REVIEW: DIS EK, ANNA

Charlene Brouwer as AnnA
Charlene Brouwer as Anna

This review was first published in Cape Times on 23 October 2015.

DIS EK, ANNA. Directed by Sara Blecher, with Charlene Brouwer, Morne Visser, Nicola Hanekom, Izelle Bezuidenhout, Marius Weyers, Eduan Van Jaarsveldt, Drikus Volschenk, Hykie Berg and Kara Van Der Merwe. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

*****

A visibly upset, yet determined-looking woman is driving towards her unknown destination at the start of Tertius Kapp’s Dis Ek, Anna. Chain smoking and clearly affected by a programme on the radio about long-term self-deception as coping mechanism, when also breaking down upon hearing a father send out a dedication to his daughter over the airwaves, the viewer is able to start scooping up the first few pieces of her puzzle.

Based on Anchien Troskie’s top-selling autobiographical novels Dis Ek, Anna and Die Staat Teen Anna Bruwer, the film then sees the woman (played by Charlene Brouwer) arrive at the home of an unnamed couple during the early hours of the morning. Opening the door after being woken up, there is only enough time for the woman to say, “It’s me, Anna”, before she lifts a gun and purposefully pumps the man (Morne Visser) full of bullets.

Directed by Sara Blecher and arriving on circuit after winning Best Director, Best Actor and Best Film at this year’s kykNET Silwerskerm Film Festival, the rest of this acclaimed movie then tries to place Anna’s actions within context, while simultaneously following its immediate repercussions and the effect her act has on everyone involved.

Kapp’s script shows each new piece of information to the viewer without embellishments or euphemisms, with the purpose here not to present matters in black or white, but rather as a series of grey areas in which variables are determined based on culture, religion, oppression, suppression and whatever that thing inside each of us is that ultimately govern our behaviours.

We learn that the man Anna killed was her stepfather, Danie du Toit, and with her mother, Johanna (Nicola Hanekom), turning out to be the woman in the house with him at the time of his death. In addition, Anna does not go into hiding but instead hands herself over to the police immediately afterwards – not only confessing to pulling the trigger but also motivating her actions by saying “someone had to stop him.”

As the film previously received an 18 LV (SV) rating from the Film and Publication Board (FPB) and deals with the horrific topics of child abuse and pedophilia, I am not going to lie and say this is an easy picture to watch. However, given our country’s high statistics around these kind of crimes, and the silence with which these matters usually get treated, I’d also say we are way beyond the point of pussyfooting past reality.

Dis Ek, Anna is a product that the Afrikaans (and local) film industry can truly be proud of – both from a technical point of view as well as in its mature approach to presenting its subject matter to the viewer. This is a film for grown-ups, made without any assumptions about its audience, their intelligence or level of conservatism.

Shot by director of photography Jonathan Kovel and edited by Nicholas Costaras, the cinematography accurately captures the various emotions, internal conflicts and eras of Anna’s life as the plot progresses.

Also included in the visual narrative are several casual observations – presented at times so fast you almost miss it – depicting both cultural and political elements from the periods the film takes place in, as well as observations around the predatory/prey nature of Anna and Danie’s relationship.

Whether restless, playing with light and dark or supplemented by Schalk Joubert’s fantastic score, these technical undertones again demonstrates the overall professionalism and sincerity behind the making of this feature.

Dis Ek, Anna, however, is ultimately a character study and therefore everything boils down to its cast. Made up of a large number of stage and screen icons – including Marius Weyers, Elize Cawood, David Minnaar, Elton Landrew and Ilze Klink – there is not one person that comes across as trying to be bigger than the story or common purpose of the film.

As the film’s lead – from the way she nervously flicks her lighter to the confidence with which she announces herself to Danie – Brouwer is utterly convincing from the start. This will likely be the role this gifted actress will be remembered for for a long time, but hopefully will also open the kind of doors that could allow her to take on equally challenging future roles.

In what must have been incredibly difficult parts to accept given the nature of these characters, both Visser and Hanekom are to be commended for stepping up to the plate as Danie and Johanna respectively.

Visser, in particular, has to dig very deep not only to be able to portray the kind of monster required but also in such a way that it forces the viewer to also wonder what kind of a society we are creating that produces such creatures. I was surprised to learn that, after 20 years in the industry, his win at Silwerskerm was the first award Visser had ever received.

While it would be equally easy to hate Hanekom’s character for her role in Anna‘s whole ordeal, once again the character is played with such flaw and focus that you can’t help but both be disgusted and heartbroken at a woman who can witness a man making advances on her own daughter one moment, yet transform into a giddy girl herself minutes later when, in an attempt to win her back over, proposes to her (in front of said daughter).

A film that finds itself in the ruined lives of broken adults and the sick cycles we as humans seem to perpetuate, finding the cracks of hope that ultimately shine through Dis Ek, Anna is the final reason to not miss this stellar film.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions, please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: DIS EK, ANNA

REVIEW: EPSTEIN

Nicholas Pauling as Brian Epstein and Sven Ruygrok as This Boy.
Nicholas Pauling as Brian Epstein and Sven Ruygrok as This Boy.

This review was first published in Cape Times on 12 October 2015.

EPSTEIN. Directed by Fred Abrahamse, starring Nicholas Pauling and Sven Ruygrok. At Theatre on the Bay, Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm (until October 17). STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” American author Joan Didion once observed.

Narratives are important because they allow us to create projections of who we are that is easy for other people to understand.

In addition, by constructing “stories” out of our lives and the important events we go through, as individuals and as families/communities we are able to preserve the past for longer.

But what about those who, despite their best intentions, can never truly find a way of “explaining” themselves properly to the rest of the world – let alone to themselves?

With his page in the history books forever secured as the guy who discovered and steered four Liverpudlian rapscallions to global stardom, The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was, and remains, just such an individual.

If repeating a story to the point where even the storyteller starts believing himself can be compared to creases being ironed out of a shirt, Epstein was the guy whose unchecked wrinkles eventually damaged his trademark tailor-made outfits beyond repair.

Directed by Fred Abrahamse and stopping over in Cape Town for a very brief run, Andrew Sherlock’s Epstein is neither a biographical play about him as a person, nor is it another Beatles tribute piece without substance and with no real purpose other than to play their songs. For that try Wikipedia or YouTube.

Performed with welly by Nicholas Pauling and Sven Ruygrok, what we find here instead is a series of reflections around addiction, loneliness, isolation, internal conflict, mental illness, self-sabotage and ultimately, what the price tag is for being a visionary genius.

Taking place in London over the course of roughly a night, the production opens to a 32 year-old Epstein (Pauling) bringing home a young lad (Ruygrok) that he had met at a club earlier that evening. Both their mutual intentions, as well as their respective social standings in life, appear clear-cut.

Known only as This Boy, we learn that Ruygrok’s character hails from Liverpool. A kind of Everyman, he is the playwright’s representation of the extracurricular carnal activities Epstein enjoyed throughout his life, as well as the youth and promise he found on the dingy Cavern stage on that fateful November 1961 afternoon.

Under Abrahamse’s usual impeccable control, what follows is a dance, a sort of mutual unravelling, between his cast members. Starting off on an awkward, unbalanced foot between their respective characters, seeing their clothing and other restrictions come off over the course of the play’s two acts results in an intense evening of revelation.

Pauling, apart from remarkably bringing Epstein’s mannerisms and general way to life, stretches himself further with each gulp of alcohol or pop of a pill his character executes.   Spiralling downwards fast and becoming more conscious/self-aware by the second, the gifted actor succeeds in painting a compassionate image of his study.

Following regular appearances in the Spud film series, Ruygrok here presents another dimension to his abilities. Maintaining a difficult working class Scouse accent throughout, it makes for a thrilling experience to see the young actor matching Pauling’s performance blow by blow.

True to form, Abrahamse and longtime creative collaborator Marcel Meyer have once again made sure that all other aspects of the production – from the research to the design – serve to enhance the cast and narrative in an authentic, unembellished way.

Performed on what he described to me afterwards as a “claustrophobic internal funhouse where Brian can wrestle with his demons”, Meyer’s visually arresting set is made up of a myriad of considered elements.

From the chrome and black leather couch to the flokati rug to the Mondrian painting dominating an entire wall; every element of 1960s chic and Epstein’s persona is captured and blended together, before being reflected back to the viewer via a striking mirrored panel completing the set.

Seeped in shades of silver, chrome, black, white and grey, Meyer’s costumes display similar intentions – appearing stylishly and ethereal under Abrahamse’s lighting. As major themes dealt with in the piece revolve around life/death and light/dark, also notice how the director tweaks his design to shift from a lighter to a darker palette as the evening (and Epstein’s life) gradually comes to an untimely end.

Even though I promised this wasn’t a musical tribute show, a final element that makes Epstein highly recommended fare is the strategic, cognitive use of recorded music to supplement key events or to highlight certain emotions. No shortcuts were taken here either, with Abrahamse only opting to use rare demo recordings and out-takes instead of the polished versions of songs such as “My Bonnie”, “Help!” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” that we all know too well.

l Tickets are R100 – R170. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions, please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: EPSTEIN

NAF 2015: Cinephiles Unite For Film Programme

A scene from Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales
A scene from Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales

This feature was first published in Cape Times on 2 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

While the current National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown is best known for its celebration of the multi-coloured umbrella that is the performing arts, the (relatively) warmer first few days have also delivered a film programme able to compete with the best. Curated by Trevor Steele Taylor, several interesting figures and themes have been identified.

Regarded as a major figure in Italian poetry, filmmaking and art, the cinematic achievements of Pier Paolo Pasolini is paid tribute to over the course of the week. Among his most celebrated films screened include The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), The Decameron (1970), The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Arabian Nights (1974).

It is Pasolini’s controversial 1975 feature, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, however, that most often pops up when referring to the controversial nature of the director’s work. Based on the Marquis de Sade’s infamous 1785 novel, 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, the film unflinchingly deals with (and depicts) matters of torture, humiliation, degradation, rape, murder and every other depraved topic in between.

Running alongside the Pasolini retrospective is a digital exhibition of Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom, a series inspired by the film, as well as the writings of De Sade and Dante Alighieri. The exhibition was launched here in book format on Friday as well, thanks to a collaboration between Zylla and the Erdmann Contemporary in Cape Town.

German-born and South African-based Zylla himself is in attendance too, and will appear as part of a Think!Fest panel discussion on Tuesday (July 7). Titled Art and Resistance, during the conversation the artist and a group of his peers will examine the position of art as “a method of resistance to coercion by structures of state, religious, financial, censorial and corporate power.”

Another festival retrospective to go see should you find yourself in Grahamstown this week, and one that ties in with similar efforts on the Main theatre programme, relates to the satirical films of Pieter-Dirk Uys.

While tannie Evita Bezuidenhout will no doubt forever be his most memorable creation, the titles in this selection provide a great opportunity to experience his various other sides as an actor and comedian too. Among the films directed and/or starring The Divine Mrs. E’s alter-ego are Adapt or Dye (1982), Farce About Uys (183) as well as Skating on Thin Uys (1985).

Billed as an important freedom of speech initiative, Limits of Liberty is a resurrection of Liza Key’s former Weekly Mail & Guardian Film Festival offering. Now a component of this year’s NAF film programme, the segment sees several important films presented around issues relating to censorship and the freedom of the individual in today’s increasingly Orwellian world.

CitizenFour
CitizenFour

Winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour truly feels like a document of its time. Shot cinéma vérité style and presented as a series of frank, confessional interviews with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in 2003 (only days before the National Security Agency spying scandal broke), this is what it feels like to watch history unfold in “real time.”

It’s great to see two South African films also screened as part of Limits of Liberty. Directed by Heinrich Dahms, Between the Devil and the Deep opens with an impressive scene of a lone diver seemingly taking on an entire ocean. A fitting metaphor for what is to follow, this gripping documentary follows several families from Hawston, a fishing community near Hermanus. Fracking, in turn, comes under the spotlight in Jolynn Minnaar’s Unearthed.

Between the devil and the deep

As usual Taylor, who celebrates his 17th year as curator, has grouped various other films together under interesting banner themes for the rest of the programme as well. The South, for instance, sees “a meeting between South American film artists and South Africa.”

Supported by various embassies, filmmaker Alvaro Brechner – whose films Mr. Kaplan and A Bad Day to Go Fishing were selected as Uruguay’s official submissions to the Academy Awards’ Foreign Language Film category in 2010 and 2015, respectively – are currently in attendance.

Brechner will be joined today (July 6) by his Argentinian counterpart, Pablo Cesar – known for films such as The Gods of the Water, Hunabku and The Sacred Family – for a meeting with last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) for Film, Jahmil XT Qubeka (Of Good Report). Together they will look at areas for collaboration between their various countries.

Another interesting theme chosen by Taylor this year sees classic films presented with new/alternative soundtracks and scores. Examples include FW Murnau’s silent classic, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, performed to a soundscape created by Jacob Israel and A Skyline on Fire; and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 black and white Vampyr, accompanied by an original live music composition by husband and wife team Jacob van der Westhuizen and Ola Kobak (appearing together as A Hollow in the Land), alongside Givan Lötz.

047-sunrise-theredlist

While previous years have had bigger offerings in terms of films on the NAF Fringe, this year sees only two items make the cut. The first, Double Bill I, comprises of Stephen Abbott’s 10-minute short Lazy Susan, Kyle Robinson’s Finding Graham’s Town (16 min) as well as the Robinson brothers’ Man on the Line, featuring well-known physical theatre performer Richard Antrobus.

Two longer short films by Siviwe Honobroke Mashiyi’s make up Double Bill II. They are Forgiveness, produced and shot without a budget, and Did She, Didn’t She?, the second film written and directed by this upcoming filmmaker.

The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) will once again present a series of workshops during NAF too. Among the free screenings presented as part of it include Zee Ntuli’s Hard to Get (Wednesday), Koos Roets’ Faan se Trein (Friday) and Rehad Desai’s Miners Shot Down (Friday).

l NAF runs until Sunday. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: Cinephiles Unite For Film Programme

NAF 2015: TEN FRINGE PRODUCTIONS NOT TO MISS

 Andrew Buckland in Tobacco, or the Harmfull Effects Thereof (Pic by Marius Janse van Rensburg)

Andrew Buckland in Tobacco, or the Harmfull Effects Thereof (Pic by Marius Janse van Rensburg)

This feature was first published in Cape Times on 2 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

Any thespian will tell you that it is often the Fringe component of any given arts festival that also offers its most unexpected viewing delights. But with a free-for-all format when it comes to The National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown’s Fringe programme, it can be difficult picking the most bang for your buck.

Here are 10 picks, consisting of both past festival favourites and debuts, well worth sampling this year:

BLUE (Dance)

Celebrating their 20th year in Grahamstown, no trip to NAF is complete without seeing a production by the Cape Dance Company (CDC). Under the artistic direction of Debbie Turner and consisting of four pieces by three leading choreographers, Blue is recommended for both fans of the company’s signature neoclassical style, as well as for those interested in exploring contemporary dance trends. As a companion piece also don’t miss Jilted, performed by the Cape Academy of Performing Arts (a feeder training company for the CDC), and featuring dance, drama and song.

DETRITUS FOR ONE (Physical theatre)

Dancer and lecturer Alan Parker has been interested in the notion of the archive for a while now, with each new production or academic paper he puts out on the topic taking him deeper into the way we record and document theatre and live performance. In 2013’s Detritus I watched a group of dancers, under his direction, emphatically reenact a series of pieces that they had seen the previous year at NAF. This time around Parker will browse through his own mental archive, and the results should be very interesting to see.

KAFKA AND SON (Drama)

While Franz Kafka and existentialism are often referred to in the same sentence, it is the author’s knack for the surreal that I find myself more often drawn to. Adapted from Kafka’s Letter to His Father by Mark Cassidy (director) and Alon Nashman (actor), this was one of the most memorable productions of NAF for me last year. Nashman, who plays Kafka, delivers a deeply felt yet intellectual performance against a strong visual backdrop of long shadows, cages and black feathers.

PIET SE OPTELGOED (Physical theatre)

Liezl de Kock in Piet se Optelgoed (Pic by Jesse Kramer)
Liezl de Kock in Piet se Optelgoed (Pic by Jesse Kramer)

Living in, and on top of some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland, the macabre antiheroine in Liezl de Kock’s Piet se Optelgoed has a very dark tale to tell. Rooted in mime and physical theatre, this visceral tale of adaptation, trauma and, ultimately, survival, was hands down the best production I saw during last year’s Cape Town Fringe Festival. De Kock (Crazy in Love) not only delivers an overwhelming performance, but the production’s final metaphorical scene has returned to haunt me often since first experiencing it.

RETURN OF THE ANCESTORS (Drama)

2014 was the year that the spirits of struggle icons Steve Biko and Neil Aggett first travelled from the afterlife in order to come see what the South Africa that they fought for looks like today. What they found back here, however, seemed to go against the very grain of what the ANC originally stood for. Poverty, corruption, greed, violence, xenophobia, distrust, consumerism and nepotism; the current situation literally saw them turn in their graves. Written by Mike van Graan and starring promising young actors Siya Sikawuti and Mandisi Sindo, their funny and sobering journey to the foot of Nkandla continues.

TOBACCO, AND THE HARMFUL EFFECTS THEREOF (Drama)

Seriously, what more reason do you need than Andrew Buckland and Sylvaine teaming up together for a play? Described as “an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s monologue, On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, re-imagined, in cut-up technique, in collaboration with Franz Kafka, Edward Lear and Andre Breton, amongst others”, it is both an exercise in linguistics as well as in the poetry and movement of the human body. Don’t miss this opportunity to see why these two theatre makers are simply in a league of their own.

Wessel Pretorius in Undone (Pic by Louisa Feiter)
Wessel Pretorius in Undone (Pic by Louisa Feiter)

UNDONE (Drama)

You’ll struggle to find anyone who has seen it who isn’t raving about Wessel Pretorius’ Undone, and with good reason. Kicking off with a splendid rendition of CJ Langenhoven’s Liefdesonsin: ‘n wiegeliedjie, in this play his unnamed protagonist takes the viewer on a visually evocative mythological pilgrimage through transformation from boy to man. Religion, sexuality, self-discovery, theatre and poetry; it’s all part of this alluring production.

UNMUTE (Dance)

Choreographed by, and starring Andile Vellem alongside Nadine Mckenzie, Themba Mbuli and Zama Sonjica, UnMute is a physical piece in which disabled performers aim to overcome the limits of their own bodies. Simultaneously they also go about circumnavigating society’s perceptions of how they should be treated because of their condition. It’s a beautiful, athletic, fearless and captivating production where Vellem and his team physically achieve the impossible. It leaves the viewer to reflect on how patronising we often are as a society towards those with disabilities, instead of rather finding ways to supplement that which they are already more than capable of doing themselves.

VASLAV (Drama)

Presented in the form of a fragmented narrative, Vaslav revolves around Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s 30-year battle with paranoid schizophrenia. Starring Godfrey Johnson as the artist often referred to as “The God of the Dance,” the script – by Johnson, Lara Bye and Karen Jeynes – was compiled from Nijinsky’s own diaries and journal entries. Against a backdrop of archive video footage, movement coordination by Fiona Du Plooy as well as period music played by Johnson on piano, what emerges is a portrait of a vastly gifted individual who continues to have an impact on our world nearly 100 years after he danced for the last time.

WE DIDN’T COME TO HELL FOR THE CROISSANTS (Poetry)

Subtitled Seven Deadly New Stories for Consenting Adults, there really isn’t anything you need to know about this production other than it’s made by the same people behind The Epicene Butcher and last year’s Amateur Hour! This time around Jemma Kahn has roped in some theatrical collaborators – including Louis Viljoen (The Pervert Laura), Nicholas Spagnoletti (London Road) and Tertius Kapp (Rooiland) – so the literary festivities should be all the merrier.

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: TEN FRINGE PRODUCTIONS NOT TO MISS

NAF 2015: UNDERGROUND DANCE THEATRE’S LOVEZERO

Cilna Katzke in Mode (Pic by Oscar O'Ryan)
Cilna Katzke in Mode (Pic by Oscar O’Ryan)

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 1 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

After months of strenuous rehearsals Cape Town’s Underground Dance Theatre is finally packed-up and ready to embark on their annual trip to the Eastern Cape. Split between three vehicles – containing 10 dancers, their costumes and props – are two dance pieces the company is presenting at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown.

Titled LoveZero the programme is made up of Steven van Wyk and Thalia Laric’s Mode, which first premiered as the Baxter Dance Festival’s commissioned piece last year; and Cypher, a brand new piece featuring dancers Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers and Nicola van Straaten.

Cipher is a numbers game,” explains Cilna Katzke, who choreographed the piece along with Kristina Johnstone. “Numbers seem rational, logical and impersonal, yet we seem to be deeply attuned to how numbers ‘feel’. There are favourite numbers, lucky numbers, mystical numbers…the list goes on.

Cipher explores the human inclination to ascribe emotion to that which seems obscenely rational. The dance navigates the tension between order and disorder, harmony and anarchy, the logical and the absurd.”

Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)
Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)

Referring to the inspiration behind the production, Katzke explains that, during her time as a student at UCT, she had to do a project generally referred to as the “In-the-style-of project”. As part of it she had to choose a choreographer whose work she found interesting, before presenting her own piece in a similar style.

“The piece I chose was Shutters Shut, originally choreographed by Nederlands Dans Theater’s (NDT) artistic director Paul Lightfoot and artistic advisor Sol León. In it they used a repetitive Gertrude Stein poem (“If I Had Told Him a Completed Portrait of Picasso”) as the soundtrack, with each word having a specific movement or gesture to go with it.

“While I chose a different Stein poem (“Matisse”), I still had to work with the external formula/structure (choreography) that the piece required. A certain amount of artistic decisions where therefore taken away from me. It is an aesthetic that I liked so much that, several years after graduating, I wanted to revisit its mechanics when it came to Cipher.

What she enjoys most about this process, Katzke explains, is that she does not have to stop all the time and “worry whether or not a choreographic decision I am busy making is right or wrong.” Instead, she continues, all she has to do is “lose myself in the process of creating.”

Wanting to create a piece using a similar pre-defined structure, combined with listening to a podcast on numbers by chance at the same time, led to the idea of approaching Cypher’s creation as a kind of game of numbers.

Nicola van Straaten, Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)
Nicola van Straaten, Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)

“Initially Kristina and I spoke a lot about our favourite numbers; why they meant, important dates and birthdays in our lives, family dynamics, how many people in each family, how many children, and so on.

“From that we assigned words to each number from one to nine and, bringing in a games element, we then used a Sudoku puzzle to fill in the words/numbers that we’ve selected. This ‘game’ led to the birth of the dance moves associated with each word.”

Arranged by Heno Janse van Rensburg, the production’s choreography plays out to songs such as Max Richter’s “A Sudden Manhattan Of The Mind” and “When The Northern Lights/Jasper And Louise”, The Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca Cola” as well as Meredith Monk’s “Masks.”

“When you have an abstract movement and you add a piece of music to it, suddenly that movement becomes imbued with emotion. The music we chose capture the mood and intentions of the piece, and were an integral part in helping us create our movements.

“Because each song is also from a different style and/or era, it constantly shifts the emotion on stage. The audience therefore will find themselves responding accordingly with each new track.”

Simple, understated cues will be used when lighting the dancers on stage from above, combined with brights from the side to make them appear more sculptural.

“They’ll be wearing long dresses that come to about mid-calf. Being this covered adds a different sphere, a kind of old-world feel to the piece. They look like women from a Jane Austen novel. It’s an interesting contrast, having movements that are quite athletic and relentless seen executed through the shape and weight of the material.”

Since debuting at the Baxter last year, Katzke goes on to say, Mode has undergone several tweaks in preparation for the festival. Directly following NAF, both productions will also travel to the Free State Arts Festival in Bloemfontein (July 13 – 18).

Henk Opperman en Ciara Barron in Mode (Pic by Oscar O'Ryan)
Henk Opperman en Ciara Barron in Mode (Pic by Oscar O’Ryan)

“The biggest change to Mode was that they’ve incorporated more dancers. There are now six – Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers, Kopano Maroga, Henk Opperman, Natasha Rhoda en Sherwin Rhode – alongside opera singer Robin Botha.

“The costumes have changed slightly as well. They’re still wearing kilt-like skirts, however, the cast’s not wearing those turtleneck jerseys anymore. Instead they now wear vests, but also in different colours.

“Because Mode is a dance about dancing, Steve and Thalia have this time around approached the ending in a bit of a tongue and cheek way. Bringing in more types of dances to end things off on a slightly different way than before, they’re also commenting on the way we as a society end our dances.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: UNDERGROUND DANCE THEATRE’S LOVEZERO

NAF 2015: Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom book launch

The Lovers
The Lovers

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 25 June 2015.

Anyone familiar with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom will tell you that there’s no going back from watching its contents.

Similarly, reading through Dante’s Divine Comedy, or experiencing the depraved writings of literary scoundrel Marquis de Sade, are feats not advised on a full stomach.

Inspired by the above-mentioned references, German artist Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom is a series of images born out of the painter’s lifelong kinship with the work produced by their creators.

Produced by Zylla alongside the Erdmann Contemporary in Cape Town, a new 177-page book featuring the entire collection will be launched at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown.

Featuring a lead essay written by writer, filmmaker and NAF film programme curator Trevor Steele Taylor, among the book’s more than 30 other contributors are Ivor Powell, James Matthews, Niklas Zimmer, Aryan Kaganof as well as Artscape’s Marlene le Roux.

“We asked Trevor to write a leading essay which contextualises the series in terms of its influences,” says Heidi Erdmann.

“Titled A Saint in the city of Pandemonium: Pier Paolo Pasolini, a revolutionary thinker in a time of consumption, through the piece Taylor explores the contemporaneity of the three main influences behind Zylla’s work.”

A scene from the film, Salo
A scene from the film, Salo

When it came to approaching the rest of the book’s contributors, Erdmann recalls, both she and Zylla were set on having non-art industry voices.

“We preferred drawing on the thread of cinema for the text, and mother tongue submissions were also preferred. Finally it was necessary for the text to equal the transgressive nature of the series; which I think we have achieved.”

Referring to Zylla as “an extraordinary artist”, Taylor, who has known him for nearly forty years, describes his work as confronting inequality and hypocrisy on a cultural and political level.

“He does so, however, in a manner that is both humble and unswervingly direct,” Taylor observes.

Trevor Steele Taylor (Pic by Suzy Bernstein)
Trevor Steele Taylor (Pic by Suzy Bernstein)

“The first Zylla exhibition I remember seeing was a series of distorted images of young white conscripts. This was during the mid-70s, and the purpose of the exhibition was confrontational. He succeeded on that level causing a good deal of official reaction.

“The visceral nature of the images resonated with the mood of the time and the complexity and artistic skill of the pieces were unforgettable. He further confronted the system by living openly with his coloured wife and children in the midst of apartheid society.”

Describing 120 Days of Sodom as “an incomplete, but mind-bending, meditation on power”, Taylor goes on to say that the Marquis de Sade is often misrepresented as a pornographer.

“There is nothing pornographic is his work. His meditations – in which the human body is abused in pursuit of power, not sexuality – is a nexus between power and its attempts at control.

“Ultimately power can, to quote Adrian Mitchell, take the human body and twist it all about. One’s soul, however, is out of bounds to wielders of power.”

In presenting his vision of the Marquis de Sade’s seminal work, Taylor goes on to explain, Zylla comes to Sade through a relationship with the lens of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini.

“Pasolini is probably the most directly political of filmmakers. That said, he is also the most spiritual; a Marxist with deep understanding of the message and the journey of Christ, and a homosexual who glorified the natural energy and innocence of sexuality in its widest meaning.”

Taylor considers Pasolini’s final film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, to be “cinema on the very edge of the abyss.”

“Sade’s book concerns a group of libertines (representing power in the form of religion, politics, finances and and governance) who, through their wealth, manages to kidnap a group of the children of the rich to fulfil, through a series of ritualistic orgies, their depraved desires.

The sinners on the rack of punishment.
The sinners on the rack of punishment.

“Pasolini reset the events in fascist Italy in the last months of the war, with the same pantheon of power brokers now gorging their cruelty and lust for power on the kidnapped children of the proletariat.

“Zylla’s series of paintings vary between direct representations of frames from Pasolini’s film as well as side references to modern consumerism, nuclear immolation, the rape of Gaia (fracking) and militarism (the military-industrial complex).”

While not individually titled, among the collection’s images resonating strongest with Taylor are a group of MBA-clutching, Wolf of Wall Street-impersonating sinners on “the rack of punishment”; an image of two lovers naked and alone in “the Hall of Power”; a pair of skeletons dancing above a nuclear power plant like “the horseman of the apocalypse”, as well as an image he refers to as “sodomy, X-ray skeletons and the power of Red Bull.”

Along with the book’s launch all images from 120 Days of Sodom will be exhibited digitally during NAF, together with a new series of paintings by Zylla in which Pasolini can be seen at work. Several of the director’s films – including Salò, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights – will be screened as part of the festival’s film programme as well.

“In addition, Zylla will be in attendance and will take part in discussion called Art and Resistance. In it the panel will look at a myriad of issues that were intrinsic to Zylla, Sade, Pasolini, Dante, Milton and perhaps even St Paul and Christ.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom book launch

NAF 2015: Interview with Quintin Wils

Carina Nel in Suster (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)
Carina Nel in Suster (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 25 June 2015.

While this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) will be enjoyed by most from the (relative) comfort of the various school and/or other plastic chairs sourced from all over Grahamstown, for those working behind the scenes the story can be quite different.

“To be honest, I think I might just lose it completely sometime over the course of the week,” quips ImpACT Award for Theatre nominee Quintin Wils.

One of several productions he is taking to the festival this year, Cape Town audiences were first introduced to this young Gauteng-based director’s work through Smaarties, which enjoyed a run at Alexander Upstairs last year.

The first part in a theatrical trilogy, Wills will take Smaarties along with its second instalment, Suster, as well as a brand new “mobile thriller”, called aLEXA (a reference to its lead character), to Grahamstown. In addition, he’s also signed up for a collaboration with former Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) for Theatre, Sylvaine Strike, as part of Simply Sapiens.

“Because I’m also handling all the technical aspects at my shows as well, I will literally be present at almost all of my productions during the festival. So, yes, I’ll basically be running around like a headless chicken trying to fit everything in,” he laughs.

Quintin Wils (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)
Quintin Wils (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)

A typical NAF day for Wils includes getting up at 6am, attending various technical rehearsals, the setting up of stages and performance spaces, then the clearing of them out afterwards, compiling notes to his casts and crews as well as catching up on admin for other projects he’s got kicking off immediately after the festival.

Referring to the concept behind Suster, he explains that the plot follows the story of the sibling of the main character featured in Smaarties, Mr. Lotz. Both pieces were written by Jannes Erasmus.

“You might recall that Jannes was also the lead actor in Smaarties. Suster, in turn, stars the exceptionally talented Carina Nel. It is a powerful one-woman show which follows the journey of Sybil, a lady diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) after the death of her parents.

“But while both plays are so closely linked via plot and characters, they are at the same time far enough removed from one another in order to be watched as standalone pieces.”

Asked what exactly a “mobile thriller” is, Wils answers that it’s a production that plays of inside a moving vehicle.

aLEXA
aLEXA

aLEXA has three audience members sitting in a driving car, along with the actors, while the production is taking place right in front of, and around them.

“I have also given the piece an immersive theatre edge, which means that the audience will not only be observing and watching the actors, but they will also interact with them and have a say in which direction the production can take a turn.”

When approached to stage Simply Sapiens alongside Sylvaine Strike and Megan Wilson, he says he “completely freaked out.”

“The production features three standalone plays, performed by the same two actors – Greg Melvill-Smith and Craig Morris – over three acts.  Each play was written and directed by a director from a different generation. I was chosen to represent the younger generation.

“My piece is Crossing, and in it Greg’s character is asking whether we as humans are just surviving, or trying to survive through violence without even noticing it. Physical theatre is used at first by an unnamed creature to try and word this to the audience, but is then stuck by having to resort to words to communicate with his audience instead.”

When coming to experience his work for the first time at NAF, Wils advises that the most important thing to remember is to enjoy each piece for what it represents individually.

“Some audience members have told me that my work usually kicks them in their stomach and throws them into deep ends that they’ve never explored before – but all in a good way!

“When started directing, I decided for myself that I will always try my utmost to create and direct work that people will not only look at and remember, but that they feel like they have actually experienced something afterwards.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

NAF 2015: Interview with Quintin Wils