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GRAHAMSTOWN - FLORAL ART (article first published : 1999-07-11)

Directed by Jean Page, Chansons, Lumiére et Fleurs III - Songs, Light and Flowers is hardly the sort of ground-breaking stuff one expects to see at an arts festival. It was also held in the somewhat austere Moot Room which is part of Rhodes University’s law department and set out in courtroom style. What were we in for? Some had gone on the recommendations of others – Safm’s Alan Swerdlow, for one, who maintained that it was the best show on the 1998 festival. Others were intrigued by the title, and the rest were loyal followers of Beach Stamp Productions and knew what to expect. Still, it was nice to sit on a comfortable chair as opposed to scaffolding and have a shelf top on which to write. The furniture and props were covered with black drapes so there was no hint of what was to follow.

And what was to follow was pure magic – in terms of sincerity, efficiency, charm and expertise as well as skilled knowledge and use of plant material. In an hour, floral artists May Bennett, Eve Mackay. Jean Page and Anne Timm assisted by Janet Hyde, Mark Kleck and Gavyn Letley produced a dizzying number of floral displays to music and poetry. While most pieces had been prepared at a basic level and completed in view of the audience, others were revealed in their full glory as the black coverings were swept away.

The first item involved each artist calmly sticking lemons into four tree shapes to the accompaniment of Peter Freudenthaler’s Lemon Tree. Rather fun. Interesting. But if this was to be the whole show, we thought, this production’s a bit over-rated. How wrong we were - that little intro was just to lull us into false pretences!

Enya’s Only If accompanied the next item which saw boxes of dried flowers adorned with the odd little black feather and black painted skeletons of miniature agapanthus being placed in an easel frame at random, eventually to reveal a collection of funky little birds. Winter Wonderland involved the use of white chrysanthemums, gladioli and leafless branches of all shapes to create a wintry skyline reflected in the luminous light of white candles. Two adorned tubas gleamed to the strains of Hen Wlad Fly Nhadon (the Welsh National Anthem) and Frozen Orange Juice was interpreted by two vast glass containers of orange liquid accompanied by magnificent displays in yellow and orange tones.

A sense of the dramatic was introduced with Whistle Down the Wind where tangled roots, dried cycads and red anthirriums represented a dusty gust of wind. Miniature pineapples provided perfect heads and beaks for Three Little Birds; and the Ascot scene from My Fair Lady saw three of the artists wearing fantastical creations of plant materials as hats while another pushed a trolley-full of strelitzias as the horses. 3 Little Fishes was delightfully humorous and the use of papyrus in the finale was visually exciting.

This is Beach Stamp Productions’ third appearance at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival. While other productions have a scramble to set up and strike their show, Beach Stamp are fortunate in that the Moot Room is theirs alone for the duration of the festival. Just as well because it takes at least three hours to prepare for a show and tidy up afterwards. Don’t miss them at the next festival. For details contact Jean Page on (046) 624-3062.


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