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NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: DANCE (article first published : 2008-04-2)

A super-abundance of world-class performers and a record number of premières are striking features of the Main Programme for the National Arts Festival which will take place in Grahamstown from June 26 to July 5 2008.

“A gathering of all these incredible artists all in one place, at one time, for ten days,” said outgoing Festival Director Lynette Marais, “makes you aware of the richness of the talent in South Africa. Normally these performers are dispersed across the country and, increasingly, the world. But suddenly, at the Festival, they are all together here in Grahamstown.” At this huge annual cultural reunion, audiences catch up with the latest of the best and artists catch up with each other. “You saw it first at the Festival” is a slogan that has never been more apt than this year: every single one of the productions on the theatre programme is a South African première and there are seven world premières.

Always a hit on the Festival programme, the ballet for 2008 is the deliciously Spanish-flavoured Don Quixote (based on the novel by Cervantes) with the South African Ballet Theatre and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Graham Scott. The choreography is by Christian Tatchev (after Petipa) and the score by Ludwig Minkus.

Literary works also inform two of the contemporary dance productions: Romeo and Julietby Dada Masilo (Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner for Dance 2008) and Ozymandias a collaboration between the Rhodes University-based First Physical Theatre Company and the John/Allen Project from Tulane University, New Orleans. Dada Masilo made an indelible impression with her performance as Lady Macbeth at the 2007 Festival. This year, she directs and dances Juliet in her version of Romeo and Juliet, using some Elizabethan costumes and many references to popular culture and contemporary movement styles. Shelley’s poem Ozymandias is an apposite reference point for a physical exploration of human ambition and the vulnerability of civilisations. Projected images of New Orleans after the floods enhance the interaction imagery in this multi-media dance theatre piece.

Two South African dancers and the choreographer Vincent Mantsoe come home from the Diaspora with Skin, a double-bill presented by Britain’s Ace Dance and Music Company. Artistic Director Gail Parmel invited Mantsoe and Akiko Kitamura (Japan) to work with her robust and athletic dancers in a journey across different surfaces and the similarities that lie beneath.

Many new works are based on a respect for traditional movement sources, and Festival audiences have a rare opportunity to experience the real thing in a performance titled AbaThembu Dance and Music. Presented by the Eastern Cape’s Department of Arts and Culture, with artistic direction by Skin Sepoka, the event focuses on the cultural traditions of AbaThembu, Nelson Mandela’s clan. At The Studio, three other rural ensembles present The Welcoming Dance – Umngqungqo. Wearing costumes that are works of art in themselves, the performers sing and dance to the accompaniment of traditional instruments in a living enactment of non-material cultural treasures.

From the quiet mysteries of the traditional, Tossie van Tonder takes dance to the liminal zone where the body is the only matter that matters. In Intiem etc she continues her biographical journey, placing herself at the forefront of her own limitations in an exploration of the aesthetics of the ageing body. Afro/French trained dancer/choreographer Bernardo Montet’s Batracien, l’après-midi / Amphibian, the Afternoon is a deeply meditative contemporary work about origins and transformation. The performance comes to the Festival courtesy of the French Institute (IFAS).

And the last laugh goes to Bar Flies a sparkling comedic piece by Roslyn Wood-Morris set in a cocktail bar. Gerard Bester, Rayzelle Sham and Craig Morris portray three love-hungry singles in a bar trying to make connections and succeed only in getting sillier and cartoonier as the drinks flow!

The 34th anniversary of the National Arts Festival Grahamstown takes place from June 26 to July 5 2008. It is proudly supported by The Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, SABC and The National Arts Council.

Further details are available in the free Festival Booking Kit, which will be available from selected Standard Bank branches and Computicket outlets nationwide from April 30. Booking opens on May 5. For further information contact 046 603 1103 or visit the website www.nationalartsfestival.co.za




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