What to see at this year’s National Arts Festival
Planned your trip yet?
The annual Grahamstown National Arts Festival kicks off this 28 June, running until 8 July. With an immense amount of music, theatre, dance and more on the cards, it can be simply overwhelming to decide what to see and do. If you’re planning a trip down to Grahamstown, we’ve put together a few of the highlights of this year’s festival to help make things easier.
Check out the works of featured artist Mamela Nyamza
Photo by John Hogg
The Featured Artist is recognised for their contribution to the South African cultural narrative and is invited to bring multiple works to the Festival. This year’s featured artist is none other than Mamela Nyamza. The artist will present three works, the first being a brand-new piece, BLACK PRIVILEGE which is informed by the artist’s experience of the rejection of the other by mainstream gatekeeping institutions. Nyamza’s PHUMA-LANGA, calls for renewed reconciliation of all South Africans through the diverse experiences of the country’s many cultures, while HATCHED, first brought to the Festival 10 years ago, is Nyamza’s autobiographical piece about the life changes experienced through motherhood, and features Mamela’s 18-year-old son Amkele Mandla, who performed in the show as an eight-year-old when it premiered.
See what this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award-winners have in store
The Standard Bank Young Artist Awards are spread out across the mediums of dance, theatre, music, jazz, performance art, and visual art. Watch Jemma Kahn’s theatre production The Borrow Pit, hear the sounds of Guy Buttery’s The Mending, catch Chuma Sopotela’s performance piece Indlulamthi, view Igshaan Adams’ When Dust Settles, watch Musa Hlatshwayo dance through Udodona, and catch Thandi Ntuli’s jazz performances.
Discover a passion for dance
This year’s dance programme is looking real good! Our highlights include Moving Into Dance Mophatong, which will celebrate its 40-year anniversary with UKUBONGA INHLONIPHO, a programme choreographed by Sylvia Glasser, Themba Mbuli and Sunnyboy Motau. This year’s ballet is none other than ROMEO AND JULIET performed by Cape Town City Ballet under artistic director Robin van Wyk, and lastly, renowned Mozambican performer Panaibra Canda’s TIME AND SPACE: THE MARRABENTA SOLOS will explore the idea of today’s African body: “a post-colonial, plural body that has absorbed the ideals of nationalism, modernity, socialism and freedom of expression.”
Wrap your head around performance art
Photo by Pierre Planchenaut
The NAF’s performance art pieces are always good ways to experience the city of Grahamstown while taking in a bit of art. Many of them take place outside of theatre venues and are often site-specific to the city itself. This year we’re keen on Steven Cohen’s put your heart under your feet... and walk/ To Elu, an intense meditation on loss, grief and absence, following the death of Elu, Cohen's partner and artistic collaborator. If you didn’t catch the installation and video leg of Cohen’s show at Dance Umbrella or Stevenson in Jozi, this is a great opportunity to check it out. Then, The Mothertongue Project’s WALK is a performance piece created in response to Maya Krishna Rao's The Walk, crafted after the 2012 rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandeyby six men on a Delhi bus. WALK is a South African response focused on the gang-rape and murder of Anene Booysen, a South African teenager.
Take in some visual art
This year’s visual art programme offers viewers a chance to catch a glimpse of many important aspects and items of SA visual art in one go. UBUNTU – I am because you are: A search for Ubuntu with permission to dream is curated by Usha Seejarim and draws on works from Standard Bank’s corporate collection. See works by leading South African artists including Dumile Feni, Diane Victor, and William Kentridge. Also on our list is DU30: 3 DECADES OF DANCE UMBRELLA presented by Dance Forum which commemorates 30 years of the Dance Umbrella with a collection of photographs by John Hogg and Suzy Bernstein, tracing the story of dance in South Africa. Lastly, James Webb’s THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT will be reflecting on both the symbolic space that is Grahamstown, and as a message to the people visiting. This installation was commissioned to be part of both the Festival Main programme and the new Creativate Digital Arts Festival that runs over the first four days of the Festival.
The NAF is probably best-known for its abundance of new theatrical work spread out across the city, so be sure you take full advantage of the theatre on offer this year! Highlights include JUNGFRAU by Jade Bowers which is based on the novel by Caine Prize-winning South African writer Mary Watson, and adapted for the stage by Ameera Patel, who also takes a lead role. A new take on Reza de Wet’s AFRICAN GOTHIC by director Alby Michaels is a must-see, while comedy fans will be thrilled with the special return of THE MOST AMAZING SHOW, featuring the goofy Corne and Twakkie characters played by Louw Venter and Rob van Vuuren respectively.
Treat your ears to some incredible sounds
This year’s general music and jazz line-up is a little too good. There are loads or musicians to go and check out, but on our short list there’s The Brother Moves On, Bongeziwe Mabandla, Guy Buttery, Urban Village, Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Amanda Black, Bokani Dyer, Thandi Ntuli, Marcus Wyatt, and more. Good, right?
This year's NAF sees the launch of their new creative programme, Creativate. “Creativate seeks to explore the space where creativity, innovation and technology converge. It’s a playground for artists and audiences interested in how the digital age is helping to bring our imaginations to life, and who want to experience the creative tools of the future,” Festival CEO and co-curator of the new Festival, Tony Lankester, said. The programme comprises a mix of lectures, workshops, film and performances, focused mainly in one Creativate Hub in Grahamstown. “The Festival is for the curious and creatively minded – we want audiences to check in with us in the morning and spend a full day wandering through the spaces and events we have created,” Lankester said. “We’re expecting the events to appeal to those aged 12 - 80, and technical fluency is less of a pre-requisite than an enquiring mind!”
Check out the full NAF18 programme over here.
Header image by Christo Doherty.