For one simple reason I find it hard to look at a Gingerbread Man without thinking of the National Arts Festival.
Once upon a time many many years ago we spent a week as a family at the then Grahamstown Arts Festival. Staying in a caravan in the bitter cold with young children was an interesting event. A little bit of alcoholic MOER in the morning coffee, beanies and scarves and long johns, walking everywhere and eager regular acceptance of hot steaming gluhwein from travelling vendors kept us going…
One of the shows most enjoyed by our young son, Philip, involved a singing Gingerbread Man and for years thereafter the mere singing of; “Ginger, Ginger, Gingerbread Man” invokes that warm feeling of family along with the warmth brought on by them and the MOER and the gluhwein.
On another occasion my teenage daughter, Brittany and I spent another week at the festival going to show after show from morning to night – stage, music, dance, comedy you name it, we feasted on the arts and the nightlife like children in a candy shop. She got to meet her heroes of the time and will remember those special moments forever.
Those memories cannot be replaced and are the stuff that have a positive influence on the sentiment towards such festivals.
With all the uncertainty around the water and other services to Makhanda these days one wishes that the powers that be would just read the above and realise that they are at risk of rubbishing decades of positive sentiment and economic upliftment to the area by their messing around and failing to focus on the simple act of service delivery.
It’s all systems go for the opening of the 45th National Arts Festival in Makhanda this week, with the curtain going up on a wide array of productions and performances on Thursday (27 June).
The Festival is an important event in South Africa’s arts eco-system and provides a vital platform for artists to express themselves and read the heartbeat of the nation. Says Acting Executive Producer Nobesuthu Rayi, “Artists are like the imbongi’s of our culture. Just as a chief might traditionally hear from the imbongi about the mood of the people, so our artists are now reading the mood of the nation. They are our interpreters and we need to value them and let them be heard.”
The voices of this year’s artists are loudest on topics such as identity, place and land. These themes run through many productions, and are treated in many different ways to form a picture of a country fighting to claim a positive identity that encompasses the many things we are, and to begin crafting a new narrative for our future.
With over 500 productions on the programme and thousands of shows, talks, workshops, artists walkabouts, street performances and more, audiences are spoiled for choice as they face an eleven day programme packed with endless creativity and inspiration.
The town has also been hard at work preparing for the Festival with scores of volunteers and special service providers from the private sector working with the local municipality to set the scene, and ensure a safe and comfortable stay for the visitors.
Says Festival CEO, Tony Lankester, “Our planning for the Festival is year-round and so after many days and nights of preparation we are now ready to receive our visitors. Many have asked about the water situation and we would like to assure everyone that we are confident that we will meet the needs of both residents and visitors during the Festival. It’s time to celebrate and to go on a journey with our artists.”
The Festival will open with a flag raising ceremony and Khoisan and Pantsula performances from 8:00am on Thursday, 27 June outside the Monument in Makhanda.
Just some of the highlights of the first weekend include Brett Bailey’s epic new play SAMSON, Irish comedian Dylan Moran bringing his DR COSMOS world tour to Makhanda, the exciting and innovative series of plays DEURnis/Uzwelo in which audience members will have one on one experiences of the play, and the first Festival performances of German/Chinese choreographer Hannah Ma’s dance piece SYLPHIDES.
2019 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Dance, Kitty Phetla, performs with former Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz (2015), Nduduzo Makhatini, in an innovative exploration of ancestry and ritual GOING BACK TO THE TRUTH OF SPACE. The final performance of this show differs slightly with a live performance by Kitty Phetla and a sound recording of Nduduzo Makhathini with a surprise twist.
Also catch 2019 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Mandla Mlangeni in the TUNE RECREATION COMMITTEE and Magnet Theatre’s highly anticipated G7: OKWE BOKHWE.