ON THE STAGE: National Arts Festival highlights
Date Released: Tue, 9 July 2013 10:59 +0200
Another National Arts Festival has breezed in and out of Grahamstown for an 11-day shindig in frontier country, leaving some enriched — either by way of monetary or creative fulfilment — and others disappointed.
Some in the latter category will be arts practitioners who did not score the financial windfall they may have expected. Others will be the usual suspects, who protest against the festival being elitist and excluding local communities, despite the multitude of free shows and empowerment initiatives.
Then there may be the festival-goers who encountered a slightly watered-down programme this year due to budgetary constraints, and who had to commandeer earth-moving equipment to dig out the usual hidden festival gems.
I spent most of the festival watching about 20 productions by drama students from around South Africa, giving them feedback alongside three other advisers and choosing the best student-theatre practitioners and shows. Here, the victors were the University of Cape Town (UCT), Rhodes University and the Market Theatre Laboratory, whose works are of near-professional standard.
Stellenbosch University gave the middle finger to the establishment when the students stripped naked and simulated ejaculation onstage in their workshopped play, Bitter, paying homage to the renegade Stellenbosch fine-arts students, Conrad Botes and Anton Kannemeyer, who created the taboo-shattering comic, Bitterkomix, 21 years ago. Predictably, half the audience walked out in protest — the perfect marketing tool (if you’ll forgive the term) for a festival show.
But very few offerings across the Main and Fringe festivals set stages alight and filled coffee shops with rhapsodic chatter. This is not really a cause for concern — festivals are renowned for being testing grounds for works that need some polish. And next year’s 40th anniversary festival, with funding already in the bank, promises to be a goodie. However, like last year, there was only one Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award presented for excellence on the Fringe, and that was to a musician, blues-rock artist Dan Patlansky.
Silver Ovations were given to comedian Rob van Vuuren and musician Julian Redpath, as well as to Harry Kalmer’s play, The Bram Fischer Waltz, and Jason Potgieter’s comedy, The Things You Left Behind. Incredibly, in her first year out of varsity, UCT alumnus Joanna Evans bagged a Silver Ovation for her debut professional play on the Fringe, The Year of the Bicycle.
Steven van Wyk and Thalia Laric’s dance piece, Skoonveld, part of the production Plastic, earned a special Silver Ovation Award, while Horses Heads Productions won an Aha! Award for its play, Scrape.
Phillip Dikotla’s Skierlik and Nick Warren’s A Day in the Desert pocketed Encore Awards, recognising their potential for "professional development". Both can be seen, along with a host of other festival favourites, at the 969 Festival at Wits this week and next.
But this was really the year of the veterans and seasoned pros, with choreographer-performer Gregory Maqoma generating waves of adoration and admiration for his piece Exit/Exist. Audiences were less impressed by The Zulu, Mbongeni Ngema’s attempt to revive the oral storytelling tradition, which was overlong and needed editing to do full justice to the heroic (and often brutal) exploits of the Zulu nation.
Acknowledging the Eastern Cape for its contribution to the country’s broader theatrical canon, the festival gave Standing Ovation Awards to two of its most remarkable creative ambassadors — Andrew Buckland and Nomhle Nkonyeni.
The Port Elizabeth Opera House is celebrating 120 years and its hard-hitting festival production, Truck Driver, directed by Nkonyeni, drew widespread praise. Buckland was simply majestic in the unconventional love story, Crazy in Love, devised by Buckland, co-star Liezl de Kock and director Rob Murray.
The piece has been invited to the Amsterdam Fringe Festival, and it was fantastic to see Buckland on song in a special little play that showcases his arsenal of physical, dramatic and comic capabilities.
Theatre types are not usually treated like celebrities, so I was tickled pink to see a minibus full of youngsters screeching to a halt as Buckland left the monument one day, mobbing him for autographs and photos. He was gracious if embarrassed, but I couldn’t help thinking this is how it should be — because he and his ilk are our country’s true rock stars.
Photo Caption: Amy Wilson in Scrape, which won an Aha! Award for Horses Heads Productions.
Photo by: PARIS BRUMMER
Article by: CHRISTINA KENNEDY