BY BILLY SUTER
FROM new works by noted choreographers and dancers, to reinterpretations of classic works, the 2017 dance programme at this year’s South African National Arts Festival in Grahamstown will represent quite a mixed bag.
Or, as Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, convenor of the Artistic Committee’s dance panel, puts it: “A curious, furious and poetic game of different aesthetics, contexts and languages, oscillating between perception and attribution, between history and that which is current and urgent”.
Now in its 43rd year, the National Arts Festival, to be held from June 29 to July 9, is the largest and longest-running celebration of the arts in Africa.
The programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, as well as a children’s arts festival.
The core programme has been collaboratively produced by executive producer Ashraf Johaardien and a 20-member Artistic Committee, with Maqoma, Durban dance lecturer Lliane Loots and arts writer Tracey Saunders on the dance sub-committee.
“Social orders are at the core of the 2017 National Arts Festival’s Main dance programme,” says Maqoma of the line-up that explores and reflects a globally shifting balance of power through the eyes of artists working independently or collectively within the South African context.
At the top of the bill is 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, Thandazile Radebe, who explores her fascination with the idea that, as human beings, we are required to have names.
In Sabela, she excavates the tensions between names and numbers, bodies and biometrics, space and passwords.
“Through our names we want to find out how it feels to be infinitely more complex than we are,” she says. “Through our names we want to be free from ourselves and transcend through each other until we are one.”
Vincent Mantsoe’s solo work, KonKoriti, has been described as “cathartic”, “deeply poetic, uncannily intuitive”. The work is named after a song about pride and arrogance that Mantsoe’s grandmother used to sing to him.
KonKoriti explores physical power and selfishness. Mantsoe is strongly inspired by spirituality and deep cultural influences as he wrestles with the preservation of tradition in the contemporary.
A former Standard Bank Young Artist, Mantsoe now lives in France. KonKoriti toured France and Germany last year to sold-out houses and critical acclaim.
In a powerful collaboration created through a residency at Dance Space in Johannesburg, Unmute Dance Company (Cape Town) and Tumbuka Dance Company (Harare), have united to present Breaking Borders.
Moved by the acts of xenophobia in South Africa, the artists have been working together with the intention of breaking the borders between their countries, to connect and look to the future together. The work starts with the question, “Who am I as an African person?”
Dada Masilo’s Giselle will make its South African debut in Grahamstown, thanks to a partnership between the University of Johannesburg and the National Arts Festival.
Masilo, a former Standard Bank Young Artist, says she has aimed “to create a work that is not about forgiveness, but about deceit, betrayal, anger and heartbreak”.
She add: “The Willis ancestors literally call Giselle to join them. They are not a group of sweet, sad girls, but rather something more terrifying… they have been had. They are heartbroken. And they want revenge. Giselle does not forgive.”
Masilo’s work is said to reinterpret all the cues with riveting results.
Another interesting take on a classic is Durban choreographer Mark Hawkins’s delightful reimagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in celebration of the Johannesburg Youth Ballet’s 40th anniversary.
Set to Mendelssohn’s score, the ballet moves from the contemporary world of taxis, car guards and unemployed actors to a fantasy world of psychedelic neon-coloured fairies dancing through bubble wrap forests at the behest of the king and queen of the fairies. This production celebrates exciting emerging talent and offers perfect family entertainment.
The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative presents With Nothing But Silence They Turned Their Bodies to Face the Noise.
This “dance-theatre” piece, choreographed by former Standard Bank Young Artists P J Sabbagha and Fana Tshabalala, brings into sharp focus the ever-present realities of environmental degradation and climate change, tackling the volatility of the imploding present.
The Oakfields College Faculty of Dance and Musical Theatre returns to Grahamstown with an exciting programme of contemporary dance works. Titled 4, it is an experimental platform for acclaimed choreographers Ignatius van Heerden, Gladys Agulhas, Bailey Snyman and Sunnyboy Motau to collaborate with Oakfields College dance students, using Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as the point of departure.
From Phakama Dance Theatre in KwaZulu-Natal comes …On the Line, which is part of the Arena programme this year. It engages with self-discovery, lost dreams, new avenues, fear of the unknown and the empathy found in collective suffering.
“Sometimes you find yourself forced into uncomfortable situations alongside strangers in the line of misery and pain and they inspire you to be a better person by simply sharing their life experience with you.”
The Main and Arena dance programmes will be complemented by an exciting and edgy Fringe programme of works from South Africa and beyond.