Aardklop 2019 made great inroads under difficult economic and social circumstances with women stealing the show on many of the stages writes DIANE DE BEER;
One of the problems that Afrikaans festivals battle with is inclusivity. It is less problematic in the Cape (Woordfees and Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees) because Afrikaans is a language spoken by different groups.
Less so in a place like Potchefstroom where English would be the spoken language common to most of the people. But that doesn’t mean trying to embrace the different communities should not be attempted.
You want a whole town to celebrate and share in the advantages of any arts festival. The arts have often been used as inspiration in this country – good times and bad – and can be used as a common language.
This year inroads were made with an art tour (for the second year in succession) to the local township Ikageng. Catching a specially designated shuttle, the Maboneng Township Experience, is the start of an inspired journey.
Founding director Siphiwe Ngwenya who instigated these art tours in Alex, Langa and Joburg previously, was also instrumental in the Ikageng initiative now being run by Seitebaleng Constance Legoale who has started specifically in one designated street where sometimes it is the house of the artist, other times, art is exhibited in specific homes. She believes this is just the beginning.
With Carien Brits from the ATKV’s language department as part of the experience, she kickstarts the tour on the shuttle with a talk on language, that spoken most widely in Ikageng (Sesotho) and the culture those making the journey will experience in the township where we are greeted by a local poet Tlholeho Lekena. He does a great introductory poem titled Grey, promoting the absence of white and black while rather focussing on a combination of the two – in essence an absence of colour.
From the different kinds of art, photographs, live poetry and writing put up on the wall raging about rape to the colourful grandmothers who are often the backbone of their self-made families, it is yet another small step to change township into town with none of the often-self-imposed barriers.
They were rewarded with an Aardklop award for ground-breaking work and hopefully the venture will go from strength to strength.
On the stages, it was the time of especially three women: Sandra Prinsloo, Antoinette Kellermann and Cintaine Schutte. Naturally there was more, but festivals always produce something extraordinary that stands out for different reasons.
Here it was about performance in three very different productions, yet each one with its own challenges and each one very specific to the production.
Prinsloo stars as Susan Nell in Kamphoer (on at The Baxter in Cape Town until October 26) , a piece that on paper looks tough to transpose to stage. But with the phenomenal Prinsloo working for the first time with insightful director Lara Foot (the production is currently playing at The Baxter in Cape Town), they workshopped the text with scriptwriter Cecilia du Toit, and produced something powerful for especially this time.
It’s a story of violent abuse during a time of war, someone whose rape earned her the damning title of camp whore, a woman left for dead at the side of the road, and finally, after many detours and gentle helping hands from concerned strangers, a chance at retribution.
For Prinsloo and Foot, the X factor was bringing this extraordinary woman to life. It’s not just about what happened to her, but how she experienced her life, something she had no control over. It is the way Nell (Prinsloo) takes you through her life, removes her skin layer for layer as she is violated and tries to rebuild and find a way to regain a measure of what could become a life once again.
It is the way she shares her story, the fragility of what becomes her existence, reaching a hand to help others but never escaping the trauma of her past that has such emotional impact even when she has lost that part of herself – she believes, forever.
If anyone wonders about rape, the lasting effects and the different ways it impacts individual victims, Nell’s story unleashes the horror in a way that removes any questions as it takes you to the core of what this defenceless woman had to endure.
None of this would have come across without the unique text, the choice staging and direction and Prinsloo’s towering presence as Nell.
She gives a performance of such devastating delicacy that the aftershock is shattering.
In the translated Tien Duisend Ton (which I originally saw in English), and here directed by Nico Scheepers with Cintaine Schutte and Albert Pretorius, the two lovers trying to make sense of their lives, Schutte’s desire for a child with Pretorius slightly dubious, what really matters is the performances.
And while Pretorius does what needs to be done, it is a blossoming Schutte’s performance that has you holding your breath throughout.
It happens at breakneck speed, almost in manic monologue fashion with Schutte’s inflection, her body language, the speed with which she reacts and charges her performance with emotional heft, that has you gasping.
Keep up and don’t lose her as she races off at a speed that’s sometimes exhausting yet always exhilarating. It’s contemporary, young and dealing with issues that many – young and older – struggle with on a daily basis, if they’re blessed to have that kind of luxury which this couple obviously have.
Schutte has been someone to watch from the start but this past year has obviously been her time and perhaps a new confidence is starting to emerge and colour her performances. No longer the new kid on the block and with a series of roles in her repertoire, the range, which is expansive for someone so young, she seems to have a newfound fire which is mesmerising.
And there’s so much more to come.
Then there’s also the grand dame of classical theatre Antoinette Kellermann as Elizabeth Lear in charge and in command of the luminous translation of Tom Lanoye’s Koningin Lear by Antjie Krog (on at The Baxter in Cape Town from November 7 to 16) . With the support of a tremendous, choice cast, she inhabits a woman whose power is waning on a business and personal level.
As the story goes, she decides to pass her wealth on to her heirs, but they have to declare undying love before the inheritance can be owned. And that’s when the fun begins.
It’s also the arc she is expected to play, the transformation from start to finish as she first emerges as the powerful matriarch at the top of her game. And yet, from the beginning, there are some unnerving hitches which Kellermann exposes with subtlety because of the crescendo she is aiming for at the end.
With this performance of extremes, she has the mammoth task of getting to grips with a text which drives all of her actions. But Kellerman, being the artist she is, takes on the challenge and triumphs magnificently.
Because of the ambition of the playwright, all the elements had to work together sweetly – and they do. That’s what makes this such a majestic experience.
And these are but a few of the elements and people that made the 2019 Aardklop swing – under difficult economic circumstances – proving once again that the arts do so much more than simply entertain – even as it pulls that off too.