Get set for a National Arts Fest feast

24 May 2011

A spirit of artistic innovation with a range of national, continental and world premieres in theatre, dance, music and visual art will be celebrated at this year’s National Arts Festival, taking place in Grahamstown from 30 June to 10 July.

“The artists come from everywhere, all disciplines, and are amongst the most excellent, courageous, thoughtful, provocative and iconic,” says National Arts Festival committee chairman Jay Pather.

“The festival attracts the best administrators and production crew that help mirror a complex and vast nation on many fronts. From jazz to drama, installation art to comedy, we draw innovation and excellence from a variety of cultures. So we attract the most discerning, wide cross-section of audiences.”

Dance

The main programme dance stage welcomes Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance Mamela Nyamza with Isingqala and amaFongkong. This double-bill features a solo work by Nyamza and a collaborative production with the Adugna Dance Theatre Company from Ethiopia.

In creating Amafongkong, Mamela says that her intention was to hold an open space to explore the notion of “collaboration” in all its complexities, to see how and where similar and different bodies could meet in movement.

The South African premiere of Desert Crossings is a cross-cultural collaboration between UK-based producers State of Emergency and South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma of Vuyani Dance Theatre, performed by a company of five dancers from different cultural backgrounds, with an original score by Steve Marshall.

Batsumi is the lyrical new work integrating songs, dance, acting and live music by Thabo Rapoo. Presented by Moving Into Dance Mophatong, Batsumi celebrates the hopes, joys and struggles in the stories of Africa’s hunter-gatherers.

The Baxter Theatre will present the Remix Dance Company’s Lovaffair as a celebration of bodies and love, turning perceptions of gender and disability on its head. The company was founded in 2000 with the aim of bringing differently-abled performers together on South African stages, and developing integrated dance locally.

The Cape Town City Ballet brings Swan Lake to the festival. This version of the timeless classic is based on that of Vladimir Bourmeister and was first taught to the Capab Ballet Company, now the Cape Town City Ballet, by Frenchman Attilio Labis in 1971. Labis had danced as a guest in Russia in several different productions, and it was from these that he chose the elements to make it one of the most eclectic productions of Swan Lake in the world.

The Rajastani Folk Dance Troupe will make their South African premiere at the National Arts Festival, using amazingly rich music and dance to describe the legendary battles of the Rajput rulers.

In the SA premiere of Madam Silk, Ireland’s foremost aerial dance theatre company, Fidget Feet, presents a visually stunning show featuring spectacular aerialists, beautiful choreography and multimedia magic. Graceful aerialists Lindsey Butcher, Chantal McCormick and Jennifer Patterson dance, sweep and spin both across the stage and through the air in a universe of veils and drapes, using dance and circus skills on fabric and hoops, with choreography by Fred Deb.

Twirling, twisting and arching her body up and around ropes, the Spanish artist who goes by the name FURA will perform two of her choreographed pieces at the National Arts Festival. Angel Heart is danced on a fixed trapeze, while Fourteen, inspired by the story of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges’ novel The House of Asterion, is a choreographed work on vertical cloths.

Theatre

Headlining the main theatre menu at this year’s festival is Standard Bank Young Artists Ward winner for Drama, Neil Coppen, with his latest play Abnormal Loads. It is set in a fictional battle-field town known as Bashford, nestled in the once war-ravaged valleys of northern KwaZulu-Natal. With a narrative that whisks audiences through two centuries of South African history, Abnormal Loads presents a theatrical universe where the past runs in tandem with the present and events shift seamlessly from the grandeur of a battle-field in 1879 to the intimacy of the bedroom in 2011. Movement, sound, music, multimedia and shadows combine to create a breathtakingly original theatrical experience.

The Table is created by Sylvaine Strike and presented by the Fortune Cookie Theatre Company in association with the Market Theatre and the Aardklop Festival. In this cutting-edge theatre production, Strike collaborates with an electrifying cast and acclaimed writer/dramaturge Craig Higginson to bring an enticing slice of a family dinner for audiences.

Four children re-unite with their mother over a Friday night meal where a world of love, sibling rivalry, confused genetics, domesticity, tradition and, of course, food, is unveiled. Funny and moving, this is a journey into the heart of a family redefined by the South African experience.

The Baxter Theatre brings Ariel Dorfman’s riveting play Purgatorio directed by Clare Stopford to the festival. Performed by celebrated actors Dawid Minnaar and Terry Norton, Purgatorio deals with a Man and a Woman in purgatory, a stark and soulless waiting room. Their identities are fluid, and as the drama unfolds it emerges that they are each other’s interrogators, searching for clemency and contrition. Their fates are bound together by a horrific past, and freedom depends on their willingness to sacrifice themselves, each for the other.

Created by Rob Murray and presented by FTK:K and Conspiracy of Clowns, Benchmarks is a small story of great hope and rebirth. In the Mother City, three desperate and lonely individuals – a middle-aged clerk, a reclusive widow and a Zimbabwean refugee – get drawn into an unlikely relationship that will lead them on a journey of discovery, companionship, tragedy, and reconciliation.

Benchmarks is a poetic celebration of the human spirit told by three performers in full character mask, by the crew that birthed Pictures of You, Womb Tide, QUACK!, and GUMBO.

Billed as one of the finest plays ever written by Alan Bennet, The History Boys, presented by Peter Toerien and directed by Alan Swerdlow, is packed with superb one-liners is about a group of mostly working-class boys preparing for the entrance exams that will determine whether or not they will gain entrance to the elite world of Oxford and Cambridge.

The last pro in Yeoville, written by Martin Kobokae and presented by Utlwanang Theatre Company, is the witty and compassionately told story of the 45-year old Camellia, an ageing white prostitute who loses her sex appeal in an upmarket brothel in Rosebank. She is forced to migrate to the less illustrious streets of Yeoville to retire ungracefully. Entwined in the tale is a 26-year-old mystery in the form of a coloured boy’s picture which elicits conflicting paths that have crossed in the past.

Written by Joe Carlaco and presented by Redcan Productions, the South African premiere of Shakespeare’s R&J is set at an exclusive boarding school in the 1950s. Four pupils run into the chapel late one night in a bid to escape from their repressive school routines. One of them brings a copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and they start acting pieces out. Shakespeare’s R&J ran for a year Off-Broadway, becoming the longest-running version of Romeo and Juliet in New York history and earning the play the Lucille Lortel Award.

Sadako presented by Hearts & Eyes Theatre Collective makes use of video projection, puppets and live actors to tell the story of Sadako Sasaki and the legend of one thousand paper cranes. Sadako was two years old on 6 August 1945 when the atom bomb was dropped on her hometown, Hiroshima. She survived only to die 10 years later from “the atom bomb disease”, leukaemia.

Death of a Colonialist, presented by the Market Theatre, deals with history, emigration, crime, national identity and family as it moves between a high school teacher’s bold perceptions of Xhosa history, the inter-personal relations within his family, and his wife’s quiet acceptance of her imminent death.

Award-winning director Lara Bye is bringing Night, Mother to the Festival. This Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Marsha Norman gives Sandra Prinsloo and Annette Louw the opportunity to showcase their talents in the broken and beautiful love story about a mother and daughter in crises.

The restaging of Anthony Akerman’s play Somewhere on the Border marks the 25th anniversary since it was first staged. After two decades of silence, the role of the military during the years of apartheid has found its way back into public discourse. Many conscripts who went through harrowing experiences as teenagers are looking back as adults and trying to make sense of it. Somewhere on the Border participates in this conversation.

Using starkly elegant imagery, tender camaraderie and a dense and elegiac sound score, Melanie Wilson’s Iris Brunette delicately uncoils the remembrance of a friendship destroyed by the outbreak of war and the unfathomable demise of lost kinship and love. This is a warmly mournful and disarmingly engaging piece inspired by Chris Marker’s film La Jetee, and the 2009 winner of the Absolut Dublin Fringe Best Production.

Mark Banks Live will provide laughter in large dollops in the festival’s popular stand-up comedy programme. Mark Banks is one of South Africa’s most respected comedians, digging in to all and sundry with his potent brand of humour.

Music

On the score sheet for the main programme music line-up, Standard Bank Young Artists Award winner for Music Ben Schoeman presents two piano recitals celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt (1811) and the pianist and composer Australian Percy Grainger, who died 50 years ago.

The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra will present two programmes. The Symphony Concert under the baton of Tibor Boganyi with soloist Jerome Pernoo (piano) includes works by Offenbach and Brahms. Richard Cock will conduct the Gala Concert with soloists Ben Schoeman (piano) and Magdalene Minnaar (soprano). The programme comprises fascinating and charming works including Liszt’s Hungarian March, MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose, Grainger’s Country Garden and Ambroise Thomas’ Mad Scene from Hamlet, to name but a few.

In two separate concerts, The Goldberg Trio and Diamond Ensemble bring renditions of some of the most remarkable works in the chamber music oeuvre. Mozart’s Divertimento in E Flat, K. 563 performed by the Goldberg Trio – Zanta Hofmeyr (violin), Morkel Combrink (viola) and Wessel Beukes (cello). Samson Diamond, winner of the 2010 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music, has chosen two contrasting works, Franz Schubert’s deeply sublime String Quintet in C major, D. 956 and Tchaikovsky’s celebrated String Sextet in D minor “Souvenir de Florence” Op. 70 performed by the Diamond Quartet and two guest artists.

The Westhuizen Duo presents a programme which includes the staple of the duo-piano repertoire: Rachmaninoff’s monumental Suite No. 2, Op. 17 for Two Pianos together with works by Schumann and Poulenc. They will also perform the world premiere of Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph’s It Takes Two to Tango and the South African premiere of American Groove for Two Pianos by Evan Mack (USA).

Inspired by text from the Book of Revelation, Quartet to the End of Time (Quatuor pour la fin du temps) scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano is a piece by French composer Olivier Messiaen. Written while a prisoner of war, this major work of the twentieth century premiered in Germany in 1941 to an audience of fellow prisoners and prison guards. Performed by Samson Diamond (violin), Alan Thompson (clarinet), Anna Wilshire Jones (piano) and Wessel Beukes (cello).

Take one portion of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata for piano and violin, saute thoroughly and add four delicious tangos by Astor Piazzolla plus five well-known swing melodies and mix briskly until the consistency is almost that of jazz. Beethoven Tango is brought to you by Charl du Plessis (piano) and Zanta Hofmeyr (violin). This is music that you can taste!

Come and hear such favourites as Don’t cry for me Argentina (Evita), Memory (Cats), Music of the Night and All I ask of you (Phantom of the Opera), Love changes everything (Aspects of Love) and a host of other famous and popular songs in Lloyd Webber & Friends. Veramarie Meyer (mezzo soprano) and Nicholas Nicolaidis (tenor) are joined by members of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra with narration by Richard Cock, who conducts.

Auriol Hays Behind Closed Doors features her mature, classy, alternative pop songs fused with jazzy soul wedged between some darker powerful ballads will, at one moment, have you dancing, and in the next, holding your heart heavily in its musical hands. Songwriter/producer extraordinaire Andre Scheepers leads the band on keyboards. The programme will feature hit songs Take it Slow and Turn Up the Volume, both of which received massive commercial radio success.

Ever since its debut, the Luca Ciarla Quartet has been appreciated by audiences and critics for its highly original tunes and arrangements, in which contemporary jazz and ethnic music happily blend together, creating an irresistible Mediterranean jazz sound. Presented by Violipiano Arts supported by the Italian Institute of Culture, the quartet is sure to wow festival audiences.

Boo! was born in 1997 in the backstreets of Brixton, Johannesburg. Within seven years they acquired an enormous cult following worldwide, brandishing their self-styled genre of “monkipunk”. After breaking up in 2004, Chris Chameleon surprised his punk pundits and cohorts by becoming one of the best-selling artists in Afrikaans music. In 2010, Boo! emerged again and soon won Suckfree Radio’s “Greatest unsigned Band in the World” competition with their remixed and re-mastered album The Three of Us, which has already spawned two hit singles The Three of Us and To Do Today. 2011 is set be the “Year of the Boo!”

François Sarhan will present a programme of two works: Lectures of Professor Glaçon performed in English with three French musicians from the collective vocal-instrumental ensemble crWth; and Telegrams from the Nose, created by François Sarhan and William Kentridge, which he performs with four South African musicians including Jill Richards with videos by Catherine Meyburgh.

Visual arts

On the visual arts front, Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Nandipha Mntambo will be presenting her exhibition Faena which is the most beautiful and skilful section of a bullfight. It refers to a dance with death, where the matador must prove his courage and artistry. In this work, Mntambo presents an extension of her interest in the sport of bullfighting. Using the media of painting, drawing, video and sculpture, she creates an experience/encounter that interrogates the viewer’s sense of sight, hearing, smell and touch.

The Johannesburg Art Gallery’s retrospective exhibition celebrates the life and work of Alan Crump (1949-2009), entitled Alan Crump: A Fearless Visionary. This memorial exhibition celebrates the extraordinary depth and integrity of his artistic vision by bringing together for the first time a comprehensive retrospective of his work.

An innovative group exhibition featuring 26 South Africans and four international artists, each involved in some aspect of comic art and sculpture will collaborate in the CO/MIX Pavilion 2011. Drawing inspiration from the Beautiful Losers DIY street art movement, CO/MIX conjoins expressionist comic art with political and underground cartooning and the contemporary visual subcultures of skate, surf, street, hip hop, Indie craft & graffiti, overlaying it all with a passionate concern for aesthetic integrity in the creation of unique art objects.

An exhibition presented by the Caversham Centre will feature works from the major portfolios printed by the Caversham Press, including well-known artists such as William Kentridge, Magkabo Helen Sebidi and the late Robert Hodgins and Gabisile Nkosi. The exhibition will offer a comprehensive history of personal visual concepts and observations mediated by experiencing life in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. After two and a half decades, Caversham’s contribution to the story of South African printmaking reveals a complex dialogue of many voices and the evidence of many visions embedded in a rich diversity of imagery.

… and walk in my shoes, presented by Brodie Stevenson Gallery, is an experiential installation that blurs the distinction between the roles of viewer and performer by Burundi-born artist Serge Nitegeka. As an installation, the sculpture is incomplete without viewer interaction and it gets completed by the viewer’s experience.

For future generations is presented in association with the Albany History Museum and the International Library of African Music, and features instruments and artefacts from its vast collection. The exhibition is the outreach and education component of a two year cataloguing and digitizing project (2008-09) and it displays a selection of African musical instruments from the Hugh Tracey instrument collection and numerous features on Tracey’s field research, publications, films and audio recordings. Video stations offer footage of South African mine dancing, Chopi xylophone orchestras, Shona music and story-telling, and on ILAM’s history and current projects.

Public performance art

The streets of Grahamstown will again comer alive with spectacular PUBLIC ART performances and exhibitions in public spaces. Following the success of the 2010 festival, this year’s festival will once again open and close with Move Your Mind, a street parade featuring a spectacle of enthusiastic giant puppets, the Phezulu Stilt walkers, the drumbeats of the Sakhaluntu dancers and drummers and physically trained and acrobatic artists from the Oddbody Collective.

Members of the public are invited to join in with enthusiasm and a keen sense of frivolity as the throng of giant puppets, stilt-walkers, street acrobats and youth theatre projects parade down the streets of Grahamstown.

The South African premiere of Machitun, devised as an outdoor spectacle for the whole family, will wow with flying bouncing acrobats, ethereal dance, aerial battles, the beat of many drums and the soaring harmonies of feminine voices, set against a dramatic backdrop of shadow and light, rain and fire. With direction by Argentine Javier Drucaroff, creator of the shows Doble Banda and Ritual, choreography and performance by Cirque du Soleil selected acrobat Pablo Descoubes, musical direction and score by the renowned Ernesto Romeo and guest-starring some of SA’s top musicians. Machitun has been designed and created for the National Arts Festival by Proyecto 34°S, with a team of professionals artists from Argentina and South Africa, with support from the Argentine Foreign Office.

Funded by Culture Ireland, A Fairies Tale is a promenade theatrical performance pieces suitable for the entire family. Set in the idyllic Makana Botanical Garden, it is an adventure about finding out who or what is hiding out in some of the best-known children’s stories of all time. This show depends on the walk, and the audience follows the characters through the garden dancing, running and walking.

Loosely adapted from the Antoine De Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince, Tshini Kwedini! takes the audience on a journey of a local herdboy who, tired of living in his tiny village and wanting to make a difference in the world, sets out on an adventure to far-away places in search of his destiny. With song, dance, clowning, music, stilts, juggling, acrobatics, and other circus tricks, this family event has something in it for everyone. Tshini Kwedini! is a local development initiative of the National Arts Festival and OddBody Theatre.

Commissioned by the Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival, the 7x14m Bottle Top Mosaic is a public artwork conceptualized by Hannelie Coetzee and Usha Seejarim of Such Initiative, made up of over 90 000 discarded plastic bottle tops. The work took 10 weeks to produce. At its peak there were 8 community centres, 140 children, 30 disabled adults, 31 crafters and the Such Initiative management team actively cleaning and weaving the bottle tops into a cohesive artwork.

Eastern Cape Showcase

The Eastern Cape Showcase is a dynamic revitalisation of which positions the East Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture not only as a major sponsor of the festival but also as the most important player in the preservation and promotion of arts and culture in the province.

The provincial showcase will feature theatre, indigenous music and dance, exhibitions, a youth film projects and performances by independent theatre companies who are contributed to growing an arts economy in the province.

Two Women, Two Worlds devised by UK actress Val McLane and Nomhle Nkonyeni, a veteran South African actress from the Eastern Cape, comparing and contrasting their lives in the two different countries on two different continents. Together they tell each other and the audience about their customs and their rituals from the choosing of a name to their chosen career paths. In the course of these stories they question each other and the audience; sometimes arguing over their lack of understanding of each other’s culture. They tell stories of determination and resourcefulness from their own family backgrounds, interspersed with songs and poems and dramatic episodes.

A Century of Fallen Eastern Cape Artists pays tribute to those who fearlessly used their creative skills in speaking out against the ills of oppression. Their heroic roles in resisting socio-political atrocities contributed to the downfall of the apartheid ideology. The exhibition further highlights the Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture’s commitment to social cohesion and nation building through the visual arts. Talented young artists express themselves highlighting the elusive economic freedom so desperately needed in a developing country.

In the Crafter’s Exhibition, authentic craft art from a province unique in style, design and production techniques have been sourced from urban areas and the most rural villages in the province to create an all-inclusive array of diverse products. Visitors to the Crafter’s Exhibition are guaranteed to have access to craft art that have already made their mark on the global market. Festival visitors will also have an opportunity to interact with crafters who will demonstrate their skills. They will highlight the production process from conceptualisation to design, production and finished product.

Rhythms of the Eastern Cape highlight the vibrancy of the sub-tribes of the Eastern Cape – amaBhaca, abaThembu, amaKhoisan, abeSuthu and amaMpondo. Drawn from the various districts of the province, the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture acts as a custodian of preserving and promoting indigenous knowledge systems and indigenous culture. Rhythms of the Eastern Cape, a fascinating display of the province’s rich music and dance heritage, is a potpourri of traditional dance and music ranging from the vibrant foot-stomping of the amaBhaca dance to the delicately refined animal movement of the Khoisan. In an extravaganza of five lunchtime concerts, audiences will be introduced to the sub-tribes or clans who will mesmerise with their indigenous music and dance. Artists will also be drawn from the newly-formed Indigenous Music Orchestra and Eastern Cape Cultural Ensemble.

The Village Green Fair and Fiddler’s Green will offer festival goers enough space to take a break away from the performances and exhibitions and to indulge in the extravaganzas of strolling through busy festival markets to purchase from the spoils of hundreds of craft and food stalls.

Festivals within the Festival

In addition to the productions on the main programme, the National Arts Festival effectively runs seven festivals with the festival, including:

  • The Arena programme, featuring productions by some of the winners of last year’s Standard Bank Fringe Ovation Award.
  • The esoteric and eccentric Fringe programme, which often holds some unique theatrical gems and surprises.
  • Think!Fest with its provocative and engaging conversations and debate.
  • The Student Theatre programme showcasing work from the country’s leading university drama departments.
  • The Standard Bank Jazz Festival, with Standard bank Young Artist Bokani Dyer.
  • The Film festival, which will showcase, among others, films by festival guest Richard Stanley.
  • Spiritfest and Wordfest, which also run alongside the National Arts Festival programme.

The Festival will again run the Hands On! Masks Off! programme supported by Business and Arts South Africa, featuring a series of workshops and seminars on arts entrepreneurship.

The Remix Laboratory, supported by various Embassies, funds community-based artists to attend the festival as a residency programme, allowing them to gain maximum benefit from presenting their own shows and by attending professional performances. Participants are also provided with a series of of creative skills capacity-building workshops with professionals.

The festival’s Writer development laboratories allow emerging writers to be mentored by professional writers at the festival, and to have at least one work each year culminate in a full staged reading during the festival. The following writer development laboratories will be resident at the festival this year: Novel Script Project (funded by the Royal Netherlands Embassy), Playwright Development Project (funded by the British Council) and the Theatre in Translation Project (funded by the Argentinean Foreign Office).

The ARTReach Project, Arts Encounter Project, Art Factory and the Phezulu Project continue to demonstrate the festival’s commitment to providing access to the arts and artistic development to all communities in Grahamstown.

The South African Post Office will be on board this year as a new sponsor of local initiatives to promote indigenous music, coinciding with the launch of a new South African postage stamp featuring African indigenous musical instruments.

Now in its 36th year, South Africa’s National Arts Festival is one of the leading arts festivals in southern Africa. Tickets for all shows are available through Computicket.

The National Arts Festival is supported by Standard Bank, the Eastern Cape Government, the National Arts Council, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, the Sunday Independent and M-Net.

For more information, visit www.nationalartsfestival.co.za.

Source: National Arts Festival