2015 National Arts Festival keeps it sharp and fresh

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Ismail Mahomed announcing the programme at the 2015 National Arts Festival Programme Launch at Liliesleaf Farm. Pic: Darya Maslova.
Ismail Mahomed announcing the programme at the 2015 National Arts Festival Programme Launch at Liliesleaf Farm. Pic: Darya Maslova.

Satire and freedom of expression will seize centre stage at this year’s National Arts Festival, 2 July to 12 July in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape.

Responding to social and political debates currently raging in South Africa, the Festival organisers have chosen to highlight the genre of satire in place of the usual “featured artist” category. “In taking a strong advocacy and agitating angle, this year’s programme not only honours South Africa’s constitutional right to free speech, but also creates opportunities for South Africans to do what they do best – engage passionately and honestly about life in our country,” explains Ismail Mahomed, the Festival’s Artistic Director.

“The arts need to challenge and provoke,” he says. “South Africa’s satirists, cartoonists, commentators and court jesters need, now more than ever, to be given the opportunity to be the public voice, the conscience, of the nation.”

South Africa’s most acclaimed satirists – Pieter-Dirk Uys, Chester Missing, Loyiso Gola and Iain EWOK Robinson, as well as works such as Tara Notcutt’s Three Blind Mice – will keep South Africans on their toes, challenging audiences while helping us to laugh at ourselves.

Now in its 41st year, the Festival’s Main programme pays homage to some of the country’s most important living and past legends. “This year’s programme aims to take us forward into new, exciting spaces while acknowledging the depth of our roots and our heritage,” Mahomed says.

New voices and talents – especially those created by the Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners – will invite the exploration of fresh creative territories. The inclusion of women artists – Thoko Ndlozi, Maralin Vanreenen, Mamela Nyamza, Bronwen Forbay, Faniswa Yisa, Patricia Boyer, and Nelisiwe Xaba – also serves to underscore the Festival’s commitment to feature strong and visible women on the programme.

International collaboration is another undisputed priority, Mahomed says. This year’s programme demonstrates a deepening of relationships with countries north of our border, with Botswana (pop band Chasing Jaykb performing on the Fringe) and Zimbabwe (the extraordinary Tumbuka’s dance piece Portrait of Myself as my Father) represented.

On the programme are works and artists from around the globe, including Leslie Lewis in Miracle in Rwanda, the incredible story of Rwanda genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza; Irish comic and writer Dylan Moran, best known for his sardonic observational comedy (and the BAFTA Award-winning UK television series Black Books); and Dutch electric jazz outfit PAND7090.

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival continues to hold its own as the country’s leading live jazz event, playing home to African jazz greats such as Carlo Mombelli, Pops Mohamed and Dave Reynolds, Mandla Mlangeni, Vuma Levin, and former Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Kesivan Naidoo. International acts include Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing, New York-based Lionel Loueke, Austrian pianist David Helbock, and the violin-piano duo Chi-pin Hsieh and Kai-ya Chang from Taiwan.

The contemporary music line-up sizzles with swag, with Ray Phiri in town for a one-night-only solo concert. Beatenburg, Shortstraw, Thandiswa Mazwai and MiCasa all feature on the Main programme this year.

Tony Lankester, the Festival’s Chief Executive, says: “Behind the scenes we’re working harder than ever to deliver an event that is slicker and more tech savvy. We’re focused on creating an amazing, hassle-free experience for our festivalgoers. Our other priority is to deepen our relationship with our host city and we are focused on being a more visible and relevant part of everyday, year-round life in Grahamstown.”

FESTIVAL FIRSTS

In their efforts to keep growing the Festival as an exciting and innovative platform for South Africa, the organisers add new features to the programme each year.

This year, the Festival will stage a series of productions that pay tribute to one of our country’s legends – the Arts Icon series will celebrate the work of 70-year-old master satirist Pieter Dirk-Uys with the staging of four of his productions: the world premieres of African Times and The Echo of a Noise; as well as his cabaret, Never Too Naked; and a once-only presentation of A Part Hate A Part Love. Three of Uys’s films will feature on the Film Festival: Farce About Uys; Adapt or Dye; and Skating on Thin Uys, which will be attended by honoured guest Evita Bezhuidenhout.

Another innovation is the Featured Young Curator. This year it’s Johannesburg-based curator Lerato Bereng, who works at the Stevenson Gallery. Her hand can be seen in Simon Gush’s show, Red, and also in Standard Bank Young Artist Kemang Wa Lehulere’s showcase, Dreamer Imaginist: History will Break Your Heart.

STANDARD BANK YOUNG ARTISTS

A keystone of the Festival programme for more than 30 years, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners continue to raise the bar of artistic excellence. The Festival provides a showcase for new works by the six artists: choreographer and Vuyani Dance Theatre Artistic Director Luyanda Sidiya (Dance) presents Siva (7); director, actor and writer Christiaan Olwagen (Theatre), who will present Doll’s House; boundary-breaking artist Athi-Patra Ruga (Performance Art), who will present The Elder of Azania; baritone Musa Ngqungwana (Music) and pianist Nduduzo Makhathini (Jazz) will both be in concert; and Kemang Wa Lehulere (Visual Art), whose exhibition Dreamer Imaginist: History will Break Your Heart is curated by Lerato Bereng.

THEATRE

3 x world premieres: Prolific writer, actor and satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys’s African Times as well as the Echo of a Noise; and award-winning author and playwright Craig Higginson’s haunting production, The Imagined Land.

3 x South African premieres: Another Great Year for Fishing, an intriguing ode to slowness by and with Flemish actor Tom Struyf and dancer Nelle Hens; Hirsch, the touching tribute to Canadian theatre genius John Hirsch; and Miracle in Rwanda, a one-woman show from the US.

5 x new South African plays: Three Blind Mice, a gritty journey into the heart of South Africa’s judicial and penal systems directed by Tara Notcutt; A Voice I Cannot Silence, a play by 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Greg Homann and Ralph Lawson that pays tribute to poet and author Alan Paton; the Dutch-South African collaboration Masote’s Dream, about the life of South Africa’s black classical music legend and composer Michael Masote; YOBO by spoken word activist Iain EWOK Robinson; and Missing, the personal story of satirist Conrad Koch told with the help of his more famous associate and free-speech advocate, Chester.

3 x adaptations: Doll’s House, adapted by Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Christiaan Olwagen from Henrik Ibsen; Woman Alone, adapted by Christo Davids from Dannelene Noach’s novel “Arabian Nightmare”; and I Have Life, the story of rape survivor Alison Botha adapted by Maralin Vanrenen from the book by Marianne Thamm.

3 x revivals: Born in the RSA, Barney Simon’s classic play brought back to the stage to mark the 20th anniversary of his death is directed by Thoko Ntshinga and stars Faniswa Yisa and Emily Child; the Brazilian satire Miss Margarida’s Way, performed by Patricia Boyer and directed by Pieter Bosch Botha; and The Cenotaph of Dan Wa Moriri, Tony Miyambo’s triumph of collaborative engagement and performance.

And, of course, 1x Shakespeare: Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer’s inspired adaption of The Tragedy of Hamlet.

MUSIC

The classical music programme celebrates voice with a delightfully loaded operatic and choral line-up: Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Musa Ngqungwana in Concert;n

DANCE PROGRAMME

This year’s dance works don’t shy away from the tough topics: arts funding, demographics and political correctness (The Last Dance / Pointe by Mamela Nyamza and Nelisiwe Xaba); community, power and masculinity (Moving Into Dance Mophatong’s Ngiswize); and human trafficking (MIDM’s Man-Longing). Zimbabwean dance company Tumbuka explores fatherhood and identity in Portrait of Myself as my Father. Cape Town City Ballet will present two works by world-renowned choreographer John Neumeier – Spring and Fall and Le Sacre.

VISUAL ART

Works by Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Kemang Wa Lehulere, as well as those by Themba Shibase, Keith Dietrich, Jodi Bieber, Monique Pelser and Michael Godby highlight the engagement between artist and contemporary issues – political conflict, race, colonialism, identity, war and terror.

PERFORMANCE ART

Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Athi-Patra Ruga expands his fantastical “Future White Women of Azania” series with The Elder of Azania; while Gavin Krastin explores what it means to be human in his “performance cabaret”, On Seeing Red and Other Fantasies.

EASTERN CAPE SHOWCASE

Devised and compiled by the Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture, this showcase comprises an indigenous music and dance ensemble, visual arts exhibition, a craft exhibition, as well as an Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council theatre showcase.

FILM

The Film programme will explore limits of expression and liberty, and features, among many others, the work of Afrikaans screenwriter and director Jans Rautenbach, whose films (Die Kandidaat, Katrina) made in 1960s and 70s South Africa were seen as bravely critical of the apartheid government.

FAMILY FARE

There are three family fare productions on the Main programme this year presented through collaborations between South Africa and international partners: True Confusion (Danish company ZeBU & ASSITEJ SA); Red Earth Revisited (Speeltheater Holland Studio & ASSITEJ SA), and Tea (Dutch performance company Poolse Vis & Twist Development Trust).

THE ARENA

The Arena Programme hosts eight South African award-winning companies and three international works that have won fringe awards. Theatre productions grapple with controversial issues such as sexual identity (Horses Heads’ Similar To) and cultural divisions (Lentswe Art Projects’ Boy). Jori Snell captures a younger audience with her interactive installation The Paper Den, and KMAD examines the language of dance in Lyftaal. Joanna Wicherek presents the South African premiere of Poems – a recital of work by renowned Polish composers.

THE FRINGE

While the vibrant 400-production strong Fringe programme still has Theatre as its mainstay, there’s a bumper bunch of comedy (56 productions), physical theatre (41), poetry and storytelling (11), illusion (7), visual art (57 exhibitions) and dance (34) to shore up the open-access platform this year.

STUDENT THEATRE

Presented by third- and fourth-year performing arts students at 14 South African tertiary institutions: the universities of Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg, Wits, Rhodes; the Tshwane University of Technology; the Market Theatre Laboratory; Oakfields College; Durban University of Technology; AFDA; the Waterfront Theatre School; and City Varsity.

THINK!FEST

A series of debates and discussions will see South Africa’s thought leaders, trendsetters and provocateurs grappling with issues around satire and freedom of expression, secrecy and surveillance, non-racialism, and a range of other socially relevant themes.

PUBLIC ART

A street parade and three public art productions, including Richard Antrobus’s Suggestion Box, which will see the performer trapped in a transparent box into which festival goers will be invited to post suggestions and comments about the Festival; and Francois Knoetze’s public art installation The Cape Mongo, which will challenge the viewer to rethink recyclable materials.

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