Maqoma’s Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero Mourns Death Magnificently

 

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The memorable Cion conceived and choreographed by Gregory Maqoma

 CION: REQUIEM OF RAVEL’S BOLERO

Conceived and choreographed by: Gregory Maqoma

Creative input and rehearsal director: Gladys Aghulas

Music composed and directed by: Nhlanhla Mahlangu

Dancers: Vuyani Dance Theatre

Singers: Soweto Gospel Choir

Musical assistance: Xolisile Bongwana and Sbusiso Shozi

Costumes: Jacques van der Watt and Black Coffee

Set and technical direction: Oliver Hauser

Lighting: Mannie Manim

Sound: Ntuthuko Mbuyazi

Choir under direction of Bongani Ncube

Venue and Dates: Nelson Mandela Theatre until September 15

 

 

DIANE DE BEER

It is such a strange time in the world, with the arts perilously balanced with all the usual stumbling blocks. Add to that the decimation of arts writing on all the traditional platforms with nothing in its place – or where there is, no way for possible readers to find it.

With the result that everyone is battling to get their stories out there. I was at a National Theatre Live screening of The Lehman Trilogy with Sam Mendes directing Simon Russel Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles last week.

There were five people watching this majestic piece. No one I asked knew about the screening and I spoke and wrote about it because I love sharing the arts because of the impact it has on individual lives.

Hopefully similar things will not happen to Gregory Maqoma’s sublime Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, currently on at the Joburg Theatre until Sunday in celebration of the vibrant Vuyani Dance Theatre’s 20th anniversary.

In an amplified version (“death needs amplifying in the present circumstances,” says the choreographer) which starts with bone-chilling sobs drenched by shafts of sharp light from which the dancers emerge, the tone is set as the heartache of those sounds find solace in the rhythms of Ravel’s Boléro. As the dancers start moving as one, they sweep your emotions along.

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It is a mighty piece on multiple levels and even though it is inspired and based on two Zakes Mda books, Ways of Dying and Cion, the strength lies in  the complexity of the whole with the evocative lighting, the heightened sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir as the dancers bring their own singing to create specific rhythms and textures, all contributing to the enormity of what Maqoma is dealing with.

Enveloped in this grief, the production is mesmerising and astonishing in its excellence. From Black Coffee’s costumes, the diversity of the music and the singing, the Ravel rhythms often suggested by the dancers’ clicking or tapping or a drumbeat, the melancholy and sometimes even merriment of the production are completely overwhelming in its brilliance.

We are living in a world that takes dying lightly. Just the last few days in our country underlines that in different ways. Gender-based abuse has again galvanised women to step out and shout while simultaneously a young man is being sentenced for raping a 7-year old girl in a toilet at a restaurant.

A young mother kills four of her children with rat poison and goes out partying.

Shops in both Joburg and Tshwane are set alight and burnt to the ground while politicians argue whether this is xenophobia or not. People are dying because they are hungry and the root causes are never addressed.

Schoolchildren fear for their safety at schools while others are kidnapped on their way or back home.

In the rest of the world, refugees are growing in numbers as they flee from their countries because of war or dictatorships and some are simply banished because they’re not wanted. “We are forced into mourning,” says Maqoma who tells the story in the way he best knows how.

And yet failed leaders are mourned in their death and feted while their people suffer and eventually flee their land.

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Scenery and lighting extraordinaire

It is against this backdrop that Maqoma creates a visual spectacle that grabs you tightly around the throat and never lets go. The dancers move, en masse it feels, yet are given individual moments, from Afro fusion to a nod to the classics but in contemporary and fast- changing style, everyone on stage is celebrated and contributes to hold their audience in complete awe.

The beauty, the execution, the quality and excellence unfolding underline the talent of our artists who are out there fighting and creating on their own. If this is what they achieve while struggling, the heights they could reach are staggering.

But that is the world of the artist. He can’t help himself. As Maqoma suggests, with individuals who are daily running the Vuyani Dance Theatre, he has been encouraged and allowed to dream, which he fortunately does on grand scale. He doesn’t hold back and does it the only way he knows how

There are only five performances left. It’s one of those landmark theatrical experiences which is on its way to London to be staged during the Dance Umbrella festival at the Barbican. Those performances will be packed and so should they be back home.

It’s accessible, the music is mindblowing and Gregory Maqoma’s talent and collaboration genius should be witnessed again and again. His artistry is recognised internationally but he insists on staying and performing at home.

I am eternally grateful. Seeing Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, not once but twice, has been a theatrical miracle.

 

 

Little Nataniël Waltzes With Giants

If you know Nataniël, you won’t be able to resist his latest season. If you don’t, DIANE DE BEER coaxed him to share the story of his upcoming show:

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The title alone will stop you in your tracks: When Giants Waltz – 12 Monumental Concerts by Little Nataniël.

But that has always been his power – getting you to gasp – at his costumes, his words, his gestures – or simply the spectacular staging of his shows.

Not this time says the performer – but we won’t quite take his word for it.

The title dictates that the costumes will be monumental – and that is where he starts – always with the way he looks when on stage.

 Singer, songwriter and storyteller Nataniël returns to the Theatre of Marcellus for his 17th production at Emperors Palace after a year’s sabbatical. This latest creation will first be staged at Artscape, one of his favourite theatres, from September 10, with a smaller band but the same set, props and costumes as well as script to be presented as 12 concerts from October 4 to 27,  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.

nataniel poster

A typical Nataniël year consists of three original stage productions, one at Artscape, one at Emperors Palace and one at the Atterbury Theatre. The rest of the year is filled with numerous concert tours.

These concerts (“the friendly shows”) are as structured and detailed as all his work, but allow him more freedom for improvisation and informal banter. For the first time he will present this format at Artscape and Emperors Palace.

And as a bonus, there will be as many costume changes as he can manage! With the show title as an example, he is going grand and gigantic. “Expect them to be epic,” he says. “I can hardly move them. Every time I do, I find myself with a sleeve in my hand.”

Last year’s sabbatical (only from the grandly staged shows) obviously gave him the chance to reassess. He believes audiences prefer his solo stories rather than a single story told from the beginning to end of the show.

This also gives him more time to play around, allows for a mini-sermon slipped in at some stage which also gives you a measure of where his head is at for the moment – always a bonus.

But then the title should do that too, he explains. “When giants waltz, the earth moves. Apparently,” he says, “size does matter!”

“As far back as your childhood, everything is a battle between big and small. This is my chance to lead a well-dressed rebellion against institutions. I despise any structure that involves a boardroom. Some people, however, will be victims of this stupidity.”

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If all of this simply sounds too serious, don’t fear, the shows are focused on entertainment yet “from a pedestal of profound values and issues,” he says with what may to some sound like a heavy heart.

“It’s fun from beginning to end. If we can’t have fun in this mess …” And if anyone can turn the prediction of the end of the world into something hilarious, Nataniël is your man.

The way he thought about this season was to start with a costume that he imagined as the outfit he would wear at the last ball held on the Titanic!

Staged with his trademark stylish lighting, he has visualised this concert as a series of portraits. It reminds him of those tableaux from a time, long, long ago when photography was in its infancy. “It will hopefully remind people of paging through an album,” he suggests. “When the lights go on, everything stops on stage! In the dark, out of sight, is when everything happens,” he notes. “During the blackouts we move.”

With his stories, he isn’t only comparing big versus small, but also the constant struggle between the indestructible and the threatened, the always present war between the individual and the establishment, and the exhausting debate between the political and the intelligent.

Nataniël performs music from an endless catalogue of blues and jazz evergreens, pop classics and original songs.

This time even the music has been simplified and made as accessible as he knows how.

And no more choreography. While some will miss those quirky hops, skips and jumps so beautifully executed with often military precision, he feels as if someone has handed him his freedom. “I would panic through every show that I would forget my steps,” he explained. “Why did I do that all these years? What was I thinking?”

He shares the stage with his brilliant band led by Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums), and on vocals, Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart.

The minimalist set (notwithstanding the multitude of props) will be complemented by another collection of extraordinary costumes created by Floris Louw, Nataniël’s award-winning designer of the past 18 years.

Describing this as a concert for the connoisseur, he never fails to entertain. His stories and songs, the staging and the costumes, when they all come together – that’s showbiz, and perfect for these tough times.

Cds, dvds, books (including his brand new book – a memoir in Afrikaans and English), ceramics and products from Nataniël’s lifestyle range will be available at all performances.

*Artscape, Cape Town; September 10 to 15.

*Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace; October 4 to 27, 2019

Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15.

 

Bookings at Computicket.

 

 

The Gene: An Intimate History Takes You Into a Brave New World – Or Perhaps Not

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.― Oscar Wilde

 

 

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DIANE DE BEER

 

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of all Maladies) published by Scribner

 

This isn’t my normal go-to literature as I would much rather focus on people and their intriguing  lives but as I was pointed in this direction not only because of the content but also as a result of brilliant writing, I decided – wisely – to give it a go.

The author had scored a Pulitzer prize for his previous book investigating cancer and as with this one, he was initially pushed in this direction because of family and their influence or lack thereof on one another. “Madness,” he writes, “has been among the Mukherjees for at least two generations, and at least part of my father’s reluctance to accept Moni’s diagnosis lies in my father’s grim recognition that some kernel of the illness may be buried like toxic waste, in himself.”

He explains that the story of the birth, growth and future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science: the “gene”, the fundamental unit of heredity, and the basic unit of all biological information.

In this prologue, he also notes that there are stories within all the stories he tells as he goes along, “But this book is also a very personal story – an intimate history. The weight of heredity is not an abstraction for me.”

So apart from the personal touch which turns the reading into something easily accessible, Mukherjee is an extraordinary writer. It’s not just the language he uses to tell his story (and I have to assume English is not his mother tongue) but also the way he tells it, how he questions the world and also that he comes from a unique perspective.

The book is 495 pages long followed by extensive notes, a bibliography and index and some parts of the reading might be more gripping than others, but if like me, this is foreign territory, you will be gripped from start to finish. After all, we are talking about every human being, how they are formed and how they function.

It’s all a complicated business and it is this that keeps you fascinated. A sentence like this for example: “The results were startling for three reasons. First when Wilson measured the overall diversity of the human mitochondrial genome, he found it surprisingly small – less diverse than corresponding genomes for chimpanzees. Modern humans, in other words, are substantially younger and substantially more homogeneous than chimpanzees (every chimp might look like every other chimp to human eyes, but to a discerning chimpanzee, it is humans that are vastly more alike).” Makes you think.

As do his musings on the beginnings of the human race in southern Africa. “The population was likely quite small, even minuscule by contemporary standards. The most provocative estimate is a bare 700.

“Mitochondrial Eve may have lived among them, bearing at least one daughter and at least one granddaughter.” That’s why it is a difficult book to put down.

Some sentences will stop you in your tracks: “You can sequence DNA from an African-American man and conclude that his ancestors came from Sierra Leone and Nigeria. But if you encounter a man whose great grandparents came from Nigeria or Sierra Leone, you can say little about the features of this particular man. The geneticist goes home happy; the racist returns empty-handed.”

This is an endless trove of gene information that might influence health and happiness – or not. Though, as it frequently does when talking genes, the story comes with a twist writes Mukherjee: “The very genes that enable a cell to peel away mortality and age can also tip its fate toward malignant immortality, perhaps growth, and agelessness – the hallmarks of cancer.”

You very quickly understand that there are no easy answers. Someone might think they have found a cure for something and around the corner, there’s information that turns the whole theory around. It puts a whole other spin on this field and an understanding as a novice when you hear certain public pronouncements, it can just as quickly fade away not to be heard of again. Only to appear much later in a different guise.

Just reading about the different findings and how patience, often the best attribute when dealing in this kind of painfully slow research, was often missing, resulting in mistakes – and sometimes hampering ongoing research and findings because of blunders – some of them fatal.

But with patience comes perseverance and these scientists know how to keep pushing and putting their heads down until they find positive outcomes to the benefit of mankind.

One of the scary things according to the author for many is what is known as “gene management”. And he quotes: As the political theorist Desmond King puts it, “…We are all going to be dragged into the regime of ‘gene management’ that will, in essence, be eugenic. It will be in the name of individual health rather than for overall fitness of the population, and the managers will be you and me, and our doctors and the state.

“Genetic change will be managed by the invisible hand of individual choice, but the overall result will be the same: a co-ordinate attempt to ‘improve’ the genes of the next generation on the way.”

He points out that all the parameters whichever way we look at it are inherently susceptible to the logic of self-reinforcement. “We determine the definition of ‘extraordinary suffering’. We demarcate the boundaries of ‘normalcy’ vs ‘abnormalcy’. We make the medical choices to intervene. We determine the nature of ‘justifiable interventions’.”

He underlines that in the final analysis, humans with a specific set of genomes are responsible for defining the criteria to define, intervene on, or even eliminate other humans endowed with other genomes.

“Choice seems like an illusion devised by genes to propagate the selection of similar genes.” And that’s the scary thought. You can see the red lights flashing all over the place especially in the kind of environment we find ourselves in today.

If people successfully start meddling with the gene pool and someone in power says to a certain group of people, “if you’re not happy here, go back to where you came from”, just imagine what could all go wrong in our world when people really start fiddling with genes.

In the end, normal is defined by whom?  “The book,” says Mukherjee, began as an intimate history – but it is the intimate future that concerns me.”

The last century, he reminds us, taught us the dangers of empowering governments to determine genetic ‘fitness’., then the question that confronts us now in this current era, is what happens when this power devolves to the individual.

“It is a question that requires us to balance the desires of the individual with the desires of a society.” That will remain the dilemma.

It is one thing to manipulate genes, he notes, it is quite another to manipulate genomes. And it is that difference that a reading of this book will explain in much fuller detail and understanding, something we should all understand in a field that could improve our world in unimaginable ways but also steer humankind into a world we would rather not imagine.

That is why he is pleading for a manifesto for this post-genomic world. He was already predicting that by the time this book was published (2017) new frontiers would have been reached and I’m sure they have been.

It’s a glorious and gripping read about something that is applicable to everyone on this planet. Many will know exactly what the author is talking about and might find his specific take on this world the thing they focus on, for others, who have perhaps only a vague understanding, this is a book that navigates the world in a way that will make sense to even the novice.

Two Young Artists Grab Top Prizes in 2019 Sasol New Signatures Competition Using Traditional Media in Classic Style

Pictures: Petrus Saayman

Sasol New Signatures winner Patric Rulore
Sasol New Signatures 2019 winner Patric Rulore

DIANE DE BEER

 

Hoping to shine a magnificent light on load shedding – both literally and figuratively – was the inspiration for Pretoria student Patrick Rulore’s winning canvas titled Stage 4 moments.

Rising to the occasion, the young artist was announced the winner of the 2019 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition at the Pretoria Art Museum last night, (Wednesday) winning a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to hold a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum with the 2020 winners.

 “It was part of my family’s experience which gave me more insight into how to execute it the way I did,” explained the 24-year-old student currently completing a National Diploma in Fine Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology.

“In the beginning of this year, South Africa had to endure extreme shortages in electricity supply with electricity scheduled in stages. The most important part of the work was to teach people to turn unfavourable circumstances into a positive experience,” he said.

In his painting, Rulore depicts the typical behaviour of his family during load shedding, celebrating the absence of all activities involving electrical device during these blackouts which encouraged them to interact with each other – to talk, to laugh and to play games.

His primary medium is paint, using both oils and acrylics. “I am fascinated by the complexity of the human body (male and female) and attempt to discover its magic on the canvas. I endeavour to capture the emotions and spirit of everyone I paint. To achieve this, I manipulate and play with colours, textures, paint and brush marks,” he earnestly explains his process.

Paying tribute to his mom who has been a strong influence and supporter of his art, he believes it was her work as a fashion designer that encouraged him to pursue art.

Sasol New Signatures runner up Luyanda Zindela
Sasol New Signatures runner up Luyanda Zindela

The runner-up in the 2019 competition is Durban University of Technology M student Luyanda Zindela, also using traditional media –  pen, ink and graphite – on pine-board, titled Phowthah sis’ Mgabadeli.

 The title which means Pout Miss Mgabadeli is a reference to his friend’s irreverence, says the artist. “When I was taking the pictures, she asked me whether she could pout.” With the title, he also points to the way women are assigned specific roles in society.

 The drawing is a breakaway for him in terms of scale as well as overall. “I wanted to gauge how it would be received by an art audience and to produce a body of work based on the submitted drawing.” He certainly got a generous response.

 With his chosen tools, apart from the work, he also explores the limitless possibilities of a medium so readily available that it is often taken for granted. “I have tried to capture the boundless intricacies of black skin using traditional pen and ink drawing techniques like cross-hatching and stippling.”
He tried to push his boundaries and believes if you really look, the improving technique is visible. As runner-up, he was awarded R25 000 and the knowledge that his future project has been given the go-ahead.

For most of these rewarded artists, the competition means validation and a launch into the professional world.

These Five Merit Award Winners were also announced with most of them working with the personal:

S Nico Athene (Johannesburg) After After Party (Resurrection) DiaMount

Nico Athene  (Johannesburg) After After Party (Resurrection) DiaMount

S Kgodisho Moloto (Polokwane) Disguise mask Pot scrubs and wire

Kgodisho Moloto (Polokwane) Disguise mask Pot scrubs and wire

S Angelique Patricia Mary Bougaard (University of Johannesburg) Crucified Mixed media drawing on handmade paper

 

Angelique Patricia Mary Bougaard (University of Johannesburg) Crucified Mixed media drawing on handmade paper

S Cecilia Maartens-Van Vuuren (Bloemfontein) A presentiment Dried roots.jpgCecilia Maartens-Van Vuuren (Bloemfontein) A presentiment Dried roots

S Mlamuli Eric Zulu (Durban) Enlightened Art gathering Mixed mediaMlamuli Eric Zulu (Durban) Enlightened Art gathering Mixed media

Each of them received a R10 000 cash prize.

Acclaimed artist, judge and Sasol New Signatures Chairperson Professor Pieter Binsbergen noted that in this 30th year of Sasol sponsoring the longest-running art competition started by the Association of Arts Pretoria to encourage emerging artists, the winner and runner-up have both been recognised for works created in traditional media – ink and paint. He praised both works that have been painstakingly laboured and felt that the artists through their work showed immense drive and passion.

“Identity is still the driver, but the lens has narrowed,” he says about the work generally. “The journey has become more personal which they hope will echo widely.”

He also acknowledges that there’s a return to classicism, dealing with a more laboured surface with traditional media where technique rather than Instagram moments is at stake.

“On behalf of Sasol, we congratulate all the 2019 Sasol New Signatures winners,” said Nozipho Mbatha, Sasol Senior Manager: Group Brand Management. She also tipped her hat to all the emerging artists who have participated in the competition over the past 30 years.

“The majority of winners and merit award winners have carved out illustrious careers in the visual arts and have made significant contributions to our country’s artistic heritage. Here’s to the next 30 years of developing our cultural economy,” she concluded.

Jessica Storm Kapp, the 2018 winner, will present her solo exhibition entitled Artefacts of Belonging at the Pretoria Art Museum, alongside the 2019 finalists as part of her prize. The exhibition will feature the 2019 winner, runner-up and five merit award winners as well the 80 finalists, all of whom are included in the highly respected competition catalogue. The exhibition runs until September 29, 2019.

The final judging panel consisted of: Professor Pieter Binsbergen  (Convener), Cate Terblanche (Sasol Curator), Mary Sibande (artist), Wilhelm van Rensburg (Senior Art Specialist, Strauss & Co), Lebohang Kganye (Sasol New Signatures Winner 2017) and Pfunzo Sidogi (Lecturer, Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Tshwane University of Technology).

* Pretoria Art Museum:

Tuesday to Sunday:  10am to 5pm (Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays)

Corner Francis Baard and Wessels St, Arcadia Park.

https://select.timeslive.co.za/news/2019-08-22-power-of-art-load-shedding-inspires-artists-big-win/

 

Choreographer/Dancer Gregory Maqoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre Celebrate 20 Years, Spotlighting Zakes Mda’s Cion

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A scene from Cion ©Siphosihle-Mkhwanazi

Choreographer/dancer Gregory Maqoma and the Vuyani Dance Theatre are celebrating 20 years in the contemporary dance sphere in South Africa and abroad. DIANE DE BEER speaks to him about a reworked Cion, the piece he has selected to showcase their accomplishments in the Nelson Mandela Theatre from September 5 to 15:

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Gregory Maqoma in Cion

 

“I’ve just kept working,” says the explosive driving force behind Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT), founder and creative director Gregory Maqoma, when reminiscing about the achievement of their 20th anniversary celebration with the already celebrated Cion at the Joburg Theatre starting on September 5.

Five years ago, the company celebrated with Full Moon which dance critic Adrienne Sichel lauded as “flights of conceptual fancy, wrapped around a creation myth, tap into South Africa’s diverse dance lineage ranging from classical ballet to contemporary African dance.

“Maqoma’s aesthetic plumage and Afro-classicism don’t ignore the Odette/Odile legacy but neither does he forget Africa’s ornithology.”

At that time, they didn’t have any backing, and not much has changed since. “It hasn’t been easy,” says the softly spoken Maqoma but argues that it speaks to their resilience. Then they were looking at their 15-year achievement, already a major feat for a local contemporary dance company, but this time round it’s #Vuyani20 and for the future, #ShapingTheNext20.

As they have done in the past, when it seems like too much of a struggle, they simply go bigger. And that’s not only into the future but also with what seemed to many the perfect production. For these current festivities, Maqoma has decided to amplify Cion because he believes that in current circumstances, death needs amplifying.

He is doing this by adding dancers as well as voices – and no less than the Soweto Gospel Choir – to this extraordinary performance. “It’s about legacy,” he says proudly.

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He points to their future and a combined invitation from “Sadler Wells, Theatre de la Ville and a Dutch company for performances of four shows two years hence.” That’s the luxury that he knows dancers in South Africa seldom have. “It gives us two years to just think,” he says. It also brings financial muscle and support, something that is sadly missing at home.

“We need acknowledgement of the spaces we find, as well as support and marketing,” he adds almost mournfully.

Everything happens here with little rehearsal time and much ingenuity as audiences can witness in the reworked Cion. That’s the way they roll. It’s not that he doesn’t speak loudly when given the opportunity, but from government they have had few favours.

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Cion

Artists/directors like James Ngcobo and Idris Elba (whose currently running production Tree Maqoma has just choreographed) know what the man is capable of and so do international audiences. But fortunately, Maqoma keeps coming home. This is where he dances and teaches with the company whose trainees will also be participating in the pulsating production on the Nelson Mandela stage in September.

His work has always been about challenging a Eurocentric way of structuring and to give it a contemporary African edge – with conviction – while at the same time honouring black artists. “We want to take control of our own craft,” he says. “It’s about validity.” And the fact that he should still be seeking that at this time, says so much about the world we live in.

If anything, Cion is proof of so much more than that.

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Gregory Maqoma (front) in Cion

 

When it was first performed at the Market Theatre in 2017, he explained the creation thus: “I am drawn to Zakes Mda’s character Toloki the professional mourner from his beloved Ways of Dying as he further uncovers in his book Cion the story of the runaway slaves.

“In my interpretation, Toloki rediscovers death in a modern context, inspired by the universal events that lead to death, not as a natural phenomenon but by decisions of others over the other. We mourn death by creating death.

“The universe of greed, power, religion has led us to be professional mourners who transform the horror of death and the pain of mourning into a narrative that questions what seems to be normalised and far more brutal in how we experience death and immigration.

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“I am creating this work as a lament, a requiem required to awaken a part of us, the connection to the departed souls.”

And about that first season: nothing prepares you for the performance by Maqoma who has gathered a group of dancers, musicians and singers who mourn death in a way that both embraces and expunges the horrors of this world.

“From the design to the dance to the magnificent music and singing, Maqoma transports you to a place of healing by tearing the horror apart – step by step, note by note.

“If you ever see Cion is being performed anywhere, don’t hesitate, just go. It’s world class and feeds the soul.”

That’s what I wrote two years ago and that’s why it’s thrilling that he has decided to stage this majestic work at this particular time. If you see anything this year, it should be this.

Maqoma’s whole life has been about pushing boundaries and acknowledging himself and the company. “No more gatekeepers,” is his rallying cry.

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In full flow, Gregory Maqoma in Cion with singers in the background

And even though he laments the lack of support in a larger sense, he feels blessed for the support he has in the company. “I’ve been able to step away from the day-to-day running,” he explains. That gives him the luxury of time to sleep, to strategise and to dream. It also means he can make all of those a reality.

Vuyai Dance Theatre has become a machine that can function without his daily attention – and that, more than anything gives him great joy.

When he talks about going bigger, their first step towards #ShapingTheNext20 is to start laying the bricks for their own building. “If we’re able to cross borders, what is stopping us to lay those first bricks in our own country? We are fighting for our own space.”

In conclusion, he declares that he has been pushed post-apartheid to recognise the many atrocities including the senseless killings at Marikana – hence Cion. “It needs a strong push,” he exclaims, “we need to raise questions and we need to be loud.”

Government-funded art centres have not embraced their own he feels, and any plea from artists is landing on deaf ears. In the coming years apart from building VDT and working towards further success, he will also be developing a curriculum as a training institution and documenting the choreographic methodology of his and fellow choreographer Vincent Mantsoe’s work which will establish their own technique internationally.

It’s all about ownership, ownership, ownership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books That Gift You The Time To Dream

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
― Toni Morrison

 

 

Diane de Beer reviews a a few fascinating reads:

 

 

Book Zulus of New York

The Zulus of New York by Zakes Mda (Umuzi):

It’s a remarkable story that Zakes Mda has unearthed here.

He knew just how to approach the telling of it in a time when finally it seems there’s more awareness in the world of problems in the past that have never been acknowledged. It meant that these persist in exacerbated form to this day. And with people like Trump and Johnson leading powerful nations, it only gets worse.

Nevertheless, just the title should pull you in. Who would have thought? In New York and paraded in all their powerful mysticism of the time, yet naturally, at their cost. They had to play the savage because that’s what gawkers came to see, hearing the stories of the infamous King Cetshwayo. And in the process, the performers were losing their souls. Until a love story of sorts unfolds in all this darkness and brings some light.

Mda has a magical touch and a way of drawing his readers into a world that might not be familiar. And then he punches you in the gut as he holds up the mirror of what people do to those they don’t recognise as themselves.

Book Theo Flora coverTheo and Flora by Mark Winkler (Umuzi) which has just been shortlisted for the Sunday Times fiction list:

It’s an intriguing tale and really reminds me of the idiom to spin a yarn. With novelist Charlie Wasserman left by his investment-banker wife with the means to stay on in their home, he discovers a box of her family letters written between 1940 and 1944. The letters reveal a love affair between her grandfather, a 40something lawyer at the time and Flora, a much younger journalist.

Even though Wasserman’s former wife instructs him to destroy the letters, he has found a way to revive his somewhat slumped writing career. Interesting characters wander in and out of this novel tale which keeps you engaged from beginning to end.

It’s an addictive yarn.

Book Milkman

Milkman by Anna Burns (Faber&Faber):

This is a book that probably accidentally came in a time of #MeToo and Brexit which compounds the meaning in a story that is set in an unnamed Irish city where the aim of living is to blend in.

To be noticed is not only damaging but dangerous. Middle sister is leading a life of terror and it is all exacerbated because she tries to keep it quiet that she has a maybe-boyfriend and that she is being terrorised by a very scary character called Milkman.

If you want to know what it feels like to live in a world where people are terrified to breathe yet some are determined to live their lives in spite of a rumour mill that can destroy the little you have, this is one, hand-in-hand with Margaret Atwood’s television adapted Handmaid’s Tale, to immerse yourself in.

Then re-look the life you have been gifted and smile.

Book Cul de SacCul de Sac A Memoir by Elsa Joubert (Tafelberg):

A moving farewell from one of our great writers. That’s JM Coetzee writing about this memoir and indeed it is that – moving.

But what it also reminded me of was the different ways people approach any stage of their life.
In her 95th year, she explores the continent of old age says the blurb on the back cover. And that plays a role – her age. A few decades ago, not many people were reaching their 90s, but now with modern medicine and more emphasis on health during your lifetime, it’s possible.

But she lost her life partner and with that her independent spirit – somewhat – which rather colours her perspective it seems.

Also, the choice of where she lives and how she copes with the devastation of a diminishing world, even with caring family around, is quite harrowing. “That’s why they have this big, long lift, to take out the coffins at night when we’re asleep,” she writes.

I found it moving and admirable that she is still determined to tell her story, a life so great and so rewarded, and so magnificently captured.

And yet, I’m still determined to go out singing!

Book TranscriptionsTranscription by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday):

This is another of those writers you don’t want to miss. From her early writing to the present, she keeps swinging with stories that surprise and delight.

Atkinson has a specific smartness about her writing which always keeps you engaged. I recall years back when reading the description of Life after Life and wondering how she would pull me into the lives of people whose lives kept turning on the same dime, but in different directions – and she did – masterfully.

It was simply a masterpiece. Perhaps following that one and the companion,  A God in Ruins, she should have turned away from War stories to something completely different. Think of this as an adventure, one of the characters say at the beginning of what turns out to be a rather pedestrian spy story.

If not even Atkinson can light a fire under a Girl’s Own type of adventure, perhaps it’s not to be. It doesn’t grab you and neither do the characters who all seem a touch lukewarm – as do their actions.

I didn’t think it possible to feel indifferent about an Atkinson story – sorry – but about this one I do.

 

Book The DistanceThe Distance by Ivan Vladislavic (Umuzi):

Anyone who has read this author will know you can drift on clouds in his words. He just has a unique way.

Similarly, with the topics he tackles and the stories he tells. While it might feel as if it is about one thing, there are different things going on.

This one is ostensibly about siblings and their life stories. Is one voice more important that the other, who remembers the truth and who decides about that?

These are some of the questions posed. But he also spotlights the country and the time we live in, and the harshness of our lives while living in a time when life isn’t valued. Yet with the number of refugees battling out there in an unwelcome world, is it even possible to think of more ordinary lives in this way?

Everything begins with a young Pretoria boy’s obsession with Muhammad Ali. Now, as an adult, he turns back to the scrapbooks of his youth, asks for help from a somewhat unwilling brother but also tries to unravel the mystery of writing, how it happens and why he does it.

It’s simplicity itself and yet there are underlying streams that keep popping into the story and strangling any thoughts you might have had about what this story is about and why it is being told.

And that is precisely this astonishing writer’s strength.

 

Book There Goes English teacherThere Goes English Teacher A Memoir by Karin Cronje (Modjaji Books):

As a huge Korean fan, having visited the country twice as a guest of the government, I was hugely intrigued by this book which deals with someone teaching English.

We all know South Africans who have done that but in Cronje’s case, she’s slightly older than most graduates who almost use this as a gap period. For her, it was is a gap year while ageing and coping with major life changes that had her almost gasping for life.

Perhaps that’s not the best time to jump into this kind of adventure. A third into the book, I almost put it down which isn’t something I often consider, choosing my reading matter carefully.

Nevertheless, I decided to keep going because while I found her writing frustrating in many instances, I was also enchanted by others.

I still feel that it needs a strong edit which would (for me) turn her into the brilliant writer she is some of the time. Too often, it was just too much, she had made the point clearly. And yet, there she goes on again… and again.

But then again, it might just be me.

 

UP Consumer and Food Sciences Students Celebrate the Indigenous Ingredients Foraged on the Future Africa Campus

UPAloes at the Admin Building
Aloes take a stand at the UP Admin Building

The Department of Consumer and Food Sciences of the University of Pretoria is hosting a special dinner to celebrate our indigenous food of which some of these ingredients will be foraged on their Future Africa Campus. DIANE DE BEER spoke to botanist and curator Jason Sampson as well as some of the other participants about this exciting concept:

 

This is not the first time the students of Consumer and Food Sciences will focus on indigenous ingredients, but it is their first foray into the Future Africa Campus.

The gardens at Future Africa were purposefully designed and developed to cultivate and produce edible and indigenous plants.  “We developed a menu to celebrate and use some of these ingredients in the menu that were available and as it was the end of the season for some of these products, we were able to harvest them and include them in our menu (like water chestnuts and makataan),” explained associate professor Gerrie Du Rand in charge of the Hospitality Management Final year students who will be preparing the dinner.IMG-20190730-WA0026

“What is exciting about this garden is the fact that many of these plants are unusual and not freely available and it provided our students the opportunity to celebrate these ingredients in a challenging manner with an unusual menu.”

Much of the expertise and help was given by botanist Jason Sampson from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, the man responsible for among others the botanical garden on the main campus of the University of Pretoria which holds a collection of living plants that is scientifically managed for the purposes of education, research, conservation as well as community service.

Known as the Manie van der Schiff Botanical Gardens, the aim is to raise awareness of our indigenous plant heritage and if you’re fortunate to be taken around the campus by Sampson, it’s as if the campus becomes a living organism with aloe walks on the Hillcrest campus and his magnificent fully fledged plant wall for the masterfully designed Plant Science building which functions as insulation as well as an aesthetically pleasing feature while also mimicking the natural habitat of some very unique plants.

up water transformer
The rainwater harvesting plant (part of the Mining Engineering Study Centre of UP) with rain garden ponds and a storage tank

From the rose garden which was replaced by an aloe garden in front of the admin building (possibly the most visible ship structure on the most southern point of the campus), to what is referred to as a living laboratory, the rainwater harvesting plant (which is part of the Mining Engineering Study Centre of UP with a series of rain garden ponds and a storage tank which was installed as a reactive storm-water control system), someone has a firm eye on sustainability in these expansive grounds and to the scarcity of water in the future.

Working with UP’s resident architect, Neal Dunstan, they saved the university a stack of money but also created a system that harvests enough water for the glorious botanical gardens.

“The aloes haven’t been watered for six months,” he says and of course, that’s the point. And as you drive further through the campus, the signs of replanting and water-resistant plants are overwhelming. You just have to pay attention. This is truly forward thinking.

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The pod of the Lowveld chestnut. Inside is a handful of large, black, oily nuts with a soft shell. Delectable!

All of these projects and unique plant species are also available for study purposes as are the gardens that Sampson is involved in on the Future Africa campus. “There are quite a few master and doctorate studies to be done here,” says the man who describes his role on the new campus as “advising and interfering”.

And believe me he will. But with his passion for and knowledge of especially indigenous flora and to the benefit of the Consumer and Food Sciences students, a love for food, he will walk you through those gardens, still only in their infancy, and if you listen to him talking, have dishes rolling off his tongue.

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African Horned Melon , ripe and harvested. Picture: Hennie Fisher

His conversation centres on edible gardens, food forests and the need to diversify food crops which also leads to wild food plants. Today the world is dependent on five staples – none of which come from Africa. He points to the Irish food famine for example as a country that was solely dependent on one staple – and then starved. He knows this is a simplistic version but is also a reminder of food shortages and famine in the future.

“We need to focus on our little known orphan and African crops,” and here he points to examples like African berries (of which there are different kinds), a local grape version that instead of a bunch, forms single large grapes on a rounded bush or as an exotic example, the dragon fruit cactus which he is especially keen on as a vining waterwise fruit which could substitute for grapes to make what he believes will be excellent wine.

Cactus is a thing that he feels can be used in different ways (“eat the weeds”) and he is also keen on a sugar sorghum which delivers two food crops: wheat and sugar.

It’s one of the strengths he argues one finds in African crops. Most modern crops are single usage crops where a marula for example has multiple outputs. We would use the fruit, the nut, the bark and there would be a medicinal purpose introduced as well.

UP plant wall
Fully fledged plant wall for the UP Plant Science building

He feels we have been behind the times with indigenous planting (and he’s not against bringing in a few exotics). Some of his current plants in the Future Africa gardens include big-leafed spekboom (a different version of the plant that has become so fashionable in the past few years), Lowveld chestnuts that grow only around Mbombela and Barberton, the Pondoland coconut which is almost extinct in the wild, a horned cucumber which is farmed commercially in New Zealand and grows wild throughout Southern Africa, a makataan (wild watermelon) – and he can go on and on and give numerous ways of using these edible plants in innovative ways.

That’s exactly what the students were tasked to do. Research a menu, take the guidance from Sampson and then harvest what they need for their specific menu. What they have come up with is a truly innovative forward-thinking meal under the guidance of a student tasked with putting together a menu: Zandile Finxa. They also had to stick to a curriculum which not only introduces the different local ingredients but also a range of cooking methods.

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Makataan (wild watermelons) being processed Pictures: Hennie Fisher

It starts with an arrival snack consisting of a savoury Msoba (nightshade berry) panna cotta, aloe and spekboom salad and wild African sage (of which Sampson says, there are 27 different species in South Africa alone!).

The starter is a panfried Amadumbe gnocchi with African water chestnut mash (found with what will become a huge crop of waterblommetjies in the rainwater harvesting pond), roasted balsamic beetroot, guinea fowl with beetroot extract and biltong; followed by a mains of seared sous-vide Kudu loin with ting (sorghum) prepared risotto style, butter-tossed waterblommetjies, rooibos smoked carrots, creamed marogo and a venison red wine jus.

To end on a sweet note, there’s a chocolate and carob (of which the trees also grow at the university) macaron with milktart cream filling, amarula ice cream, horned melon and plumbago gell with a cinnamon and wild rosemary crumb.

Guests are then presented with a gift of glazed makataan (wild watermelon) and according to Sampson, this is a fruit of which the peel is considered to make the best watermelon preserve/jam and if you mix the fruit itself with pap, it’s lip-smacking.

UP Aloes on the Campus
The vibrant and revitalising aloe revolution at UP

The dinner will be pre-empted by a public lecture by Prof Herb Meiselman, an internationally known expert in sensory and consumer research, product development and food service who will deliver a public lecture on The influence of context/environment and psycho-graphics on product design and evaluation prior to the dinner for those who are interested.

Sensory and Consumer Research has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, moving from pure sensory research to a broad array of tests involving the psychology of the consumer and the place where testing and product consumption are done. While testing used to focus on the product being tested, it now includes the consumer and the environment.

 

 Booking details:

Date: 7 August 2019 Time: 7pm for 7.30pm Venue: Future Africa Complex RSVP and Enquiries: Prof Gerrie du Rand, 012 420 3547 or gerrie.durand@up.ac.za Tickets R300 per person.

 

Pietie and his Tannie Evita make #hetwo

 

Tannie Evita and Pieter Dirk Uys photo by Stefan Hunter
Tannie Evita and Pieter-Dirk Uys

It’s the great standoff between Pieter-Dirk Uys and his celebrity creation Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout. He tells DIANE DE BEER about the battle of sharp tongues and minds in #hetwo:

 

It’s difficult to imagine how actor/writer/director (and the list goes on) Pieter Dirk Uys (PDU) keeps producing fresh material – but a few minutes in his company, listening to those ideas almost tumble over one another, the answer is simple.

It’s his vocation, his passion, and PDU (with all his personae) is unique. I am reminded of a day decades ago when I slipped into a lecture hall at the then Pretoria Technikon (now TUT) and listened to him chatting to drama students.

Quick and nimble, thinking on his feet, and everyone eating out of his hand, I was quickly won over, but was certain that even though seemingly impromptu, this speech was rehearsed. It was only many years later that I understood how foolish I was. It’s simply the way he works and thinks and has fashioned a career not only brilliantly but with versatility and such longevity.

It’s always new as out pops yet another gag – whether it’s that of Piet Koornhof or who knows, decades later turned into Trump. He brilliantly used one of the Koornhof-driven apartheid laws and moved to British immigration officers to show the world for what it really is – up close.

Tannie Evita is one who just won’t let go. Ever since she slipped onto stage in 1981 (just short of four decades ago), she’s been misbehaving but as her creator explains: Because she doesn’t exist, she can’t be real and then, she proves them wrong.

PDU and his master creation have never come face to face on stage until now. As his publicity announces à la the LA Times: Uys dons false eyelashes and presidents listen. And even if that’s perhaps no longer a compliment, Tannie Evita’s long list of celebrity fans have been committed from the start and still remain true.

When he started impersonating her in 1978, it was illegal to have an opinion about anything political, so he reasoned, maybe an Afrikaans woman with an NP husband could spill the beans. “The fact that she was portrayed by a man dressed as a woman when cross-dressing was also illegal, could force the edge of the envelope. Or maybe that she was there for only one reason: to eventually make Nelson Mandela laugh. And she did.”

And many others.

PDU knows a good thing when he has one. The myth keeps running: “For nearly 40 years she has had to tolerate the impersonation of her by a local comedian,” reads the publicity blurb. “She tried to sue him for libel; she swore never to allow him into her life and yet, now in the 25th year of her democracy, she will be on the stage with Pieter-Dirk Uys at the same time.”

_Evita_Bezuidenhout_stand_up)
Stand up the real Evita Bezuidenhout

There’s a hitch though says PDU with a dramatic pause: “It starts with her death…” and sadly, you will have to go and see the rest for yourself because that will be the fun of #hetwo –  another of PDU’s gifts, titles, always read them carefully, as therein also lies a tale.

Know that it will be fresh and new but never clean – tralala. He recently picked up some flack because of Ouma Ossewania’s language. PDU is puzzled but not troubled. “The title is Ouma Ossewania Praat Vuil.” They have warning notices, age restrictions AND that title. Feels like old times as the wheels keep turning – round and round.

He has been put through the censorship wringer for most of his career. But that keeps challenging him. There are so many taboos, some where he will bend the knee but others he will keep challenging. In the apartheid years, the security police and the censorship board presented him with sold-out shows, but he’s not going to do things for expediency alone. Whatever happens, he deals with it. If people have a point, he will listen, if not, he will tell them that too.

That both PDU and Tannie Evita will have you giggling in #metwo while banishing the truoubles of the outside world is a no-brainer. While he is aware of everything in the entertainment basket, he’s never had a problem packing them in.

Apart from this latest creation, he currently has 10 shows in his repertoire. At the drop of a hat, he can pack up his wardrobe and go.

He has teetered around on those high heels, donned too many wigs and battled the elements whatever they might be on his own for decades. When people ask him about his swansong, he’s retorts  that every show might be one, he doesn’t know. But those who have watched him through the years will know that he has always claimed that he won’t stop.

He might do things differently, and with this coming face to face of PDU and Tannie Evita, he pulls yet another trick out of his shimmering stage hat. There isn’t an end to his inventiveness. He has done it his whole life, that’s how he rolls – to his audience’s benefit  and delight.

An artist isn’t always appreciated in his own land and PDU has been around so long, many tend to take him for granted. Don’t! Live theatre has become a luxury and many artists have had to turn to television or film just to pay the rent.

There are a few like PDU who knew from the start they would have to do it all. It is the only way he can achieve everything he wants to. “I’m writing a new solo play,” he says. “It has to be for one man only because I can’t afford to pay actors.” That’s the reality and has been for quite a while.

Bambi, Evita’s sister is on her way to Berlin for a few shows. There’s life in quite a few of his dames yet – and that’s how you do it.

And Tannie Evita shares her weekly comments on YouTube and Daily Maverick about the state of her nation, where her Evita’s Free Speech has gathered supporters from all the corners of the globe. Her 140 000 Twitter followers are also tuned in around the clock.

“My instinct drove me. I’m a terminal optimist which we have to be as artists because what we do is total madness,” he said last year when speaking to Marthinus Basson at a text market in Cape Town. This is what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be – on stage among people with passion and humour.

He also had a message for artists: “You have to be a unique talent. Don’t be a copy, we have enough of those. Be original. Don’t specialise, do everything. You must learn the alphabet of the theatre – everything. Read, watch documentaries by people who do what you want to achieve. Don’t be afraid to adore talent.”

And we do.

#HeTwo will perform in Johannesburg at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre from July 31 to August 18. The run in Cape Town is at Theatre on the Bay from 27 August 27 to September 14. Book at Computicket or theatres.

Director Lesedi Job Has Many Voices And She Wants Them All To Be Heard Equally

Lesedi Headshot (002)
Lesedi Job

Young black female directors are a rarity in the South African theatre landscape (and probably around the world) but Lesedi Job, who has been on a roll since her first production a couple of years back, tells DIANE DE BEER she is determined to change all that:

 

 

Representation is a rare commodity but one of the few positives in our crazy world is that in spite of protestations, that is changing – especially in the world of theatre, film and television.

It’s voices that we have missed up to now and while some of their stories have been told by others, this no longer holds true. Think the Central Park Five story When They See Us, Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, to mention a few.

It isn’t even the stories that always need to change, it’s the perspective, says director/actor/singer Lesedi Job who is directing her 7th play, The Dead Tinder Society, in just a couple of years. “When James (Ngcobo, artistic director at The Market) first mentioned that I should direct, I was hesitant,” she says.

But that’s then and since that time, she has been piling on the experience with very diverse plays and even a sublime stint in Canada where she mixed and worked with the best in the industry. If there was a common denominator it was quite tough social commentary, she notes.

This wasn’t necessarily a choice but as a newbie, what she found was that she was mainly directing local debut works, which appealed to her because there was no blueprint. She was gifted to find her own voice. She knows and believes that hers is an important voice.

Also because of her age, which already broadens her viewing audience. It’s precisely her youth (30something), that drives me to want to see her newest work to catch her perspective and where her head is at. The topic doesn’t necessarily interest or affect me.

Having said that, there is much to recommend in Job’s latest production running until August 25. The new South African play dealing with post-divorce Tinder-dating, The Dead Tinder Society, is about that difficult time in a 30/40something woman’s life when she must re-enter the dating world – and how to do that. “It might not be a funny time in a woman’s life,” says Job, but both the playwright and the director wanted to highlight the funny side of this one.

Ashleigh Harvey Headshot_ (002)
Ashleigh Harvey

Actor Ashleigh Harvey (who has recently left SA for Britain) switched roles in this her debut playwrighting effort.
As she’s left the country, they have been speaking via social media and having studied at the same time at Wits (in fact the two actors are also Wits alumni), they knew one another well which made the process much easier.

“Ashleigh gave me carte blanche on the actors,” notes Job and she decided that with her pick of both a white and black actor, the interracial dynamic would also come into play. And when she was auditioning, the thing that appealed to her most was an actor’s hunger for the role. “I know when I felt like that, I did my best work on stage,” she says.

Sharon Spiegel-Wagner is best known as a musical theatre performer, but Job points out that she studied straight drama. “I think she’s loving this.” She had worked with Mpho Osei-Tutu on When Swallows Cry and she knew what she was looking for was versatility because he had to play different characters.

She’s thrilled with the process because with a new script, it’s important to have everyone on board – leaving any preciousness to the side. And they have. Job insists that she brings all her attributes to the table. Her age, especially, because she believes that whatever age, a play will be approached differently.

Tinder2
Mpho Osei-Tutu and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner. Picture: Wessel Odendaal

Also with a play that has Tinder at its centre, even if that is simply there to get to the more emotional stuff, you have to know what that culture is about. “You’re required to think on your feet,” she says because time is short and money is scarce. But Job has learnt to work around all of that. For the moment, it’s a fact of an artist’s life – and won’t change in the foreseeable future. “It’s important that the actors also have a voice and that they’re allowed to connect to their instincts,” she says. “I encourage play and towards the end, pull it all together.”

The way Job has been pulled from one play to the next is impressive, with different people spotting that it quality. She is in the process of finding her artistic voice. Because all the plays have been different, it’s allowed her to explore and examine her craft. “For me it is really important that what I do has to work for the writing. It’s about the text,” she says.

And while it is not the end goal, for the moment, theatre is her teaching tool. As an actress (Raisin in the Sun, Fishes of Hope), she knew she wanted to direct – some day.

And she’s had wonderful guiding hands from James Ngcobo to Megan Willson who pushed her to find her own voice. “It was like freestyle dancing. She stood there and gave me the tools – me, myself and I.”

At the time it might have been frightening, but it’s easy to see and hear when she talks, that this is a woman with a mind of her own. She has a strong voice and one that has found many different stages.

Her biggest dream is to grow the industry, to keep the wheel turning. “I want to be part of that. This is my life – and for all my years to come.”

Flying high so quickly, she has also become a target of politics, but she shrugs that off. “South Africa is too small, we should be working together not against each other,” she advocates. “We all need each other.”

Once theatre is up and running, she would love to turn to film and television but knows that she will always return to the stage. “That’s where an actor exercises his muscle.” And finally, the thing she really really wants to do is to create and direct a fully-fledged South African musical. “I know we can do it!”

And while few know it, not only is she a remarkable actress (who still wants to act), she’s also a good singer. “Even as a voice artist, I’m brilliant,” she says almost shyly. “It’s all about telling a story.”

And in that vein, meet Jody Green, a 36-year-old recently divorced mother of two. With the help of her best friend Ray, she signs up to Tinder (the infamous mobile dating app) in an attempt to put her shattered love life back together again.

Watch and learn.

Tinder
Sharon Spiegel-Wagner

Tickets@R130  at Computicket

Running time: 60 minutes

Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Studio Theatre

Producers: VR Theatrical (award-winning Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Rock of Ages)

 

Madiba and Zelda Take a Last Long Walk

Zelda with Nelson MandelaA new Madiba documentary with Zelda la Grange at its centre will be screened on Sunday nights on kykNET at 8pm for the next 6 weeks. DIANE DE BEER attended the launch in Johannesburg:

 

“Memory is keen to build the country of our dreams,” said Sello Hatang, the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation who was hosting the launch of the new kykNET series Madiba: ‘n Uitsonderlike Roeping (Channel 144) starting on Sunday.

He witnessed the Mandela/La Grange relationship and embroidered on the special bond between these two people whose daily interaction reminded one of that between a father and daughter. He asked many people to remark on how they viewed the relationship, and the conclusion was always the same.

Also pointing to the relationship between this most unlikely couple, Nelson Mandela’s grandson Chief Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela noted how they were initially puzzled by this presence in their grandfather’s life, (“a white Afrikaans woman in our house!”) but the love between the two of them was remarkable. “We are here to say thank you Zelda.”

Zelda at Union Building's Nelson MandelaFor Zelda, it is a simple quest: “I bear witness to a man waking up every day, convinced that if he could just touch one life a day, he could change the world. I think history tells us he did exactly that. So I choose to believe that individual actions matter too.

She further believes she has an obligation as she was blessed and honoured with her first-hand experience of someone the world regards as one of the best men ever to walk this earth. South Africans who regard him as their own, absolutely agree.

She was also inspired by a Ted Talk by Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled The danger of a single story. “She says that our lives, our cultures are composed of many overlapping stories and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

“I, like so many others, have maintained over the last couple of years that our modern history is dependent on people sharing and writing truthfully about their experiences.”

For her it has been a self-imposed responsibility to add her version. She knows this isn’t a single story but a tapestry of stories. She wanted to capture her memories through the stories and talks between the two of them.

“When I first spoke to Carien (Loubser, the producer) about the idea of doing something in Afrikaans about Madiba’s life, my concern was that many Afrikaans people still only considered Nelson Mandela as the President that appeared at Ellispark in 1995, wearing a Springbok cap and jersey. But we know that there was much, much more to him.

“With the enormous privilege I have had, working for him for so many years, I realised that there is also a responsibility, a self-imposed need, to tell a story, to add to all the other stories, in my language.

Zelda with rural women

It is also a personal longing to understand the great man better by investigating his past. “I wanted to know what influenced Nelson Mandela to become the person I met in the Union Buildings in 1994, when I started working for him,” she says. And for that, she believes one has to go back – which is also the start of the series (6 episodes of 52 minutes each) – a visit to the region of his birth, where he grew up and where he was happiest after his release from prison.

“This documentary is not as a result of things that are being said,” she says in response to a question. “Twenty-five years after democracy nothing like this has been done in Afrikaans to educate people about Nelson Mandela’s life.  Why not? And should we wait longer or why has others not done so yet? And will it ever be done if I don’t do it for the Afrikaans audience?

“This is not my story, and this is not his usual life story. The episodes are about things I have personally wondered about over the years and no-one has looked into before. Research is never completed.

Zelda looking at the hills and valleys Mandela loved

Looking over the hills and valleys in the introductory episode, La Grange feels she can understand his way of life as she inhales the simplicity, the beauty, the silence of this place. “For me this is all very personal,” she said, “and I hope we have done justice to his legacy.”

She knows that anything being said out there has to do with the position she filled which caused resentment, not the person.  “It is not something I can apologise for either or a relationship that I have to defend. Madiba kept me in his service and paid my salary for 19 years.”

“He was never prescriptive about his legacy and how he should be remembered.  He consistently said that he would leave it to others to decide how he should be remembered. He did interviews in my presence for almost two decades and spoke on almost any topic in the world. It is for us to research his words to see how we can improve society with what he left behind.

“He is still very present to me personally because I choose to hold on to the ideals and principles that he stood for.”

The series is about actually visiting the places where he walked, moved, lived. “History denied me and many others the opportunity of understanding more about Madiba the person and the young boy. I wanted to know more about his mother and father, the events around their deaths and how that affected him. I have been fascinated with Justice, the man Madiba considered his brother, and son to the Regent that brought him up after his father passed on.  I wanted to meet him and share with him memories about his ‘brother’ and friends’ life.

“Who was the woman that gave him and Justice a lift from Queenstown to Johannesburg that changed the course of his life? And did she realize that she was a catalyst for something so important?  How did it feel standing in the Palace of Justice expecting to be sentenced to death? What does his old hostel look like or the garden he used to work in for Rev Harris etc. These things are topics of episodes to come. It’s about stories he told me of which I wanted to know more.”

She is strongly advocating that everyone tells their Mandela stories. “This cannot and should not be the only story. People should continue telling their stories and share first-hand experiences of him because the more information we have about Madiba, the stronger his legacy will be in 50 years time when none of us are around to tell people what he was really like or what he did.”

Zelda
Zelda la Grange

There’s a reason La Grange played such an important role in our history. Some of it is her approach. “I’ve learnt in life that you will never do anything that pleases everyone. You have to be personally convinced that you are doing the right thing and then be able to live with yourself.

It’s difficult to conclude anything with an introductory episode of any series but there are many spin offs to this endeavour. La Grange for example hopes that the area in the Eastern Cape and all the little places where Mandela left his mark will be revisited and reclaimed and hopefully resuscitate struggling communities economically.

She’s also intent on honouring all the forgotten heroes with whom Mandela maintained contact. “It is a single story,” she says. “But hopefully it will encourage others to tell their stories and solidify the history of a glorious human achievement that was Nelson Mandela’s life.”

No one knows and understands that better than Zelda la Grange who seems to have taken her long walk with Mandela forward – by sharing many intimacies with the world.

She has had to reclaim her life because for two decades, she dedicated everything she did to Nelson Mandela – and was honoured to. Driving her car down memory lane to the Union Building right at the start of this story, she reminisces about the extraordinary turn of events when she was only 23. “I can’t believe that they allowed someone so young into such a powerful space,” she says shaking her head.

That was the extraordinary chemistry between these two human beings – Nelson Mandela and Zelda la Grange. They could have been overwhelmed by the chasm that should have festered between them and yet, the one found something in the other that further clarified and enhanced their worlds.

She describes the feeling when he died as an “enorme leemte” (huge hole ) as she returns to the places he loved – for the first time after the funeral. “He always believed that the place you come from provides your anchor in life,” she says. “That is why I need to see what influenced him. We need his wisdom more than ever.”

Many South Africans will agree.

And she concludes: “If I touch one person’s life with this documentary by showing them what the places looked like and who the people were that shaped the character of the person that I met in 1994, I would have achieved my goal.”

And perhaps his wife Graca Machel should have the final word: “It didn’t matter whose company he was in, Pope or pauper, he would always remain equal to himself.”

  • Madiba: ‘n Uitsonderlike Roeping (Madiba: A Glorious Human Achievement) is directed by Carien Loubser and her team from Brainwave productions; research by Dr Schalk van der Merwe; and music by Karen Zoid 
  • The six part documentary will be broadcast in Afrikaans with English subtitles and will also be available on Showmax.