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NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL (article first published : 2002-04-19)

Dozens of top artists in live action: this is the promise of the programme planned for the 2002 National Arts Festival to be held in Grahamstown from June 29 to July 6. Featuring the full range of arts categories, the line-up includes crowd-pleasers along with challenging innovators.

International luminaries (like William Kentridge, Johnny Clegg, John Kani), two philharmonic orchestras (the KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape), major national companies (like the Handspring Puppets, Cape Town City Ballet, Pieter Toerien Productions) will give of their best along with local heroes (like Janice Honeyman, Yael Farber, Lara Foot Newton, Ringo Mandlingozi, Ellis Pearson, Bheki Mkhwane and Pieter-Dirk Uys).

Foreign participators for 2002 hail from Britain, China, France, Madagascar, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and the USA. And the Africa focus this year is sharper than ever with several richly mixed shows of performance and material arts from the Eastern Cape, supporting the region's reputation as one of South Africa's crucibles of creativity.

The timeless magic of classical ballet in Coppélia will contrast with the cutting-edge William Kentridge/Handspring Puppets multi-media opera Confessions of Zeno that has already won critical acclaim in Europe. Contemporary dance ranges from the hybrid body language of Durban’s Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company to exotic whirls of colour from Indian, Chinese and East Cape traditional performers. The young bloods of radical choreography (including Young Artist Award Winner Gregory Maqoma and PJ Sabbagha) will present some of their most recent work.

On the packed theatre programme seven South African theatre premières will pull audiences who like to be first with the new. The run-through reads: A Streetcar Named Desire set in Soweto by Lara Foot Newton, He left Quietly featuring Duma Khumalo of the "Sharpeville Six" directed by Yael Farber, Nothing but the Truth by John Kani directed by Janice Honeyman, The Bells of Amersfoort by Zakes Mda co-produced by Sibikwa Players and Die Nieuw Amsterdam (Netherlands), The Odyssey: a tale of indenture by Durban's Rajesh Gopie and a new production of the Paul Slabolepszy classic Mooi Street Moves by Mncedisi Shabangu.

Pieter Toerien Productions offers the new West End hit production of Noel Coward's deliciously subtle Private Lives. Pieter-Dirk Uys will be back with Foreign Aids and Andrea Dondolo's Beading my Soul, which received standing ovations in Cape Town completes the bill.

The big sounds on the music programme come from the KZN Philharmonic in two concerts, with more instrumental treats from an ensemble of six 'cellos playing Bach to the Beatles under Peter Martens, the Kerimov Trio (violin, 'cello and piano), and a piano recital by Olga Kern, the young Russian who won the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition. Spiritual choirs old and new, the Mass Appeal ensemble will sing a programme of Monteverdi Vespers and the 30-member Dube Youth Choir will sing gospel under the leadership of the inimitable Mokale Koapeng.

Johnny Clegg and Ringo Mandlingozi are set to take the Monument Theatre by storm in one of the headline crowd-pullers on the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz programme, jamming along with the cream of new generation musicians from the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival. Jazz rhythms permeate Young Artist Award Winner Prince Kupi's guitar-dominated programme and anything goes with the world music of Mondetta, a collaboration between Tananas men Steve Newman and Gito Baloi, vocalist Wendy Oldfield, Korean violinist Julia Kim and Israeli rap percussionist Elad Neeman. The New Music Indaba offers an ear-opening free-for-all where ancient uhadi bow music shares the card with US soprano Beth Griffith, tenor Musa Nkuna, the Stockholm Saxophone quartet and cutting-edge free improvisation wings in with the British group AMM. The East Cape Philharmonic Orchestra will accompany their annual mass-choir concert.

Visual arts competing for attention include work by Brett Murray (maker of the St George's Mall Bart Simpson sculpture), Durban fibre artist Fiona Kirkwood, the poet of family secrets Terry Kurgan and the Egazini Outreach Project (Makana's attempted escape from Robben Island is the theme for this year's collective show). Group exhibitions invite festinos to contemplate enormous tapestries, the pick of African Art from the Standard Bank Collection, current work from the Eastern Cape and a collection from the Durban Art Gallery that illustrates the way artists have reflected changing male identities since apartheid.

Free Street Theatre includes a troupe of Chinese acrobats, dancers and kung fu specialists. In The Hungry, Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkhwane continue the hilarious saga that began with last year's hit, iLobola. And the spectacular, large-scale FreeBirds have promised to fly in from the Netherlands. New ways of seeing things, new understandings are presented on the Winter School programme by charismatic experts: the likes of Judge Dennis Davis, Dr Jane Taylor, Neville Alexander and Mark Gevisser are lined up to tackle hot topics from the Festival and from contemporary life in South Africa today.

Theatre talent in training features in 11 different student productions (including the newest Greig Coetzee piece) and there are three new plays on The Studio programme. This popular community venue has established Potjie Grahamstown (a variety show with a traditional Xhosa dinner), as a festival must for many visitors. And established names on the arts circuit are popping up increasingly there. Umsitho - Dance Gathering, sees Border Youth Dance and East London's Guild Theatre Dance Company sharing a programme and Viva Dance Umdudo, Viva! offers a sampling of some of the best work from the 2002 Dance Umdudo, the Eastern Cape's Dance Umbrella.

Film Festival features premières, recent gems from the art house circuit, South African must-sees and programmes of work by Britain's Nicolas Roeg and Poland's Walerian Borowczyk, complementing a Sergei Eisenstein retrospective. Leon van Nierop will lead discussions to enhance the viewing experience.

A surprise package of performances and exhibitions on the Fringe, a crackerjack Children's Festival, plenty of impromptu action on the streets, in the pubs, coffee bars and restaurants and on the Transnet Village Green Fair ensure that every moment is an adrenaline rush at the 2002 National Arts Festival proudly sponsored by the Eastern Cape Department of Arts and Culture, Standard Bank and the National Arts Council.




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