The National Arts Festival is returning to Makhanda (the much-improved name of the town that used to go by ‘Grahamstown’) this year after a 2-year absence!
A note from the festival organisers:
For the last two unprecedented years we have our generous sponsors to thank for keeping the spirit of the National Arts Festival alive, affording us the privileged to create extraordinary works that have reflected the paradigm shift of the artistic landscape not only in South Africa but around the world.
Our creative industries have felt the worst of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and it is with great pleasure that we welcome our patrons back to salute the courage and perseverance of the South African arts community
The National Arts Festival returns to its home in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) from June 23 to July 3. More info
I found some unpublished scribblings about the last time I attended …
The National Arts Festival attracts all sorts – boys and girls, young and old, people of all colours, shapes and sizes – and the programme reflects this with a diverse line-up of more than 600 shows. For dedicated people-watchers, the audience provides a great show outside the venues and even sometimes inside them too.
Rave reviews are plentiful with many shows achieving critical acclaim and popular glory. There are, of course, also many shows that appeal to smaller niches and particular tastes, sometimes making others upset or even angry. It is fascinating to see, however, that somehow every show appeals to someone, has fans even.
I have had an excellent run of great shows, mostly dance and drama, and many’s the time that I have wanted to run up to the stage and hand over a bouquet. I have also seen what I consider to be a couple of duds but am happy to report that: a) My good manners have made me desist from throwing onions on to the stage, and b) there are always some people clapping and cheering loudly, taking the heat off me.
Applause is always cheering, even when it is not your own. This is not the only way the rest of the audience can change your experience, in good ways and bad. On Sunday evening, for example, a bunch of clowns sitting in the row behind me could have spoiled a most delightful show, Tiger Lilly, featuring Laurie Levine and Josie Field, two South African folk singer-songwriters.
The vibe at the Graham Hotel was very intimate, with the two ladies singing mostly their own tracks with a few covers, a little bit of Dolly Parton and even a jump to the left for a touch of Rocky Horror Picture Show thrown in for fun.
Heavy trade at the table outside selling the CD, Tiger Lilly, after the show was testament to the success of the show, the fools who insisted on singing along and clapping slightly out of time forgotten as we haggled for the ladies to sign our CDs. I will be looking out for these two names, Laurie Levine and Josie Fields.
There are lots of schoolchildren in uniform attending shows, and they frequently make great audience-fellows.
In Ceci n’est pas de deux, a solo-duet with a life-size foam puppet created and performed by dancer and puppeteer Ester Natzijl, a group of schoolgirls sitting behind me were the highlight of the show.
First, in the interests of balance, let me say that some members of the audience made it clear that they loved the show. It was described by Amsterdam Fringe Festival Jury, 2015, as a “mesmerising, beautifully produced performance that provides different views of what a relationship can be, that shifts perspectives by shifting our view on what is alive and what is not, who is charge of whom… Some called it sublime, some called it surreal, some called it superb”.
But I didn’t enjoy it at all. I found it to be unpleasant and at times grotesque. The teenaged girls behind me seemed to agree with my distaste for what seemed to be a woman dancing with an overgrown demon-baby of a puppet in a way that suggested a psycho-sexual struggle. Of course that might say more about me than the show.
I thought it was a courageous performance but found it to be disturbing and not in a way that leads to introspection or raises interesting questions. It just made me want to pull a face and turn away, a slightly teenaged response, I admit.
By the sounds of the gasps and whispered pleas behind me there was clearly much face-pulling going on. “Oh no, please don’t,” the girls begged. “Oh m’god, oh m’god … Please don’t do it … don’t touch it there.”
And so it continued, bringing me some respite in an otherwise joyless situation.
End of ramble.
The National Arts Festival is such an incredible treat to attend. Go see it, or just log on to the site, have a look around and plan to go next year. In Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) from June 23 to July 3. More info