15 Jul Best of the National Arts Festival 2014
This was the first year Between 10and5 attended the National Arts Festival in the freezing Eastern Cape town of Grahamstown, and oh what year to attend! with the festival celebrating its 40th anniversary. Over the course of just 11 days, a programme of shows just short of a hefty 300 pages took place in and around the town – in school halls, churches, university sports gymnasiums, lecture theatres, in the high street, the location, museums and galleries. In fact, everywhere you looked, some little performance of some kind was taking place, whether official or not. During the 11 days of Fest the town comes to life, with thousands of people flocking in from all around the country.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Art Festival’s partnership with Standard Bank, recipients of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award from over the last three decades were part of this year’s programme, including the premier of the 2014 winners’ work.
The programme is overwhelming to say the least – divided into Main and Fringe programmes, and within each subdivisions along genres: dance, theatre, jazz, classical, performance art, comedy, film, think!fest, visual art, public art, physical theatre, spiritfest, family theatre, and others. There just isn’t enough time in the day (and night) to see everything you might want to. The first show of the day is at 10am and the last 10pm and in between is a whole lot of rushing around between venues with pit stops at the Village Green market.
Should you go to Fest next year? Absolutely without a doubt yes you should. There is something there for everyone, and it all takes place within a radius of some 10 kilometres. Here’s our best of Fest – highlights of the shows and exhibitions we were fortunate enough to catch:
Ubu and the Truth Commission is the brilliant multimedia theatre piece written by Dr Jane Taylor and originally directed by William Kentridge with puppets by the Handspring Puppet Company. It’s a tragicomedy about apartheid and the history of secrets, lies and violence that underpinned the regime. This is personified by Pa Ubu, a re-interpretation of the dramatic character Ubu Roi, the licentious buffoon. Poignant excerpts from TRC hearings juxtapose his farcical domestic woes to create a moving response to the absurdities of our recent history.
Bruising by Nicola Elliot, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Dance, carefully and playfully deconstructs the form it is using to reflect on the body as the medium for experience. Bruising is also a meditation on love, and the physical experience of the dichotomies of this most intense human emotion.
Vanya and Sania and Masha and Spike is a Chekov themed, hilarious farce about middle age, despair and sibling rivalry and unrealised dreams. The story unfolds at the siblings’ family home, a sumptuous set designed by Jannie Swanepoel.
The Three Little Pigs stars Rob van Vuuren, James Cairns and Albert Pretorius. It’s a dark, satirical comedy that twists the tale of the pig siblings into one of deceit, murder and power. You can watch this play in Joburg at the Wits Theatre as part of the 969 Festival on from the 15th – 27th July.
Amateur Hour! Is a comedic parody of all the wannabes, try-hards and downright dismal performers forcing their way onto stage chasing the allure of just a few moments of fame. Jemma Khan and Glen Biderman Pam hilariously enact the various sorry performers. Catch this play in Joburg at the Wits Theatre as part of the 969 Festival on from the 15th – 27th July.
Slowly, by British playwright Howard Barker, is a visually stunning, stark symbolic piece that poses an impossible premise: how do you make sense of your own demise? Four princesses of an ancient civilization debate their impending fate as an unseen barbarian army destroys their decaying culture. As the city falls to ruins about them, the impossibility of ‘making sense’ becomes apparent.
#omnomnom is a performance art piece by Gavin Krastin in which the audience is invited to partake in a dinner of sushi, KFC and burgers laid out on the performer’s bare body. Shock value forces the audience to consider the rituals and performance that exist around food, feeding and consuming.
Civil Parting, written by Nicholas Spagnoletti (the same man who penned London Road), provides a witty and poignant look at a couple trying to end things civilly. The play takes place in the waiting room of the divorce lawyer, who doesn’t show up, leaving the couple alone to try and figure out the moment it started going bad, and whose fault it was. Obviously the answer to both is not so simple.
Crazy in Love, with Andrew Buckland and Liezl de Kock, is a tragicomic father-daughter journey of searching, loss and love. The two are tramps, hot on the trail of the runaway Ruth; mother and wife. They look for her together around every corner, but at the end the daughter finds her independence and the father the peace to give up the chase.
Cargo: Precious sees four previous Standard Bank Young Artist winners come together to collaborate on this visually striking piece. It imagines an untold piece of Saartjie Baartman’s story: her voyage as the property of Alexander Dunlop and the only female aboard the HMS Diadem from South Africa to Europe to become ‘The Hottentot Venus’.
If These Bodies Could Speak by Nicola Haskins and Bailey Snyman examines the visceral experience of the body as it encounters another body and how our bodies connect, or don’t. The body becomes the site for the interaction between internal biology and external expression.
The God Complex sees Daniel Buckland create an entire world out of thin air using humour and visual theatre in this physical performance that ponders omnipotence and omniscience with only a large hoop and some fabric for props.
Pants on Fire is the comedy verity show hosted by Rob van Vuuren and Martin Evans. Each night sees a different selection of Fest performers take to the stage for their few minutes of fame and ridicule. The surprise highlight of the evening we attended was watching Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds perform with three local songbirds promoting their Songbirds Tour. We went to watch them play a full set in the Rhodes Chapel the following night, which was the perfect way to round Fest off to a close.
Wim Botha – The Epic Mundane. Curated by Brenton Maart, this room-sized installation was commissioned for the festival and continues Botha’s deconstruction of the gallery space and traditional materials. The figures and objects are all made of replica materials – carved tomes, Styrofoam, plywood, and florescent tubes – and hang suspended in an illusory space created by a zigzagging black line of skirting board.
Fabricate – The Handspring Puppet Company. This exhibition is the most comprehensive public display of Handspring Puppet’s work to date, and includes puppets from 22 years of the company’s 33 year history. Adrian Kohler and Janni Younge, who design the puppets, have long resisted displaying their puppets as ‘inanimate’ objects outside of a performance. However, the manner in which this exhibition has been curated – atelier-style – ensures the puppets remain uncannily ‘alive’.
Hasan and Husain Essop – The winners of the 2014 Standard bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art present an entirely new body of photographic works with an accompanying installation that continues their exploration of a multi-cultural clash between religion and popular cultures and the influence the West has on constructing certain realities.
See you at the National Arts Festival next year!