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SOUTH AFRICAN WOMEN’S ARTS FESTIVAL 2001 (article first published : 2001-08-13)

The South African Women’s Arts Festival 2001, presented by The Playhouse Company and proudly supported by Transnet, drew to a close this evening after an action-packed four days of performances, workshops and a conference on the theme Breaking new ground: Women as entrepreneurs in the arts. Firsts this year were an all-day Street Party with artists performing on the Transnet Truck outside the Playhouse as well as the craft market, dance and drama workshops and three theatre-related films.

In its fifth year, the festival has become a major annual performing arts event and involved the Playhouse complex’s seven performance venues, various foyer areas and the porte cochere. Planned to coincide with National Women’s Day, it again celebrated women's achievements and, despite its obvious focus, also appears to have been well received by menfolk - the overall feeling being one of proud triumph rather than aggressive feminism.

I was able to take in the craft market, the visual arts exhibition, the Gala Concert, African Fables, Insignificant Others, the Dance Programme and Behind Closed Doors. I had seen the Durban Divas and their vibrant presentation Cultural Crossover before as well as the excellent Women of Mud.

The Gala Concert was opened by crowd favourites Izingane Zoma and the 100 strong Transnet Choir, followed by the warm, inviting tones of Vicky Sampson who stopped the show with her announcement that she would be married in Durban the following day to long-time sweetheart Trevor Donjeany. Then Lebo Mathosa exploded onto the stage with passion and energy, her dancers providing a strong backup for her high-powered performance.

Val Adamson’s photographic exhibition was beautiful in its portrayal of women of all shapes and ages. While they were photographed nude, the viewer did not feel voyeuristic as the figures were imbued with a sense of dignity and respect. Also on show in the Alhambra Room was a display of the beautifully-produced craft from the women of the Lumbombo Initiative in the St Lucia area. The entrance to the Alhambra Room was flanked by two television screens showing fascinating images by installation artist Sonia Khurana from Delhi.

While comprising a charming selection of three stories, delightful props and innovative masks, Adi Paxton and Pamela Tancsik’s African Fables required a more intimate and user-friendly venue than the Inner Foyer.

Watching Anthea Carolus in her highly entertaining Insignificant Others, I felt what a crying waste it was that there was no longer any English radio drama available to use her undeniable versatility. Portraying a number of clearly defined characters under Shelley Barry’s skilful direction, Anthea presented a thought-provoking and gently humorous look at a woman trying to find her true self.

The search for self-realisation while gleaning from surrounding cultures and personalities formed part of Desiree David’s She Flesh, an interesting piece co-choreographed with Tina Tarpgaard from Denmark, in the Dance Programme. Other memorable moments from the Dance Programme included Pravika Janki’s eloquent portrayal of a lover; Thabang Masupha’s riveting energy in Jayespri Moopen’s Striking a Balance and, particularly, Odine Bello’s portrayal of a woman determined to go forward, despite the efforts of Sifiso Kweyama (also the choreographer) to hold her back in Recognition – An Everywoman’s Story. Special mention for Richard Parker’s lighting effects, particularly in Arrive.

For me, the highlight of the festival was Behind Closed Doors performed by the Gauteng-based Sibikwa Players and superbly directed by Phyllis Klotz. Placed on Sarah Roberts’ stunning set surrounded by about a hundred candles, the hour-long production deals with incest – in this case, of a father with his daughter. It’s hard-hitting but beautifully presented and definitely not to be missed. There are three public performances this week in the Playhouse Sanlam Loft from Thursday to Saturday (August 16 to 18). (See review shortly in Drama)

“We have achieved what we wanted to achieve and that is to celebrate the creative contribution of women in the arts,” says festival director Anriette Chorn of the Playhouse. “Also having added new elements to the festival such as the drama and dance workshops for young developing artists and putting the focus at this year’s festival on women crafters who have been the role models in the arts for many years.”

Over 300 artist participated and in general, all shows attracted at least 80% audience capacity. There was a good vibe and the visitors’ book included ecstatic comments from local and overseas-based festival-goers.




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