Chantal Stanfield Tells and Does it Her Way In Koe’siestes to Kneidlach

DIANE DE BEER

Chantal Koe'siestes to Kneidlach
Chantal Stanfield in Koe’siestes to Kneidlach

FROM KOE’SIESTES TO KNEIDLACH

WRITER/PERFORMER: Chantal Stanfield

DIRECTOR: Megan Furniss

VENUE: Sandton’s Auto and General Theatre on the Square

DATES: Until June 23

 

When actress Chantal Stanfield asks someone about a word a family member of her soon-to-be Jewish husband used in her presence and she discovers it is derogatory on par with the K- or N-word, she is devastated knowing that it isn’t something she can just let go. She would have to tackle it head-on. But how? Well, by slipping it into a play naturally. Checkmate!

This is why it is such a savvy piece of writing. The above is the only section where she really goes quiet and addresses the elephant in the room in serious fashion, but then she flips it to the bright side with her winning solution to a devastating dilemma. That’s how she approaches her marriage, that of a Coloured woman (“some are comfortable with the word and others not,” is how she deals with that) with a Jewish man.

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Everything has a context and when she deals with this particular cultural clash we know it is loaded on many levels – one could say in today’s world but really, it seems to get worse by the day looking forwards and backwards. What she has done though is found a young man with a sweetly suburban family where the happiness of the individual is the most important driving force. Ditto for her Cape Flats family. That is rare – sadly. Usually families are much more intent on cultural homogeny and protecting their purity from outside influences rather than individual happiness.

She dives right into the religious aspects of the relationship as she joins her new boyfriend and his family for Shabbat, a Friday evening meal that begins with a blessing called kiddush followed by another blessing recited over two loaves of challah.

And while those in the auditorium obviously au fait with these cultures on both sides are collapsing all around, what she is dealing with and sharing is both funny – and not. But again, she has found a way to put it out there while being entertaining and allowing people to face their fears, laugh out loud and then discover what we’re doing to one another. She goes on hilarious rants pointing to all the humiliation dumped on her by yet another family member or friend from her soon-to-become relations who congratulates her on her well-spoken English and comments from within her own community that with this union, at least her children have a chance of better hair!

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Stanfield is both smart and talented. She plays with accents, languages, hairstyles, how to dress when and introducing friends to family. All of this is set to a musical soundtrack which is also clever because her other half is musician RJ Benjamin. They met because she was listening to his music while working in Turkey and started tweeting him which started the ball rolling – big time. That’s where the story begins, and the actress has found a way to delve into her life which affects so many people, while others can listen and learn.

While it deals with the world’s most single-minded problem, racism, something few want to grapple with, she has turned it into entertainment, making light of her love entanglement yet never diminishing the disastrous effects of racism on individuals. Her show invites people to listen and participate in a way that few of these discussions would.

Solo shows are tough to do. Not only are you the only one on stage, but when it is your story, the vulnerability issues are vast. But Stanfield has turned all of these to her advantage. Because she tells a story that is heartfelt and obviously hers, she makes no bones about that, it works. She delivers with ease on every level and ticks all the boxes with authenticity and honesty ahead in the race.

She has a smart director which you need in this instance when flying solo with your own story, and one who understands the world she is navigating. All of these combine to produce comedy with a conscience which is probably the best way to deal with issues that have been around forever yet desperately need to be dealt with – constantly.

June is Youth Month as Young Artists Tell their Stories and Share their Worlds through Art at the Pretoria Art Museum

Pictures: Mmutle Arthur Kgokong

 

June is Youth Month and DIANE DE BEER discovers the Pretoria Art Museum is celebrating that in style:

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Genesis II’Xhibition 2018 artists from left to right Asma Rahman, Bruce Bowale, Lerato Lodi, Phoka Nyokong, Kutlwano Monyai, Shimane Seemise (Curator), Mbhoni Khosa and Lesedi Ledwaba

 

Arriving at a walkabout of the Pretoria Art Museum’s Genesis II’Xhibition (on until July 1) on a Saturday morning I am intent on discovering a few things. Everyone living in Pretoria and interested in the art scene will know that the museum is not as lively as it once was, but they will also have to concede that there are many events and exhibitions happening that aren’t well attended.

This was exactly what happened at an exciting exhibition walkabout on Saturday morning. It features work by a group of young Educational Assistants at the Pretoria Art Museum. They are responsible for conducting guided tours and occasionally facilitate art-making workshops as part of the museum’s education and development.

This exhibition is the second installment since it was first implemented in 2003, when the first group of volunteers unconventionally proposed to the art museum to have their own exhibition as a benefit for giving of their time to the museum. The name Genesis was picked to signify the endless possibilities for the participating artists at the outset of their careers. And hopefully it will happen more regularly in future.

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Nicola Grobler with her art intervention backpack, challenging the young art students to explore and investigate their world.

But I digress, Mmutle Arthur Kgokong, the cultural officer: education and development who hosted the event had cleverly combined another exhibition currently on at the museum by inviting one of the participants to do a live art intervention. Not only did that make the other participants aware of the exhibition but it also introduced the students to yet another avenue in which to practice their art.

In the Public Domain: shifting boundaries between the private and the public, is an exhibition by lecturers at the University of Pretoria that runs until June 24 with a walkabout at 11am on Saturday June 23.  It’s worth popping in if you’re around in Tshwane.

The exhibition deals with the notion of shifting boundaries as thematic interpretation as a stimulus for debate, as this exhibition accesses individual artists’ interpretations of contemporary society.

And what Nicola Grobler did with the young students is introduce her on-going art intervention by bringing a backpack of discoveries in which she piqued the curiosity, with art also a part of the presentation, but more importantly a way of looking at the animal world without making the usual assumptions. And of course, wider implications.

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A life in art

But then it was back to the young artists and their work. It is impressive to witness the creativity of the TUT art students (and this is just a small section) and their participation in the art world. All of them are aware that this is not the easiest route to follow for a career, but some are doing extra educational studies which will allow them to combine their art with education, while others are already lecturing while finishing their 4th year and yet others are looking at an academic future. All of them are determined to keep at practising their art.

I was again struck by the way that art tells our stories and how we understand and get to know other people when we take the time to experience their storytelling whether on stage or in paintings. How would I have known about this young painter who grew up in a rural area who read himself silly as a youngster and thus started using scripts as part of his paintings? It doesn’t always mean something, but it certainly tells stories as he goes back to his childhood friends and family for inspiration.

Another of the young painters lives in the city centre and sometimes must push himself to attend class because his inspiration is where he lives. He currently uses water gathering as the focus of his work but also incorporates something he calls found scripts/words which he relates to found objects, but these are pamphlets on abortion or Mr Price sales slips, all which start having a conversation with the viewer.

And then there’s an artist who proudly speaks of the techniques he applies to his township etchings. This is provocative work and points to an artist who is someone to watch in the future, but there are quite a few of those in the room. Serious art collectors will know that this is where you catch them – when they’re starting out. Not only is this when you can afford the work but it is also a wonderful way to follow an artist you admire from the start of his career.

Has the Pretoria Art Museum changed these past few decades? Of course, it has. Which public museum or institution is not battling with funding and they can only do as much as their allotted moneys allow. I am also aware that many will be raising their eyebrows that the park has turned into a public space. Cars are being washed on the parking lot in front of the museum and in one corner of the museum grounds, a lively soccer match is being played.

Could it be tidier and more pristine? Perhaps? But I also liked the fact that this very public museum was being surrounded by real life – people earning a living and others taking a break by playing. Now all we have to figure out is how to get those using the public square into the museum. Mmutle Arthur Kgokong was surprised when I mentioned that the perception was that not much was happening. But he had to concede, the real issue was to get art lovers both present and potential to visit the exhibitions and events on offer.

In the meantime, the students and the lecturers are all out there showing their work. Take the time, it will enrich your life.

  • Pretoria Art Museum, Francis Baard and Wessels Streets, Arcadia, Pretoria.

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm

40 Years On, The Black Consciousness Reader Commemorates Steve Biko’s Murder: It’s Time

Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.
― Mark Twain

 

DIANE DE BEER

BC reader

 

 

The Black Consciousness Reader written and compiled by Baldwin Ndaba, Therese Owen, Masego Panyane, Rabbie Serumula and Janet Smith with photography and videography by Paballo Thekiso (Jacana):

 

 

 

 

This one truly caught me unawares. At first glance, I thought it was more than anything else an academic presentation and one I would dip into simply to write something about it.

But as I started with the topics that interested me,  like the arts and women, for example, I was completely drawn into a story about our country that I lived through and thus knew something about. But there was so much that I didn’t know or needed reminding about or simply had to be informed about by someone who had the facts.

Because of the world we live in now, one that is much more inclusive of all the people who are part of this country, many more players are familiar to me, which they wouldn’t have been in the past. We are also looking at events and people through a different prism as we look back as well as focussing on where we are right now. The stories are new and fascinating and further enhance and colour the intricate quilt that is South Africa.

Steve Biko is probably the name most South Africans associate with the Black Consciousness Movement in this country and much of what we knew and read at the time has been overtaken by his horrific death. We need to be reminded time and again about our heroes, often living all too short lives because of our violent past, but we also need to review their lives and why they were viewed with such fear by the Apartheid order.

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The Biko Series photographed by Paul Stopforth: Clockwise: Biko’s arm; Biko’s Hand; Biko’s Legs; Biko’s Feet; Biko’s Foot

There is a current revival of Black Consciousness in our country as political and student movements reconfigure the continued struggle for socio-economic revolution with this ideology at the forefront. It is also finding solidarity with similar movements around the world (the Fallists for example with #BlackLivesMatter from the US).

But the authors believe there’s still not enough known about the history of Black Consciousness in South Africa and having read the book and discovered how much I didn’t know, I can underline that belief fully.

The book was published in the year of the 40th anniversary of Biko’s murder which is already a startling fact. So much time has passed so quickly? The book is described as an essential collection of history, culture, philosophy and meaning through the voices, art, religion, writing, music, politics, solidarity and dreams of some of those who developed it in order to finally bring revolution to South Africa.

And with the backdrop of what we have just been living through this past decade, it is  so important to take cognisance and to know about our past, the dedication and determination, and the sacrifices people make to find and further solutions of the best way for South Africans to live as a people. If we don’t investigate and interrogate our past, how can we find a way to move more effortlessly and with some equality into the future?

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Clockwise: General-secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Malusi Mpumlwana. Pictured by Paballo Thekiso. He was a founding member together with his wife Thoko of the Black Consciousness Movement; Activist/artist Omar Badsha (Photo Media 24); Dikgang Moseneke and his wife Khabonina after he was admitted as attorney in 1978. (Gallo Images/Avusa)

“The decision to do the book came out of a group of us wanting to commemorate the 40th year after Steve Biko’s murder by examining the philosophy that underpinned his life. Not only that, Black Consciousness was the philosophy that was deemed so dangerous by the apartheid state that it had to be cut off at the knees and disabled.

“And, to some extent, this might also have suited the liberation movement in exile, predominantly the ANC, which was somewhat threatened by the rise of BC. The ANC, as we know more and more today, was not a supreme revolutionary movement catering to the rise of the black majority in every frame of South African life. It was an often-compromised, divided organisation containing some individuals driving their own interests.

“Its ideology was a bit messy and confused and it didn’t have this kind of fundamental philosophy even if the Freedom Charter was invoked. So, Biko’s death fascinated us from that perspective too.

“What was Black Consciousness that it was such a threat? Why did it – and has it continued – to grow around the world in different ways to the point that today, a movie like Black Panther can have a massive opening even as it celebrates the dominance, power and excellence of black life.

“We wanted to try and be an additional set of voices in the ever-expanding archive of blackness – not for the sake of it, but to really attempt to make a proper contribution,” writes Janet Smith, one of the contributors.

Although Biko is a strong and arguably the most recognisable figure in BC history, they also document many other significant Black Consciousness personalities and write about Robert Sobukwe, for example, who introduced a new style of leadership.

“True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness, above all a consuming love for one’s people.” How relevant does that sentence sound at this time, given what we have been through as a country and a people this last decade?

The book also points out that he refused to compromise the birth right of his people – land repossession. That was then…

Those two sentences reverberate in our current political landscape and point to everything that has been missing and what went wrong. It also captures in essence why this kind of book is so important and why it becomes much more than an academic treatise.

It held my attention throughout; I was fascinated with the people and the movement, felt I understood so much more about our past and what is currently happening, especially with young people who seem driven by the status quo, the adults speaking rather than taking action.

As as with so many movements around the world, it’s time.

Mad Nomad Reflects the Owner’s Passion

Nomad front
Mad Nomad

DIANE DE BEER

Mad Nomad, Shop 2001, Level 5, Mall of Africa, Magwa Crescent, MIDRAND

Open seven days a week.  Phone010 786 0250

 

 

The new Turkish restaurant Mad Nomad in the Mall of Africa is a passion project.

It’s been the dream of the Turkish-born, German-raised Tufan Yerebakan, now South African restaurateur, for as long as he can remember. And while he grew up on the Turkish street food so popular in Germany, he has always had his head and heart set on the real deal.

If there’s one word that slips into the conversation regularly, it’s authenticity.

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Mad Nomad with its artistic interiors reflecting its owner’s passion.

Mad Nomad is a response to his roots and is completely different to his two smart family restaurants, Kream, in Brooklyn and in the restaurant square of the Mall of Africa.

Now in his mid-40s, for Yerebakan, restaurants have been his business since he came to this country in the early 90s. Kream has a very specific feel and philosophy which Pretoria will recognise as part of the smart, traditional dining experience so loved in the capital city.

But Mad Nomad is something completely different. The name points to his journey across the world and the interiors – for which Yerebakan brought in a young designer who would push the boundaries – say what he wants to achieve with what he views as his special place. He wanted something that would make a splash – and it does.

With an open kitchen, as you enter the restaurant to your right, you’re immediately engaged with the food as chefs are busy baking and braaiing behind a counter that runs the length of the restaurant.

Nomad Interiors with art
Mad Nomad interiors

The seating space is divided into two areas differentiated slightly by look and, as with all Yerebakan’s restaurants, art plays an important role and is introduced when he spots something he wants to live with.

“I spend most of my time in my restaurants, so that’s where I show my art,” he says, and it’s wonderful to see how he displays local art in such a magnificent way. “I don’t really care what others think because this is a huge part of my life.” That’s who he is and what he wants to show the world – in full colour.

When you get to the food in Mad Nomad and that’s after all why you’re there, it’s the real deal. If anything, this was the most important thing for this restaurateur. He went to Istanbul to check the food at source and to find chefs who could help him establish a strong kitchen while training local chefs in the art of Turkish food.

Stuart Basaran Nomad
Suat Basaran, chef in charge at Mad Nomad

It’s an on-going process with a full kitchen of chefs to get things started. “I have to keep at least one here because you need someone to check on the authenticity,” he says.

Only a few months into the life of Mad Nomad and they’re still experimenting and distilling the menu. It’s impressive as it stands now yet while there’s no watering down of textures and flavours, they are still adding some new ones and removing recipes that aren’t quite pulling their weight.

It’s important that South Africans experience a truly Turkish feast and that’s exactly what you’re in for.

On the night, we were a table of five and served extravagantly from a menu that’s as wide in its approach as it is in narrowing down the Turkish flavours. As you tuck in, you cannot help but wonder about the dearth of Turkish restaurants in this country.

Nomad shawarma wrapped
Shawarma Wrapped: Thinly Sliced Beef and Lamb with Lettuce, Onion and Tomato, Hummus and Tahini with Tzatziki Sauce

Many people visit that part of the world and the Middle Eastern palate is one that’s familiar to us. It’s perhaps the most fun to approach this one as a group, which means you can order more and a greater variety which is really what this food is all about. Once you get to know the dishes better, ordering will be simpler but, in the meantime, ask the staff for guidance. They should be able to help.

Starters can be done meze style and these will include all the usual suspects including hummus, tzatziki, aubergine with yogurt or with tomatoes depending on the style you prefer, roasted red pepper, vegetarian vine stuffed leaves (dolma) with rice, onion, tomato, currants and olive oil, and Icli kofte (deep fried meatballs with walnut and spices covered in potato and bulgur wheat crust), falafel with hummus and flat bread, Urfe kebab (starter version of minced lamb served with bread) and the list goes on.

But you could also, as we did on the night, go for a selection of pide, the Turkish version of a pizza which comes in many different versions. It’s a thin crust: with mozzarella cheese, beef mince and diced onion, tomatoes and peppers, or fillet cubes and mozzarella cheese or sucuk, a cured sausage made with lamb or beef and flavoured with garlic, cumin and red pepper flakes. There’s also a vegetarian option with mixed vegetables or with spinach and feta. Nomad Doner, which some might recognise, is another option with thinly sliced beef and lamb, onion, parsley and mozzarella. But keep the portions small or the mains won’t be an option and you want to try some of their finger licking meat. You won’t resist.

Nomad pide
Mince & Mozzarella Flat Bread/ Folded Option World Famous Turkish Pizza with Beef Mince, Diced Onions, Tomatoes and Peppers

The shawarma options aside for the moment, their kebab selection is excellent and again, it’s best to check the various kinds ranging from the Iskender (the name of the original creator), Adana, Urfa or the Beyti Sarma. There are also fillet cubes on a skewer, chicken chops that are quite spectacular, lamb sis kebab or a Turkish-style filled pasta called Manti. A mixed platter on the first visit (R200) is perhaps the best way to go because of the riches the menu offers. It can be overwhelming.

The wine list is also something that has been given special care with many other liquor choices.

What this expansive selection on all fronts means is that there’s something for everyone and for us, the flavours of the Middle East were what lingered the longest. That and the superior quality of everything on the plate. We did get to dessert, but I must be honest, by that stage, my palate took some time out. I do remember that even though the rice pudding and kazandibi (famous Turkish milk pudding) were both there, Tufan spoke about their sweet selection and that they were still experimenting.

It’s a sweet spot and even though the Mall of Africa seems vast, once you’ve checked your bearings, it’s easy to find. Because this is this restaurateur’s dream child, it’s going to keep evolving as he keeps shaping and streamlining.

Already this is a huge plus on the Gauteng cuisine landscape and beckoning to be explored.

 

 

BBC Earth’s Civilisations and Sci Bono’s Wonder of Rock Art showcase Humanity’s Urge to Create

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Pretoria artist Celeste Theron was commissioned to paint a mural for the children celebrating the imagery from Lascaux and Southern African rock art.

It’s an amazing and almost startling yet sparkling thing that there’s been an accidental converging of the Sci Bono exhibition Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Caves and Africa with the broadcast of the new BBC series Civilisations on DStv’s BBC Earth. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look:

 

The Sistine Chapel of prehistory meets the Cradle of Mankind, proclaims a programme presented to the press at the first viewing of these amazing ancient works of art that tell us stories about prehistoric mankind.

It is exactly that reference that makes the exhibition Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Caves and Africa such an exciting one. To listen to Dr Tammy Hodgskiss-Reynard, curator of the Origins Centre or Dr Sam Challis, senior rock art researcher at the research institute, their excitement about the exhibitions makes you pay attention to what you are about to see.

And the importance of the exhibition is highlighted when one understands that even Dr Oliver Retout, CEO of the Lascaux Exhibition has never been in the real caves, where no one is allowed anymore because of their fragility. As he speaks about the originality we are about to see, the replica of a part of the cave which was unveiled and specially made for this exhibition, it becomes clear just how exciting this coming together of African and European rock art from different timescapes is for local viewers.

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Everything is ready for your own rock art imagination to play.

It’s also a great chance for rock art specialists to enthuse the public, especially children, where a large part of the focus is directed with many interactive activities to draw them into the exhibition and to help with their understanding. In fact, you even get to make your own rock drawing and your handprint can forever be part of a mural specially created for this exhibition.

But what was also clear when being taken through the exhibitions by the experts, it is very important to participate and to pay attention to every written word and all the interactive games – whether you are a child or an adult. It is an exhibition that asks for engagement if you want to fully benefit from what is on display. They make it easy, but you must get in there and pay attention – or don’t bother.

Also, if this is something you are interested in or want to know more about, take note of the many talks part of a public lecture series that are being presented during the timespan (from May to October) at the Sci Bono centre starting from 6 to 6.30pm.

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Dr Oliver Retout, CEO of Lascaux Exhibition talks about the miracle of this exhibition where two continents meet.

Here’s a list: 100 Years of rock art research in Mozambique; challenges for the interpretation of Southern Africa prehistory by Décia Muianga on June 14; The  Mind in the Cave: The book behind explaining Lascaux by Sam Challis on June 28; Hunter-gatherers and herders in South Africa: From final to ceramic LSA in the Limpopo basin by Iris Guillemard and Karim Sadr on July 3; Geo-archeology of Ethiopean pottery by Jessie Cauliez on July 17; On the origins of modern cognition and symbolic thinking – roots in the Middle Stone Age by Lyn Wadley on July 19; Rock Art in Uganda by Catherine Namomo on July 26; San religion and rock art by David Pearce on August 2; The Cutting Edge: Khoe-San rock-markings at the Gestoptefontein-Drieskuil engraving complex by Jeremy Hollman on September 6.

It’s an extraordinary event in the heart of Gauteng which we should all be excited about and one that will excite prospective archaeologists in our midst.

While this is happening, the new BBC Earth series Civilisations (the title is a reference to the series written and presented by Kenneth Clark almost 50 years ago and screened in the very early years of the SABC locally, is currently being broadcast on DStv.

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The three Civilisations presenters:, David Olusoga, Mary Beard and Simon Schama

Dropping in on a live interview (on YouTube) with the three presenters, Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga, you will discover that this one is an attempt to create a series that is of our times. Just as Kenneth Clark is described as a man of his times which watching that first series will surely show you, the latest one simply by having three presenters already has a much larger and, especially important, wider scope.

In recent years, criticism of Clark had to do with his narrow focus, more specifically only on Europe, and even then, Spain was given a miss – to the great consternation of a country that takes great pride in its art, as it should if you think people like Picasso, El Greco, Goya, Dali and the list goes on.

But that was then and Clark being a man of his time is also credited with opening a world of art to the public. He was, for example, as the head of the National Gallery during World War 2 (at the time only in his 30s!), the one who realised that art would be a great escape for Londoners during those horrific times.

But that was then, and in the new series Schama takes us from the Paleolithic cave painting to the studio of contemporary artist Anslem Kiefer. Olusoga has expertise in Empire and military history and spotlights the relationship between global cultures while looking at the notion of progress. As an eminent classicist, Mary Beard investigates the way we see ourselves in art and at the relationship between art and religion by taking examples not only from Roman and Greek art but also material from China, India and Mexico.

The 9-episode series is something extraordinary and dovetails neatly with the above-mentioned exhibitions, again allowing different parts of the world to be compared while we witness above all why art matters. Art, they believe, is a measure of our humanity and that is what they set out to show – magnificently.

For all three it was important for this follow-up series (this time adding the important s at the end of Civilisations) to go to great lengths to find the right conversations for a new generation.

And as both the exhibition and the series show, humanity simply has an urge to create – come what may.

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Some of the signage at Lascaux which might be unlocked by someone visiting the exhibition.
  • Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Caves and Africa at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre at the corner of Miriam Makeba and Helen Joseph Streets in Newtown until October 1. For more detail, check http://www.scibono.co.za.
  • Civilisations is up to episode 3 and broadcast on Mondays at 8.30pm on BBC Earth, (184). You will probably find the earlier episodes by streaming.

 

Artists Karin Hougaard and Jaconell Mouton Work with Artistic Abandon

 

DIANE DE BEER

Karin Hougaard Pieter J Rosseau
Jaconell Mouton and Karin Hougaard. Picture: Pieter J Rosseau

GREPE (Selections)

ARTISTS: Karin Hougaard (performer, singer, composer and lyricist), Jaconell Mouton (keyboard and piano player)

DIRECTOR: Mari Borstlap

VENUE: Atterbury Theatre at Lynnwood Bridge

DATE: May 27

 

I wasn’t really thinking of writing anything about the show simply because it was a one-off performance and apart from the seasons previously performed at the recent Woordfees and Klein Karoo Arts Festival, this was the last one to be showcased locally.

But, Karin Hougaard is such an exceptional performer, it felt wrong to ignore this production which was such a joy to experience while witnessing the exuberant evolution of a true artist.

The genre or niche – Afrikaans music – she performs in has been restrictive for many because like in so many art forms, once the public latches onto your persona, they’re not too happy if you change. But what happens to an artist with those kinds of restrictions? It’s almost like a kind of self-censorship kicks into action and a performer’s vision becomes stagnant after a while. That’s one example.

Karin Hougaard1
Karin Hougaard. Picture: Hans Mooren

Being an artist even in today’s challenging economical landscape is all about taking risks and that is what Hougaard exemplifies and why she is so exciting to watch. It’s not an easy thing and once you have hit the marks, it is often more comfortable just to stick to what you – and they – know. But not for Hougaard, fortunately. And she benefits as an artist while also nourishing  the longevity of her career because one must see growth at some point. Even the most ardent fan needs some kind of movement.

She’s a dramatic artist, as much an actor as a singer, so what she gives you with each song, is an interpretation with her whole body and soul. It’s overwhelming and quite marvelous to witness.

It’s also extraordinary to experience someone who seems so comfortable in her own skin that it’s almost easy for her to share her life and where she’s at in this present time. The distance – with her move to the US a few years back – might also give her the space to make these brave choices. But then she’s always been an artist who takes those leaps of faith.

Karin Hougaard - Sonskyn Fotografie
Karin Hougaard: Sonskyn Fotografie

It is where she finds herself now, the issues she grapples with, the songs including the much loved but well-worn Me Quitte Pas, Vlakkeland and Padam which she makes imaginatively

her own, but also her own compositions and poetry, in writing and in song, that cover so much in so many different genres.

With a performance that’s as compelling as it is compulsive, she has cleverly chosen Jaconell Mouton as her accompanist, someone who stands as her equal and adds further to the depth of the performance. The way they interlink and keep the narrative flowing without missing a beat – on piano or in song. The way the music is varied, beats different rhythms, tells stories as intimate or as global as the topic demands, all of that turns this into a show all about emotions.Karin-Hougaard-Grepe-7-1

It is sad that even though the language is used magnificently, it also prohibits many from understanding and thus attending. She is an artist that would appeal far more widely if people only knew.

And if all this sounds just too much, it is the simplicity of the presentation yet done with so much artistic integrity that it so captures the imagination and transports you to so many different worlds, spaces and places. With backdrop and multimedia to enhance the imagination, our barefoot diva is fully present with her audience as she steps into each song, each poetic conversation, never going off script and yet, establishing a narrative that is heartfelt and music that embraces completely.

It was a magnificent encounter.

Au revoir.

 

 

 

Taking a Walk on the Wild side in Avenue Q with a Cast and Director with Swing

Pictures: Christiaan Kotze

Avenue Kate Monster and Princeton
Kate Monster (Ashleigh Harvey) and Princeton (Ryan Flynn) get up close and personal.

DIANE DE BEER

 

AVENUE Q

DIRECTOR:  Timothy le Roux

CAST: Ashleigh Harvey, Ryann Flynn, Daniel Geddes, Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, grant Towers, Rebecca Hartle, Nieke Lombard, Graeme Wicks, Songezo Khumalo

PUPPET AND SCENIC DESIGN: Kosie Smit

MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Dawid Boverhoff

VENUE: Pieter Toerien’s Main Theatre at Montecasino

DATES: Until July 15

 

Especially in musical theatre where so much of what we see is stuff we’re familiar with, Avenue Q comes like sneaky fresh breeze – cool as a cucumber.

It’s the production – a musical play of puppets steered by a sassy group of actors – that keeps this one turning on a dime as they tell a story of disillusionment as they leave their comfy enclaves of learning to find their way in the world.

It’s wise as the ages but with a youthful exuberance which is firmly stamped into every slinky move made and musical note warbled as they push a story as cynical as they come. And yet, at the heart, it’s all marshmallow soft as the boy and girl walk off into the sunset.

Avenue Q Gang
The Avenue Q gang in full swing.

Of course, a few things are turned on their head, as this one is wont to do. The sex and the talk (about sex, race and gender mostly, but also about finding a purpose) are more raucous and slurpy as the puppets find their inner soul, and the talent pops all the time which it needs to do in a show where singing a song is taken to new levels – and that’s part of the fun.

It’s a show that asks you to engage from the start and once you’ve taken that leap, it’s a treasure trove on many diverse levels.

It starts with the originality, which keeps it current because of the themes but also because of the way it is presented. It’s about the puppets and the way they look and perform with the help of a cast who have found hidden skills and turn every performance into so much more than just a sing-and-dance number.

Even though they make the puppets come alive, the actors never disappear and what they achieve is part of the magic of the show. The audience is engaged in a way that adds to the excitement and exuberance.

You can sit back and smile your way through this one and wallow in the wonder of local talent, beginning with Timothy le Roux, who has put together a show that is razor sharp in the tiniest detail. And it has to be precisely that, or it wouldn’t work. If you can’t buy into the premise, you will lose much of the magic but when you do, it’s a wild and joyous ride. That’s what Le Roux has skilfully managed in near-miraculous fashion.

Avenue Geddes as Nicky
Two actors (Nieke Lombard and Daniel Geddes) manipulate Nicky the Slacker.

But then there are the puppet masters and that’s exactly what they are. They don’t dominate their puppet, yet they become part of the experience in a way that adds depth and delight to every character. It’s incredibly charming to witness and part of the marvel is the way each one on stage pulls it off and adds layer upon layer to the show.

Starting with the main guy and his gal or it could be the other way round – it’s absolutely that kind of show. Everyone is embraced whether you’re a slut or a Republican senator, there’s place for you on Avenue Q, a neighbourhood where the other becomes just another of this tightly-knit community of oddballs.

Avenue Ashleigh as Lucy
Princeton (Ryan Flynn) and Lucy the slut (Ashleigh Harvey) with Trekkie Monster (Daniel Geddes) behind.

But back to the gal (Harvey) and her guy (Flynn). Harvey has done her musical rounds and yet, it’s as if this one fits her like it was written for her. Her performance is rich in emotion, and with her singing simply extraordinary. Her main character, Kate Monster, steps aside when she’s slutty Lucy, but sometimes you have both characters on stage and that simply defies description, the deftness so delicious. She simply soars into the stratosphere with this one.

Avenue Ryan Flynn as Rod
Rod The Republican Senator (Ryan Flynn).

And that goes for Flynn too, who is starring in his biggest musical role to date and simply embraces every challenge. Also flicking between Princeton, the main guy on the lookout for purpose and a recent college graduate, and Rod the Republican senator, who is battling his rigidity, Flynn simply grabs hold of each one’s personality – sometimes at the same time.

It’s exceptional stuff and part of the hilarity of watching this one is revelling in the star power that emerges. The rest of the cast, each and everyone – from the gruff Trekkie Monster (Geddes) to Coleman, desperate to be the comeback kid (Mahaka-Phiri) – they all have to deliver or it just won’t have the zing.

It’s the tiniest gem this one but if you are blessed enough to catch the shine, it brings a new musical happiness that celebrates being different – not just as people but also in performance.

That’s rare in musical speak!

A Battle of Demons and Wit in Visiting Mr Green in a Classic Generational Clash

DIANE DE BEER

Pictures: Philip Kuhn

Visiting Mr Greens

 VISITING MR GREEN

DIRECTOR: Alan Swerdlow

CAST: Michael Richard, Roberto Pombo

VENUE: Auto and General Theatre on The Square, Sandton

UNTIL: June 10

 

It’s a play that feels as familiar as comfy slippers in chilly times. There’s a classic old-time feel about it and depending on your view of the world and how you prefer your theatrical ventures, this will determine whether you are challenged or simply entertained.

Ross (Pombo) is visiting the elderly Mr Green (Richard) because he has been ordered by the court to do so, once a week, for the next six months after being found guilty of reckless driving and almost injuring the old man. He, however believes Mr Green walked recklessly in front of his car. “I might have been going too fast,” he concedes.

But that’s basically how the story goes, which then allows the two men to battle their demons as they get to know one another. It’s uncomfortable stuff because they inhabit such different planets but that’s also what adds fuel to this fire.

From Richard’s first shuffle into the room, it’s clear he has fashioned his character in a way that inhabits not only the way he speaks but also moves – even eats. His is a crotchety old-timer who has no one who allows him any soft landings, so he simply keeps bulldozing ahead. Loneliness is how he operates even though Ross doesn’t believe that’s good enough.

visiting1

Ross on the other hand is also struggling with his lifestyle but that’s not self-imposed even though many – Mr Green included – would want him to believe it is exactly that.

It’s the acting that makes this one stand on its toes from Richard who seems to know this old codger well as he fires a series of salvos in every conversation. He’s at odds with any conversation with Pombo’s Ross who must work diligently at paying his dues for his bad behaviour on the road.

And the young Ross swings from exhaustion to exuberance as he is struck sideways by Mr Green’s thoughtless swipes and then sees an opportunity to atone for his own thoughtlessness. Pombo adds zip to his youthful portrayal of a troubled young man who is trying to kickstart and navigate a now stagnant life.

It is the battles that are fought in families – often senseless – that adds grit to Visiting Mr Green and we all recognise that these are still too prevalent today. Even in a world with the Guptas almost upending a country or Trump causing mayhem in Jerusalem, mothers are still driving their daughters dilly when they gain too much weight or a family crisis ensues when someone dares to slip a toe out of the closet.

The play didn’t get me excited even if the performances did. It is good to see an old hand like Richard tackle a character he has done in different guises before while Pombo, who is more a physical theatre guy, can play as straight as he needs to play to serve the play. Personally, I would have liked to see the issues moved into the new millennium with the current world as the backdrop. If it’s all still playing out as they are in this play, that in itself would say something.

One request would have been to cut the interval. The play isn’t that long, and it would have benefitted and exacerbated the monotony of the visits and they way they grind each other down, without the break.

Energetic Roberto Pombo Excites With Theatrical Onslaught

Actor and theatre maker Roberto Pombo is one of the most exciting young talents around and the productions he has been part of tell the story.

DIANE DE BEER chats to him about his two latest outings with Visiting Mr Green opposite Michael Richard soon to open at Sandton’s Auto and General Theatre on the Square followed by a more personal encounter:

KidCasino - kyle prinsloo
Picture: Kyle Prinsloo – Jodi Barnard and Roberto Pombo in kidcasino.

 

It’s as if 2018 is determined to test actor Roberto Pombo by throwing as many different genres at him as possible.

Early in the year, he was part of the exciting Sylvaine Strike/Sam Shepard production Curse of the Starving Class (also headed for Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre later this year). This was followed by a physical theatre production – a collection of clowns in Babbelagtig at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival – Visiting Mr Green is next on the list and then a short season of Kidcasino before the show is off to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown at the end of June.

Concluding his initial Wits studies (and a few shows, including History Boys and a stint as Jemma Kahn’s sexy assistant in We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants: Seven Deadly Stories for Consenting Adults), he studied another three years with Giovanni Fusetti of Helikos International School of Theatre Creation in Italy, a man who has coaxed hundreds of clowns into the theatrical world through movement-based theatre.

Babbelagtig
Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht – Dean Balie, De Klerk Oelofse and Roberto Pombo in Babbelagtig.

That’s when he knew he wanted to be more than an actor, he also wanted to be a theatre maker. And at present he is also furthering his academic studies with a master’s focusing on the buffoon and the clown. “I’m interested in using this form driven by personal narratives,” he explains, and is delighted with his studies. “I’m all into academia now!”

Working with the creators of the cult hit Father, Father. Father!, they (Toni Morkel directing while Joni Barnard joins him on stage)  are reviving kidcasino for Grahamstown’s National Arts Festival with a short pre-run at Maboneng’s POPArt at the end of June. “The work is satirical and surreal,” says Pombo and they’re targeting the underbelly of the casino world. While mom is addictively gambling away, the kids are up and running while managing their own sugar high!

It’s all about the obsession with winning and the endless indulgence of compulsive gambling. Describing as dark comedy they promise to entice and unnerve.

Visiting Mr Green
Picture: Philip Kuhn – Michael Richard, Alan Swerdlow and Roberto Pombo

This is a second time round for Visiting Mr Green  director Alan Swerdlow with Richard and Pombo, who both starred in his earlier History Boys. He describes this one as much more than just a treacly sweet story. “It struck a universal cord,” he says, and it has never been out of production since its first production in 1996 having toured 46 countries in 23 languages.

The writer Jeff Baron told Swerdlow that since he created the two characters, Mr Green (Michael Richard) and young corporate exec (Roberto Pombo), they’ve taken on a life of their own. They’re no longer his. “I’ve had to let them go!”

“It’s that age-old clash of generations,” says Swerdlow as he talks about the two men who are deeply unpleasant when first we meet them. “Reaching out to one another, they find their humanity. But at first glance, we don’t really want to get to know them.”

That’s what makes this such an interesting piece, yet a tough part for Pombo. “I know I just have to jump on that train and ride it,’’ he says. “We need stretching as actors, but I find that so stressful.”

Yet watching him and Richard flinging words at one another, you know they will be up and away once the play is in full swing. “They’re dealing with their demons,’’ says Pombo who as Ross is visiting the elderly Green because he has been ordered by the court to do so after being found guilty of reckless driving and almost injuring the old man.

Visiting Mr Green1
Picture: Philip Kuhn – Michael Richard and Roberto Pombo in Visiting Mr Green

He describes the text as loaded and layered. There’s a lot going on because the two characters are both Jewish, living in Manhattan and because of the generational difference, their points of view come from different planets. “They’re prickly and both wear blinkers,” adds Swerdlow but slowly they find one another – with empathy.

Swerdlow is excited by the young Pombo because of his understanding of the nuances of text. “Even though his strength is movement based, he is an actor with extraordinary insight and a great grasp of text.” And this pairing with the accomplished Richard who has a wealth of experience behind him, is a no-brainer. Swerdlow is also fascinated with the timeline and how things have changed since the play first premiered. “There’s a unique perspective now.”

Once he takes a deep breath, Pombo realises he will relax, and he understands his current heightened state is part of the theatrical ritual. In fact, most of us have those hurdles we must jump in our careers as we do tasks we know we’re up to, yet find challenging. “It’s the nature of the beast,” he admits determined to enjoy the experience.

Roberto Pombo and Inge Crafford-Lazarus
Picture: Antoine de Ras – Roberto Pombo and Inge Crafford-Lazarus in Sylvaine Strike’s Curse of the Starving Class

With his track record of attempting different ventures and ongoing studies, growth is what drives him.

That and telling stories!

  • Visiting Mr Green runs at Sandton’s Auto and General Theatre on the Square from May 15 to June 10.

Actors Dawid Minnaar and John Kani Truimph in Fugard’s The Train Driver

Dawid Minnaar and John KaniPictures: Lungelo Mbulwana

DIANE DE BEER

THE TRAIN DRIVER

PLAYWRIGHT: Athol Fugard

DIRECTOR: Charmaine Weir-Smith

CAST: John Kani, Dawid Minnaar

LIGHTING: Mannie Manim

SET AND COSTUME: Thando Lobese-Moropa

VENUE: Mannie Manim Theatre at Joburg’s Market

UNTIL:  June 3

 

THERE’S a reason certain actors gain extraordinary reputations and to have two of them in a Fugard face-off on stage, is something to cherish.

The Train Driver while written post 2000 and only performed locally once before, is classic old-time Fugard, a story that might seem without much flesh and yet, in the South African context, every sentence is layered with pain and memory. The Train Driver is written in the familiar Fugard idiom which is so much part of his local stories, the way he teases and twists with his tale, coaxes it to unfold and doesn’t take a breath until he deals that final blow.

Minnaar in repose

Weir-Smith first wanted to know if she could relate to the story before accepting this gig – and how she honours the text is part of why it plays with such honesty. It cuts to the bone with no adornment, and very little to detract other than the two men sharing their story – and in the South African context in the past and still today, the stories of two men with similarities, yet the colour of their skin denies them any clear thinking or reaching out. The damage which is ongoing is too much to bear.

Her only nod to any embellishment is a very selective use of music, especially at the end, when the most exquisite and heart-wrenching sounds of the Pretoria Palisander Choir with Ukuthulu  (Prayer of Peace) give expression to everything that’s gone before.

But royal kudos should go to the two actors who took this one and turned it inside out to tell a story of its day – looking back and to the future with a clarity that literally doesn’t leave a stone unturned. Minnaar as the train driver in search of Red Doek, the woman who stepped in front of his train with a baby on her back, seemingly has the meatier role, and yet, it is also Kani as the foil, the one listening with particular intent, who pulls us into the eye of the storm.

John Kani1

As the intruder in this sacred space, Minnaar’s Roelf is completely unaware (as he would be in this context and simply bulldozes ahead in search of salvation. Kani’s Simon is simply someone who happens to be in this space, but Kani the actor makes sure everyone watching knows exactly how Simon feels about this white man who has crossed so many lines without any knowledge or sensitivity of where he is or what he’s doing.

It’s an intriguing tug of war, cultures and humanity as Visagie is battling his personal demons while Simon is perplexed by this spectacle that is taking over his graveyard. “There are only black people here,” he exclaims, because that should make the white man go away.

Minnaar and Kani

In his own unique way Fugard has always held a mirror to his South African people, in particular by telling a story that he knows we will understand without any explanation. Roelf (or Roelfie as Simon prefers calling him) has walked into no-man’s land because of the colour of his skin but he also endangers Simon because of how this encounter will be viewed by those watching and claiming this space.

And while Roelfie rants and raves about his life and how it has been driven to nothing by this unnamed woman, Simon watches, listens and waits. What he is hearing from this white man is not strange to him. His whole life has been determined by the ways of others and it is happening over again and again and again.

From the start, Minnaar goes at it full steam and he has to do that to allow for the full impact of what Fugard wants to unleash. It is the small story between these two men that looms large in their lives – because that’s all they have. That has always been Fugard’s way, to let the unseen little people show the way.

With Minnaar back on the Market stage (the Mannie Manim theatre aptly) and together with Kani, it is a glorious meeting of theatre genius –  all in search and to the benefit of the story.

Exactly what Weir-Smith was hoping to achieve.