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

FEATURE: KLEIN KAROO NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL (KKNK)

Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots in In Glas

This feature was first published in Cape Times on 02 April 2015.

How do you spell festival?

Spotted on the cover of the recently launched Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) programme, that’s the question on everyone’s lips ahead of the big trek to Oudtshoorn next month.

Promising to kick up dust and ruffle a few ostrich feathers along the way, the event’s 21st edition is set to take place from 3 – 11 April. Announced at the end of February, the line-up is full of discourse, concerts, theatre, visual art, comedy and film screenings.

One of the most popular elements any year is KKNK’s music offering. Combining the talents of Gloria Bosman, Anna Davel and Timothy Moloi, mark Afrika in Afrikaans at the top of your viewing list. Supported by a four-piece band, the show sees this dynamic trio perform “Afrikaans songs infused with African textures.”

Born in Africa and transported to America by slaves, the roots of blues music is explored in Al Lê die Berge nog so Blou. Led by Alvin Dyers and his musical group, the production involves Zolani Mahola, Albert Frost and Francois van Coke embarking on “a musical journey full of songs and stories.”

After a decade as frontman of Van Coke Kartel and Fokofpolisiekar, Francois Van Coke will make his debut as solo musician during the week via a concert showcasing songs from his first album, Moontlik Nooit. While on the topic of alternative music, also do yourself a favour by checking out Oudtshoorn’s very own drag queen, Samantha Knight, in a lip synch extravaganza, Afridiva.

Another strong aspect of KKNK has always been its theatre segment. Following popular runs in Cape Town over the past year, now’s a great chance to catch Oscar Petersen’s Cape Flats adaptation of Siener in die Suburbs, Penny Youngleson’s intense Nat, Philip Dikotla’s Fleur du Cap-winning Skierlik, the Papercut Collective’s witty UHM as well as Jaco Bouwer’s existential Na-aap.

One of South Africa’s foremost conceptual directors, Bouwer (BalbesitSamsa-masjien) will be debuting French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès’ Buite Blaf die Honde Swart as well. Translated by Tertius Kapp (Rooiland), the stellar cast is made up of Dawid Minnaar, Albert Pretorius, Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots and Bongile Mantsai.

Known for always taking festivalgoers on an adventure – including a physical bus ride in Trippie and recreating a Boer War concentration camp in Land van Skedels – this time around it is suburbia and motherhood tickling Nicola Hanekom’s fancy. Van Wyk-Loots stars here too, alongside Paul du Toit, Stian Bam, Bronwyn van Graan and Sive Gubangxa.

André P. Brink, who passed away last month at the age of 79, was recognised as of the most prominent figures of the group of Afrikaans writers known as Die Sestigers, who came to prominence during the 1960s. Bidsprinkaan is based on his novel by the same name and is directed by Janice Honeyman.

The recipient of the 2015 Kunste Onbeperk-prize for Young Voice is Wessel Pretorius (WaterpasUndone). This young theatremaker just keeps on delivering, and following Frats at the US Woordfees in Stellenbosch earlier this month, has penned two new plays for KKNK. They are Al Julle Volke, a metaphorical examination of the Afrikaner’s search for a leader; and comedy Sandton City Grootdoop, in which a mother and two daughters take time out of shopping in order to settle a few scores.

Fans of the popular kykNET sketch comedy show Proesstraat will be happy to learn that the whole team is in Oudtshoorn this year. For even more laughs also look out for comedians Schalk Bezuidenhout, Marc Lottering, Nik Rabinowitz and Rob van Vuuren, who’ll all be appearing in their own stand-up shows.

Only two dance productions, both by the Mother City’s Underground Dance Theatre (Mode), have been included on the programme. They are Bok, the company’s sexy Afro interpretation of Vaslav Nijinsky’s controversial Afternoon of a Faun that had me hooked at last year’s National Arts Festival; as well as Askoop, a brand new dance-cabaret that “reveals the iconic shopping trolley as more than just a wheeled metal structure.”

Movie junkies are catered for thanks to a host of titles screened as part of the kykNEt Fliekpiekniek and Toekomsrus Moviehuis initiatives. Among the new and old favourites shown are Pad Na Jou HartKhumbaJoost: Spel van GlorieFaan se TreinFour CornersHard to Get and Leading Lady.

Turning the gaze from the cinema to visual arts, this year’s festival artist is Berni Searle, who returns to KKNK after an absence of 15 years. Called Stygend, her exhibition is made up of three video projections – Mute (2008), Alibama (2008) and Black Smoke Rising (2009) – that relate to “the South African landscape and post-colonial history.”

The recipient of the Kunste Onbeperk Lifetime Achievement-award is Peter Magubane. Curated by the iconic photographer alongside Paul Bayliss, Die Afrikaners: ‘n Werk in Wording is described as Magubane’s homage to Afrikaner culture and traditions.

Open daily at the Prince Vincent building, other artists showing work there include Frikkie Eksteen, Diane Victor, Vulindlela Nyoni, Susan Grundlingh and Corlie de Kock.

While some of us are more suited to appreciate than to create art, those wishing to sharpen their creative skills can sign up for one of various art workshops led by the likes of Janet Dixon, Madeleine Miles and Neels Coetzee.

The final component of the KKNK programme worth booking a few seats for are it’s vast discourse series. Led by Freek Robinson, “Hate speech versus freedom of speech”, “Where does our electricity come from?” and “The implications of fracking in the Karoo” are a few of the topics that will come under the spotlight.

l For the full KKNK programme, see www.kknk.co.za. To book tickets, 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.

FEATURE: KLEIN KAROO NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL (KKNK)