faculties at odds with one another.

A scene from Delicate Spells of Mind SIFA 2022
A scene from Delicate Spells of Mind.

Throughout the film, the two factions seem to be doing their own thing – the group seeking freedom showcasing outlandish movements while the opposing entity constantly vying for control across its multiple interfaces and contraptions.

At one point in the film, a literal tug-of-war occurs between the factions. To me, it represents our mind’s constant struggle for balance. The ending scene portrayed what I believe to be a perfect conclusion to the friction between the two opposing forces. No spoilers here.

After the film ended, I was left bewildered, amazed, dumbstruck, and mesmerised all at once – all while firmly planted in my home office chair. I felt as if I had truly been sent on a trip to another plane of existence, just to suddenly be brought back to reality with echoes of the experience etched in my mind. While I honestly can’t say that this is a performance everyone will appreciate, it certainly is fascinating and worth a watch.

Post-festival

What began as scepticism turned into a newfound appreciation for the arts. Watching two vastly different performances – one live and another digitally – pushed me to discover cultures I had never heard of and experience visuals I never would’ve imagined in my wildest dreams. All of this to say, it may be my first arts festival but definitely not my last.

For those sitting on the fence about anything related to the arts, I cannot think of a better place to start than at SIFA. A helpful way to navigate the festival is by reading our Beginner’s Guide to SIFA 2022. Who knows – you just might discover a performance that resonates with you or even uncover a passion for the arts.

From someone who’s acclimated to the mundanities of corporate life, I leave you with a quote by Pablo Picasso that I, only now, properly understand: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”  

(Photos: SIFA 2022)

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