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2003 NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL PROGRAMME (article first published : 2003-03-22)

Artists will say "Proudly South African" in countless ways during the 2003 National Arts Festival which takes place in Grahamstown from June 27 to July 5. This is the subtext running through many items on the programme. "In the interests of diversity, we don’t prescribe a theme," says Festival Director Lynette Marais, "but ideas about home are surfacing organically from all round."

All the country’s major creative centers and disciplines are represented. Grand highlights like Cape Town City Ballet’s Swan Lake accompanied by the full KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic and the orchestra’s two symphony concerts are shining proof that South Africans have mastered western traditions. At the same time, a groundswell of indigenous work draws attention to the personal and intimate.

Festival 2003 proudly stages the première of the first stage version of Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country adapted by Roy Sargeant and directed by Heinrich (Suip) Reisenhofer. "Keep the faith," is the message of Xoli Norman’s new jazz musical Ma’s Got the Blues. Using drama as a diagnostic tool, Young Artist award-winner Yael Farber probes the dark heart of violence, using Sophocles’ Electra and Sartre’s adaptation, The Flies, as her starting point. Pieter-Dirk Uys’s Auditioning Angels, directed by Lynne Maree, brings wisdom and compassion to the ubiquitous horror of child rape.

In her video-installation Home and Away, Standard Bank Young Artist award-winner Berni Searle uses her own body as a message – floating like a drowned "boat-person" in the sea. Son of the Soil is Steve Dyer’s title for his music-’n-vision event. Choreographer Jay Pather’s dance meditation Home mixes the body languages of several cultures to set security off against dispossession. Janice Honeyman’s Madiba Magic is a joyous tribute to Nelson Mandela’s favourite African tales (adapted from the Tafelberg collection). Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkhwane head a full free Street Theatre programme with their latest village romp.

Work on the exhibition Homing-in uses earthy indigenous materials to explore what it means to be situated here, explains curator Virginia MacKenny in her Winter School lecture. Eastern Cape talent kicks up an acting, singing, dancing storm on The Studio stage – Fatima Dike’s play The First South African features this year. The Student Theatre Festival includes boundary-bashing work from around South Africa. Born Africanthe core proposition of a courageous theatre piece from Zimbabwe.

Plays about theatre often check society’s pulse-rate such as Greig Coetzee’s Happy Natives (a biting comedy about life and tourist art) and Mothobi Mutloatse’s fast and witty radio play-within-a-play, Tailormade – directed by the Yizo-Yizo wiz Teboho Mahlatse. A séance-within-the-play is the sinister trope in Reza de Wet’s dark gothic drama – this is a new production by the French Amandla Theatre Company.

Capturing the fleeting present is what filmmaker Dumisani Phakhati does best. He won a Young Artist Award this year and a retrospective of his work headlines the South African component of the Film Festival. Werner Herzog’s latest opus, a tribute to ethno-musicology, an Art House première and talk-abouts with Leon van Nierop are amongst the offerings.

Dance’s Young Artist award-winner, Moya Michael, interrupts a full international schedule to come home and create new work for the Festival. Mandla Mcunu and Kristy McMurray showcase contemporary choreography with the newly-formed Tshwane Dance Theatre. Another festive showcase, this time of a region’s best, is promised by the Eastern Cape Cultural Ensemble. Gary Gordon’s First Physical Theatre Company celebrates ten years of excellence with a special anniversary concert programme. The very simpatico Gerard Bester steps out of Robin Orlyn’s magic circle for his The Art of Taking Off, a bittersweet physical theatre piece about an ordinary guy facing cosmic questions. Gladys Agulhas’ give or take ’n word or 2 integrates dancers with different physical abilities: the poetry of risk at its most poignant. The dancing body, the singing voice: this is our culture-speak, so eloquent in the global village! USA-based soprano Angela Gilbert (Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner for Music) comes home for a Festival recital of opera favourites by Puccini, Verdi, Handel and Strauss.

Choral treats are offered by Richard Cock’s Chanticleer Singers, and a pair of New Music Indaba events, one featuring the University of Pretoria Chorale, the other three Eastern Cape choirs. Sibongile Khumalo’s fabulous voice gets a signature concert all to itself. The instrumental programme climbs the scale from a solo piano concert by Israel’s renowned Aviram Reichert, to pianos in duet played by Jill Richards and Mathilda Hornsveld, to Mexican recorder maestro Horacio Franco in duet with Victor Flores on double-bass, onwards to the Trio Hemanay playing a selection from Beethoven to Bartok, then the Rosamunde String Quartet, and through to a concert by Baroque 2000. On a lighter note, Rocco de Villiers revisits the 1960s and the music that was played then at Afrikaans social clubs and in Sophiatown. Jazz guitar supremo Louis Mhlanga plays hits from his CDs and teams with Dutch double bassist Eric van der Westen for a second gig. In short: a feast of sound.

The New Music Indaba celebrates Stockhausen’s 75th anniversary and honours women composers, most notably the Eastern Cape’s maestra of the uhadi bow, Nofinishi Dywili. New work will be premièred; numerous international visitors will perform and contribute to the opera composers’ workshops. The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz and National Youth Jazz Festivals keep the Festival’s heart rate up way past bedtime.

Murder is on the menu for Winter School: Judge Dennis Davis uses Wouter Basson as an example of the limits of law; journalist Jonny (Midlands) Steinberg talks about his research into a farm killing and the life of a prison gang leader; Tim Couzens digs up the dirt on a murder at a remote Lesotho mission station long ago; and Stephen Gray delineates Herman Charles Bosman’s life in the shadow of the hangman’s noose. Fellow judges Albie Sachs and Dennis Davis speak about the Constitutional Court. Money-matters come up for scrutiny when Jill Ritchie talks about funder-fatigue, Cheryl Carolus details tourism development opportunities and Yvonne Johnston describes the campaign to give South Africa an irresistible brand image here and abroad.

On the spiritual front, Rabbi Azilia Reisenberger compares rituals and introduces liberated biblical women; Canon Luke Pato explains ubuntu and Zubeida Jaffer talks about being a Muslim woman. Her talk links with Nadia Davids’s theatre piece At Her Feet in which Quanita Adams brings several different Muslim women to life on the stage. David Kramer recounts the adventure of hunting out talented guitarists in remote places – the documentary on the project, Karoo Kitaar Blues, will première on the Film Festival.

Setting up temporary homes as Festival Artists in Residence, Joanne Bloch demonstrates her collections of tiny objects and Langa Magwa plays games with the scale of everyday items. Sculptor Maureen Quin presents a retrospective of her striking bronzes; Tracey Rose’s video installation Ciao Bella draws 13 women from different ages together around a supper table; and an exhibition of annotated George Pemba posters will introduce novices to this great gentleman of Eastern Cape art.

The Main Programme of the 2003 Festival is supported by an open Fringe where creative work of all kinds gets an airing. Craft and craftart will be on show and for sale on the streets and at the Transnet Village Green where fast-food stalls and buskers add to the colourful country atmosphere. The Children’s Festival keeps younger festinos safe, stimulated and happy.

The 2003 National Arts Festival Booking Kit will be available at the end of April and booking opens on May 12 at Computicket nationwide.




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