DIANE DE BEER
WHEN GIANTS WALTZ – 12 MONUMENTAL CONCERTS
Musicians: Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums)
Vocals: Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart
Costumes: Floris Louw
Venue: Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace
Dates: Until October 27; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15
No matter how little or how well you know this artist’s work, he surprises you.
How does he do it? I watched in wonderment and awe while experiencing the thrill of a performance that epitomises the excitement of live theatre – and it happens year after year.
It’s like a surprise party. Before the time he has much to say about what won’t be part of the concert, for example, the absence of a set, no more choreography, music that’s not accessible, no overarching story – he doesn’t speak much about what will be part of the show.
That’s Nataniël, someone who works imaginatively and creatively to catch his audience off guard, to always bring something new, not only with message as he moves with the times, but also with his evocative stage craft.
Following a hiatus last year after more than a decade of annual shows at this theatre, he’s back with a vengeance in a way specifically structured to catch you unawares. The costumes are bigger and even grander in conception than before with many gigantic garments filling the giant-themed landscape.
They are heart stopping, from a different era, in royal fabric and often bright colours, with the result that many are clamouring for an exhibition of his stage couture. The finer detail is difficult to catch from an auditorium.
There’s a costume in front of a backdrop which mirrors the fabric, lamps drop from the sky and moonscapes create a lunar atmosphere, a brilliant blast of red with a sign dropping from the heavens with the word blue – in fact colour plays a huge part as his storytelling both tickles and tortures as he is wont to do. There’s always a sting in many of his tales.
Then the performance and the show, the substance and the visuals, the stories and the songs with musicians of stature who all contribute to the overall artistry, take over.
From the entrance with Nataniël tripping onto stage draped in creature couture which immediately puts you in an imaginary place, this genius storyteller takes you a-wandering in his world of merriment intertwined with melancholy.
The language, the images he conjures up with his characters and the lives they lead, the way everything unfolds and the music which drifts between blues, jazz and a few pop classics – some original, others re-arranged – all come together sweetly.
Backed by three sassy vocalists or sometimes performing with only the sounds of a lone guitar as accompaniment, Nataniël has through the years found the music that works best for his voice and which accommodate and remark and elaborate on his stories. Sometimes he might google the saddest jazz song in the world (for example), which he then sings and when he can’t find anything for a particular story, he simply writes one.
He has never had a hit, he says only half-forlornly, but he shines when performing live, relaxed in his own skin, crooning with musos who know his style and get into the swing and rhythm (as well as a constant change of costumes for the band too) of his particular vibe. Everyone shines.
The show is presented in a series of montages, almost like paging through an album. The costumes and props do the visual fantasy and the stories fill in the details. These leave you giggling and gasping in turn as as he dips into the often hysterical lives of a woman who has arranged her life to accommodate the elephant in the room, another with blue ribbons whose knitting finds no conclusion and yet another whose names are constantly switched until she owns her identity.
He bookends the show with the history of giants and their place in the world and in conclusion, confronts those who feel larger than life with unchecked power, who believe they are mightier than the law and trample those they regard as lesser human beings and easy to destroy.
In each tale, once the laughter dies down, and just before the next song, the sadness of all the hilarity at what is sometimes the horrors we all encounter in normal living, hits you full on. But, with perfect timing, just before you succumb, a stunning new costume, or a song fills the empty space and we move on.
This is an artist who has perfected his craft. None of the normal rules applies. He has used a director on occasion but not for the last decade. He writes all his own scripts, guides his designer in the costumes he hopes to see, plans the lighting which sometimes only show the costumes in full light as the last note rises and designs the stage and anything he needs to accomplish a mood for a story and a song.
It’s transcendent what he achieves and in-between, he tours the platteland with shows and speaking dates, does cooking shows and TV series, and has just published his first book that didn’t first play on stage – in both Afrikaans and English.
It’s his imagination – unchecked – that never lets him down as he draws a world with his visually rich stories (in both English and Afrikaans) while entertaining in a manner few can achieve year in and year out.
When giants waltz, Nataniël says, the earth moves, which may be true. He doesn’t have to rely on size or stature, he gets everything moving with his gigantic creativity and imagination.
That’s the artist he is and it’s joyous to experience this kind of quality.