Rich pickings at SA arts festival

The South African State Theatre presents Kiu (the Swahili word for ‘thirst’), a dance work choreographed and directed by Mdu Nhlapo.


DURBAN talents Musa Hlatshwayo (dance) and Guy Buttery (music) are among 2018 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners to be highlighted at the 44th National Arts Festival, scheduled for June 28 to July 8 in Grahamstown.

Of note, too, is that international singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, of Luka fame, will be performing just two shows – wrapping up the festival on July 7 and 8. Grahamstown is her only destination in South Africa on this tour.

Durban dance icon Musa Hlatshwayo is to present Udodona, a dance work which, against the many ongoing incidents that draw attention to the silenced brokenness of the black male identity, explores the black male body; its associated and constructed identity and its placement in the society (particularly in traditional African communities, households and churches).

Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance 2018, Durban’s Musa Hlatshwayo, presents Udodona, in which he explores the black male body.

Fusing both abstract and narrative approaches, the work explores indoctrination and incubation into the systems that ignore the development of black power and unity.

Guitarist Guy Buttery presents Guy Buttery: The Mending. His endless movement towards a distinct musical voice has led him to distil heritages and traditions (as well as their contradictions and tensions) with de-colonialised elements, into a new and highly innovative song form that combines the artist’s adoration for both Southern African musical traditions and ambient music forms fusing cinematic soundscapes within the context of South Africa.

Buttery will collaborate with artists across a number of works to produce a sound that is expected to include Indian classical aspects and a capella vocals alongside a variety of strings instruments including a sitar and double bass, with Buttery on an improvised soundscapes, mbira and various guitars.

The combination of this varied instrumentation creates a rich tapestry pioneering new musical terrain and will surely be something National Arts Festival audiences will remember for years to come.

The festival’s Main programme this year is a “heady mix of uniquely South African and international arts, culture and creativity,” says the event’s executive producer, Ashraf Johaardien

“The festival deliberately juxtaposes high concept with entertainment for all because it is precisely the tension between those two poles of artistic expression that fuels the engine that drives the National Arts Festival’s 11 Days of Amazing,” he adds.

The festival spotlight this year falls firmly on a phenomenal range of both emerging and established female artists. Look out for (among many others) choreographer and this year’s Featured Artist Mamela Nyamza, visual artist Gabrielle Goliath, author Mary Watson, curator Tina Smith, actors Klara van Wyk and Buhle Ngaba, as well as Standard Bank Young Artists Thandi Ntuli, Jemma Kahn and Chuma Sopotela.

The Main programme segues from fresh takes on Shakespeare and the return of Corne and Twakkie in The Most Amazing Show to the ‘un-dance’ of Steven Cohen, the compelling ‘un-theatre’ of visiting Canadian playwright Greg MacArthur, and the  unconventional Theatre In The Backyard of Nyanga-based theatre producer and director Mhlanguli George.”

Durban’s Guy Buttery whose Guy Buttery: The Mending will see the Standard Bank Young Artist for Music 2018 collaborate with artists to create cinematic soundscapes.

“Each year the Festival sheds its skin and presents a whole new experience for our visitors – and the innovations we’re introducing will make sure that 2018 is no exception,” says festival CEO Tony Lankester.

“We’ve given a lot of thought to the way audiences engage with us, what they want to get out of the time they spend in Grahamstown and we’re helping create many and varied pathways to an amazing experience.

Trailblazing dancer and choreographer Mamela Nyamza takes the title of Featured Artist in 2018. The Featured Artist is recognised for contribution to the South African cultural narrative and is invited to bring multiple works to the festival.

Nyamza will present three works, including a new piece, Black Privilege. Presented by the National Arts Festival, co-commissioned by Ruhrtriennale (Germany) and co-produced by PACT Zollverein (Germany), the work is informed by the artist’s experience of the rejection of the other by mainstream gatekeeping institutions.

Nyamza’s Phuma-Langa, presented by The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative, calls for renewed reconciliation of all South Africans through the diverse experiences of the country’s many cultures.

Hatched, first brought to the festival 10 years ago, is Nyamza’s autobiographical piece about the life changes experienced through motherhood and features Mamela’s 18-year-old son Amkele Mandla, who performed in the show as an eight-year-old when it premiered.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre 2018, Jemma Kahn, presents The Borrow Pit. Through the lens of kamishibai, an ancient Japanese storytelling medium, Kahn tells the story of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. These men each had a muse who helped them on their way to prodigious fame. As you might suspect, it did not end so well for the muses.

The Borrow Pit asks with harrowing humour, ‘Is art more important than people?’ Written, directed and illustrated by Kahn, she also joins a stellar cast of Tony Miyambo, Wilhelm van der Walt and David Viviers.

A scene from put your heart under your feet… and walk / To Elu, performance artist Steven Cohen’s intense meditation on loss, grief and absence, following the death of Elu, his partner and artistic collaborator.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art 2018, Chuma Sopotela, presents Indlulamthi. Indlulamthi is the Xhosa word for a giraffe but, in direct translation, it also means ‘the ones who are taller than the trees’.

Sopetela uses this image to celebrate the children who are on the pavements of Grahamstown. The piece will be performed on the streets of Grahamstown and, using video, sound and performance elements, seeks to challenge our thinking of currency; and the connection between people. “At height, Indlulamthi will be almost a statue element, which will then dissolve into nothingness again”, says Sopotela.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art 2018, Igshaan Adams, presents When Dust Settles. Incorporating aspects of scented sculpture, textiles, found objects and performance, the installation will comprise between 15 and 20 artworks and takes the form of an immersive environment in the subterranean space of the Monument in Grahamstown.

Revisiting earlier bodies of work, the presentation will draw inspiration from conceptual themes, artistic processes and materialities dating back several years to investigate the evolution of ideas within the artist’s practice. The work includes a performative element with Adams’s brother, Kashief Adams.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2018, Thandi Ntuli, presents a trio of works at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival.The first, on June 29, will be an exploration of her music to date, from her album The Offering, and the recently released, Exiled.

On June 30, she will be in Rebirth of Cool with DJKenzhero on the decks and a powerful young band to create a reinterpretation of Miles Davis’s seminal 1957 album, Birth of the Cool. This, mixed with the sounds and styles of current South Africa, results in a merging of three generations of music – 1960s jazz, 1990s hip-hop and contemporary South African jazz fusion.

July 1 sees Ntuli on the piano in Way of Dancing. Two of Switzerland’s most interesting young vocalists, Lisette Spinnler and Julie Fahrer, in South Africa on a ProHelvetia residency, share their music with an excellent South African rhythm section, blending the sound of jazz from two continents.

Their music collectively draws attention to the modern and progressive approaches to jazz that the new generation of music-makers represents, weaving a tapestry of sound ever intriguing and beautiful. They are joined by Shane Cooper (bass) and Peter Auret (drums).

Among other items on the The Main Programme is the dance work Amaqhawe, a piece that explores what would happen if those who died for  freedom woke up. What would they say? Mzokuthula Gasa, who makes his first appearance on the Main Programme, choreographs and directs Amaqhawe.

Swiss author and director Boris Nikitin rewrites Hamlet into a mix of experimental documentary play and music theatre. It stars Julian Meding.

Moving Into Dance Mophatong will celebrate its 40-year anniversary with Ukubonga Inhlonipho, a programme choreographed by Sylvia Glasser, Themba Mbuli and Sunnyboy Motau, and starring the leading talents of Muzi Shili, Teboho Letele and Oscar Buthelezi, amongst others. The three works on the bill honour the company’s achievements and pay respect to the work and artistry of MIDM founder, Sylvia Glasser.

The 2018 ballet is Romeo and Juliet performed by Cape Town City Ballet under artistic director Robin van Wyk. Set to the classic Prokofiev score, this traditional favourite will be performed in the Guy Butler Theatre.

The South African State Theatre presents Kiu (the Swahili word for ‘thirst’). An examination of drought in Africa and the importance of preserving water, this raw and sensitive piece is choreographed and directed by Mdu Nhlapo. It will be performed to hauntingly beautiful, live Afrocentric music.

Bridging the gap between performance and visual art, formidable artist Steven Cohen will perform his work, put your heart under your feet… and walk/ To Elu, an intense meditation on loss, grief and absence, following the death of Elu, Cohen’s partner and artistic collaborator. Shocking, sad, beautiful and uncomfortable all at once, it is said to bean unforgettable piece.

Gathering Strands is a retrospective exhibition of works by Lionel Davis, artist, educator, anti-apartheid activist, political prisoner and former District Six resident. Best known for his linocuts of life in District Six, Davis held a retrospective at the National Gallery in Cape Town in July. The exhibition celebrates four decades of Davis’s activism and creative production.

On the theatre front, an interesting choice seems likely to be Swiss author and director Boris Nikitin’s rewrite of Hamlet, into a mix of experimental documentary play and music theatre. The enigmatic performer and electronic musician Julian Meding takes the part of a contemporary Hamlet who revolts against reality.

Supported by a baroque-quartet, Meding is a tour de force on stage as the piece challenges form with an array of multimedia elements. This approach will see the production being staged as part of the Creativate Digital Arts Festival as well as the Festival’s Main programme.

Jungfrau is also a must. It is the latest directorial work from 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Jade Bowers. Based on the novel by Caine Prize-winning South African writer Mary Watson, the book has been adapted for the stage by Ameera Patel, who also takes a lead role.

Of interest too, is UJ Arts & Culture’s rendition of Reza de Wet’s iconic African Gothic (translation of Diepegrond) which is the culmination of a process that has involved more than 300 students and lecturers from different departments at the UJ Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA). It is directed by Alby Michaels.

Maude Sandham in Tracks.

Staged, UJ Arts & Culture’s theatre development platform, is an extension of the successful UJ Can You? programme, which identifies and develops hidden talent from among the university’s 50 000 students.

The UJ STAGED showcase on the festival programme similarly seeks to nurture new plays and professional talent by creating a national platform to highlight selected works to local and international producers and presenters.

The STAGED productions for 2018 include Wynne Bredenkamp’s At The Edge of The Light (South Africa), Joakim Daun’s The Incident (Sweden/Zimbabwe/ South Africa), Greg MacArthur’s A CITY (Canada/South Africa), and Tracks by Maude Sandham and Nicola Pilkington.

The music selection for this year’s Festival is a vital tribute to collaboration, curiosity and experimentation.

A highlight will be the Standard Bank Jazz Festival and the National Arts Festival presenting Afropoets, a one-night only (July 6) phenomenon, featuring the fresh sounds of Urban Village – folk music layered with electric, funk and traditional influences – collaborating with guitar master Madala Kunene.

They will be joined by The Brother Moves On, a South African performance art ensemble that critics have hailed as “the most important band in this country”, and the new face of Afro-folk, Bongeziwe Mabandla, who is effortlessly able to entwine iXhosa lyrics with traditional music and folk stylings to create something uniquely captivating.

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