Grahamstown’s National Arts Festival is determined to prove that life begins at 40 as it announces a programme that “reaches into our past and launches us into the future” for its 40th anniversary to be held from 3 to 13 July this year. The landmark edition will feature some of the Festival’s most accomplished alumni, as well as strong new artistic voices from across the country and, through various partnerships, from more than 20 other countries.
“There are many demands and expectations made on us this year, given the significant histories of the Festival and of the country, but we are confident that we have pulled together a programme that will challenge and inspire audiences and participants alike,” says Festival Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed.
The Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners remain a primary focus for the Festival, bolstered this year by the presence of many previous winners in recognition of the 30th anniversary of Standard Bank’s sponsorship of the Award. Theatre Award winner Greg Homann’s Oedipus @ Koö-Nú! is based on the tragedy Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, reworked as a playful allegory offering a subversive and satirical take on the past, present, and future of South Africa’s complex political landscape. Performance Art Award winner Donna Kukama will present The Museum of Non-Permanence: a series of events, encounters, interactions, and public announcements taking place in various public sites; interrogating our relationships with our complex histories. Carving out a unique place between the disciplines of dance and theatre, Dance Award winner Nicola Elliott’s work focuses on the body’s ability to tell its story, confronting physical experience through a theatrical medium. In Bruising, she explores the dichotomy of tensions that exist between the inner and outer worlds in our individual notions of love. Music Award winner Njabulo Madlala will showcase his vocal talents in a varied programme that includes songs from the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Schubert and Strauss and the South African Songbook. Capetonian pianist, saxophonist and composer Kyle Shepherd is the Award winner for Jazz. Ten years ago this prodigiously talented young man performed in Grahamstown as a member of the Standard Bank National Schools Big Band; now he stands on that same stage on the cusp of a career that promises to be significant for South African jazz. Kyle performs in a quintet and trio with the likes of Shane Cooper, Feya Faku and Buddy Wells. This year the Award for Visual Art is shared by twins Hasan and Husain Essop, who promise to beguile us with their particular aesthetic and socio-political perspective. A challenging Film Festival programme, co-sponsored by the National Film and Video Foundation, includes a showcase of work by Film Award winner, Jahmil XT Qubeka (including the now infamous Of Good Report, and A Small Town Called Descent).
A highlight of a power-packed Theatre programme this year is a line-up of eight productions written, directed or adapted by previous Standard Bank Young Artist winners. Together they represent some of South Africa’s most contemporary and cutting edge theatre-makers, so the Festival is proud to be staging these: Lara Foot’s Fishers Of Hope; Aubrey Sekhabi’s Marikana – The Musical; Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom’s Protest; Geoffrey Hyland directing Slowly; Marthinus Basson’s Macbeth.Slapeloos; and Princess Zinzi Mhlongo directing Cooking with Elisa. The Programme also features exciting inter-genre collaborations such as Ubu and the Truth Commision – with original direction and animation by William Kentridge and this revival directed by Janni Younge, and Cargo: Precious – a unique collaboration between four Young Artist Award winners: director Sylvaine Strike, choreographer PJ Sabbagha, musician Concord Nkabinde and dancer Fana Tshabalala.
The work of accomplished director Sylvaine Strike comes into sharp focus at the Festival this year with her being named as the Featured Artist on the programme. Since her first break-through at the National Arts Festival in 2002, Sylvaine Strike’s work has moved hearts and minds to earn her a list of accolades. Strike’s Featured Artist programme comprises 5 productions, namely CARGO: Precious on the Festival’s dance programme, On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco with Andrew Buckland, and the much awaited return of Black and Blue, all on the Main Festival. Two of her latest shows, Agreed and The God Complex appear on the Fringe Festival. She says, “Now, perhaps more than ever, the role of the artist in South Africa has reached a critical point and demands redefining: courage in the face of political, social and economical adversity; and producing work of high quality that cannot afford to compromise its purpose or voice on any level.”
The 2nd Season of Solo Theatre showcases nine solo productions which explore cultural values, racial politics, sexual identity and a range of narratives that draw on the personal and the political, augmented by the launch of a book of South African Solo Plays.
Following the successful France-South Africa Seasons, productions forming part of the UK-SA Season will feature on the programme. Lemn Sissay – a Festival hit in 2010 – returns to share the stage with performance poets Lebo Mashile and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, and Adura Onashile’s multi-award winning one-person play HeLa, will make its South African premiere at the Festival following a successful presentation on the Edinburgh Fringe where it dominated the award season in 2013.
Ruth Simbao, who curated a provocative Performance Art programme in 2012, is once again at the helm of a collaborative collection of five site-situational performance works that will be spread across the city, under the umbrella title Blind Spot.
The Grand Ballet de Geneve will make their South African debut in Grahamstown with Le Songe D’une Nuit D’été (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), choreographed by Michael Kelemenis and accompanied by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. Nile is a collaboration between French/Swiss choreographers Compagnie 7273 and American guitarist Sir Richard Bishop, and aims to capture the undulating nature of the Nile River through a striking combination of dance and music. Provocative productions by significant newer voices in 20/20 Visions, and Festival veterans Alfred Hinkel and Tossie van Tonder, bring local gravitas to the Dance offering.
With probably the strongest component of new compositions and music from Africa ever to be presented on the Festival’s Main Music programme, we affirm South Africa’s identity on the continent and its vibrant versatility on the world’s stages with repertoires chosen from across the globe. Audiences will be thrilled by programmes such as Magdalene Minnaar (soprano) and Magda de Vries (Marimba and percussion) in Ritual; the Odeion String Quartet performing Homage; and Christopher Duigan’s piano recital juxtaposing the music of Beethoven and South African jazz pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim. Fans of South African music will be treated to a retrospective of South African Rock from the past 20 years, performed by Arno Carstens and Francois van Coke; while the next generation of contemporary voices is being represented by rising stars and multiple SAMA-Award nominees Nakhane Touré and Matthew Mole.
The Standard Bank Jazz Festival incorporates a variety of disciplines into their programme with highlights such as multi Grammy award-winning composer, conductor and performer Maria Schneider who will be performing in South Africa for the first time; world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer and political voice Hugh Masekela; multi platinum award-winning South African singer/songwriter Lira performing her signature fusion of soul and funk with elements of jazz and African music; an unmissable collaboration between Dan Patlansky and Albert Frost; and SAMA winner and well-loved local musician Jimmy Dludlu. A special international Festival Big Band will pay tribute to some of the greats of South African jazz; and a new Jazz Festival venue – the Standard Bank Jazz & Blues Cafe at St. Aidan’s – promises to keep feet tapping well into the early hours of the morning.
This year, there is a free public art performance on every single day of the Festival – the Festival’s birthday gift to everyone who wants to take part in the festivities, but who cannot afford to buy a ticket. A must-see on this programme is Herbert’s Dream – a visual spectacle by a French street theatre company that, since its creation in 1997, has been performed over 400 times at all the major festivals around the globe.
The introduction of digital media programming in the Public Arts realm allows for new opportunities. Analogue Eye is one of the most exciting developments at the Festival – it will present works of artists from 13 African countries through a mobile drive-in theatre and pop-up cinema experience created and curated by Brent Meistre. Audiences can P(AR)TAKE in another exciting digitally-driven experience – a virtual tour of South African contemporary dance curated by Jeanette Ginslov, using Augmented Reality (AR) on their mobile devices.
In addition to a series of conceptually innovative exhibitions, our strong Visual Art history comes to the fore with exhibitions such as Impressions of Rorke’s Drift – The Jumuna Collection, and 14/30 – the Goodman Gallery’s celebration of the Standard Bank Young Artists who are represented by them. Curated by Neil Dundas and Lara Koseff, 14/30 showcases a combination of historical and current work; celebrating both the 30th anniversary of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, as well as the historical link between the Goodman Gallery and this prestigious national prize. An exhibition of work by Wim Botha featuring his ‘Study of the Epic Mundane’, will give festival audiences a glimpse of what was exhibited at the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale.
The Arena programme continues to showcase the ingenuity of artists recognised through the Standard Bank Ovation Awards and International Fringe Juries; and the open-access Fringe supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund – this year with over 400 productions scheduled – can be counted on to generate a plethora of audience opportunities.
The Think Fest programme, sponsored by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, brings together thought leaders, trendsetters and provocateurs in a powerful series of debates and talks. Media partner, City Press, contribute to the robust conversation with a series of post-performance discussions that span the Theatre programme.
“This programme presents an amazing array of work which all adds up to a massive birthday celebration for the Festival. The Festival has come a long way and played a hugely important role in our country over the last four decades, and our programme hopefully reflects that role.” says Festival CEO Tony Lankester. “Most importantly, it sets the tone for the next stage of our journey – the next 40 years.”
Bookings for the 2014 National Arts Festival open on 9 May and can be made online through the website www.nationalartsfestival.co.za. Programmes can be obtained through selected Exclusive Books and Standard Bank branches from the beginning of May.