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WILLIAM KENTRIDGE: FLUTE (article first published : 2007-10-3)

Where most artists are merely serious, William Kentridge has gravitas. There is a sense that everything he does is significant. Even his sketches are important, revealing as they do the inner workings of his imagination. And what an imagination. There is something refreshingly old fashioned about his stubborn belief in the hand-drawn mark which he uses to communicate his ideas to himself and others.

His graphic handwriting investigates in the grand renaissance tradition, as he grapples with the content and the techniques of whatever project he is involved with.

In William Kentridge: Flute, just published by David Krut and edited by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen, we are treated to two hundred pages of his working notes for the opera The Magic Flute. Commissioned in 1998 by the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, it had its premiere in April 2005. The seven years of its making gives one a sense of the thoroughness of Kentridge’s researches into the opera’s two centuries of history.

To arrive at the final production, “Kentridge sets to work drawing, making prints, tearing scraps of paper, constructing mechanical figures, building mini-theatres, moving ordinary objects around on a table, setting up a camera and testing projections against different backdrops. He seems to circle an idea, to circumscribe the slowly evolving themes of the work in the activities of drawing and building and printmaking.”

Kentridge is famous for his hand-drawn animated films which have seen numerous incarnations from simple projections – who else could fill the Durban City Hall for an evening festival of all these works? – to theatrical performance with live actors, music and dialogue.

In this opera he extends this technique to an altogether new level, in the process rewriting the rules for staging traditional opera in the new millennium.

There is a tradition in theatre of touring the provinces before bursting onto a capital’s stage. Kentridge turns this on its head, by using the world as his province and now, finally, arriving in the centre of his world, South Africa.

Through this publication we have the luxury of eavesdropping on his thought processes and looking over his shoulder as he moves this way and that, trying to trap an elusive idea. The production launched and applauded, the perfectionist in Kentridge made changes almost at once. And continues even now, adding and pruning, refining and developing, again and again. After seeing the production in its present form here in South Africa, this document will, in itself, be a way of reliving the experience from another perspective. We can all be insiders to a fascinating creative adventure that is still happening.

William Kentridge Flute is edited by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen and is published in full colour in both soft cover (ISBN: 978-0-9584975-4-1 at R290) and hard cover (ISBN: 978-0-9584975-6-5 at R390). - Andrew Verster

William Kentridge’s production of “The Magic Flute” is currently running at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg. (See separate article in Music pages) Book at Computicket. For more details visit www.magicflute.co.za




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