DIANE DE BEER
Woordfees 2020 was the last public event which made it safely through before our current lockdown – and only by the skin of its teeth.
But the blessing for those of us who were privileged enough to be there for the full festival from March 5 to 15 was huge. The prize-giving event was planned for that final Sunday night – the only festivity which didn’t sail through because at that stage the full extent of the tragedy of Covid19 had landed.
Following the lockdown, all the judging panels swung into action and on April 7, the results were announced in a live event on Facebook (see below), I didn’t even know that was possible.
But it also gave me the chance to reflect on my highlights:
As part of the oversight panel convened by Gillian Mitchell and including Paul Boekkooi, we were responsible for the categories Best Upcoming Artists(s) and Best Festival Production. It meant that for the first time in ages I was fortunate enough to see productions across genres – and what a delight that was.
As best production, Die Poet, Wie’s Hy became an early benchmark that was never surpassed. It’s as close as you can get to perfection on a live stage.
Produced by De Klerk Oelofse with writer Adam Small’s poems at the heart of the performance, this was a Dean Balie passion product – and so much more. It’s theatre at its richest when all the elements fit seamlessly.
It was the sensibility, the music, the poetry, the setting and the performances but more than that, it was the magnificence of Balie’s performance throughout. He understands every word of Small’s poetry and made it sing – whether in anger, poignancy or exaltation.
He has done beautiful work in the past but this has elevated him to another level. It was the kind of performance which will make people view him in a completely different light – and he has always been rated.
Watch out for this one down the line. It should tour the country. It was also justly rewarded with the Best Performance: Contemporary Music – Music-driven Production.
The other category in which I was involved was the Best Upcoming Artist, which was awarded to René Cloete (Huppelkind). It is a Marthinus Basson children’s production which stole the hearts of many because of the way it was presented and performed, showing that you can make theatre for even the very young with enough artistry, imagination and enchantment to truly capture the compulsive nature of good theatre.
And with a cast including Joannie Combrink and Stian Bam, the young Cloete announced herself as someone to watch in the future. Not only is she a compelling performer, she also lights up a room with her enthusiasm and energy and promises to be an exciting future prospect.
Other highlights on the theatrical side included Nicole Holm (Best Actress) in Tweespoor, who again showed her acting chops; Robert Hindley (Best Actor), who plays the troubled son in Janice Honeyman’s Valsrivier, a production that showed promise but wasn’t quite where it should be at the early performance I saw. (The awards reflect that it grew during the festival run). It’s one I would like to see again with some necessary running time.
But the youngster had his character pat, perhaps because his is the receptor for everything that was wrong in those apartheid years. He climbed in boots and all, nailed it and was rewarded.
It’s quite a busy play both in storytelling and design and it needed some time for the ensemble to mesh, the spaces to be claimed and the story to truly infiltrate the stage. It made an impression, but it is one that should overwhelm.
Henriëtta Gryfenberg gave a brave performance in the Lara Foot (translated) play Die Vermoeienis van Vlerke, and Woordfees should be honoured for bringing the astonishing and unique (translated) Brandbaar with Rehane Abrahams back for another viewing; also Sandra Prinsloo who goes from strength to strength in Kamphoer.
On the art side, Gerhard Marx tickled the mind with his Vehicle: Sounding and Fathoms. I had seen a much earlier version, but this was a sleek and more substance-heavy return with the art performance including wordsmith Toast Coetzer and genius musos Kyle Shepherd and Shane Cooper. Included was also an exhibition of Marx’s earlier mapping work and he did daily walkabouts which put everything imaginatively into context. There were also a few interview sessions which further enhanced the overall exhibition.
At the performance, one could sit back, experience the effect of the living exhibition on your psyche and emotional being. This is an artist who always plays with your head yet never underestimates the impact on your heart – an explosive combination.
On the music side, the classical programme was quite fantastic with local productions like the Baroque Opera Gala Concert led by Erik Dippenaar, one of the top exponents of early music, and soloists Lynelle Kenned and Brittany Smith. I have only witnessed Kenned do popular music and didn’t know Smith, but everyone on that stage was impressive and provided joyous music to listen to.
Fynbosfeëtjies wasn’t strictly speaking classical music but with Antjie Krog’s verses being read masterfully by acting couple Petru Wessels and Carel Trichardt with soprano Renette Bouwer delightfully interpreting the songs composed by (from the writing) Katrien Holm, sensitively accompanied by the string quartet Evolution, it turned into a festival gift. Drawings from the book by Fiona Moodie set the mood for a surprisingly unexpected heart-warming concert.
With the international artists, Miriam Batsashvili’s piano recital and the LGT Young Soloists were overwhelming and a privilege to experience.
Slightly off the musical charts, the contemporary sounds that made me feel weak in the knees was the musical biography of Paul Simon – ‘n Lewe with music buffs Danie Marais, Kerneels Breytenbach and Desmond Painter talking about the New York composer/performer’s music while Andries Bezuidenhout, Lise Swart and Riku Lätti interpreted the Simon songs with flair.
And Nataniël worked his charm with Hoekom Hulle Swing with his fantastical stories and a musical genre that he does smartly as he is as much a master at re-jigging songs as he is at writing and telling stories. There are those costumes as well – and that at a rare festival appearance!
And in conclusion, which was the best choice to finish such an extraordinary festival: J Bobs Live – Off The Record. I have long been a fan of both Jefferson Tshablala (also this year’s Young Artist at the National Festival) and Philip Dikotla, joined here by Pule Welch who was new to me and I was delighted that the south had discovered one of Gauteng’s most precious artistic entities. Tshabala has a creative mind that moves in a miraculous way and bringing this particular franchise to the Woordfees with the example of the clashing of FW de Klerk and the EFF in parliament, was a stroke of genius.
It’s deals with nothing more – or less – than racism, but in a way that has everyone in the audience engaged, never enraged. That’s quite something. It’s also a production that underlines how laughter can heal, and yet with arrows plunging the depth of what truly troubles the world.
While there was much I didn’t see, good, bad and ugly, this is just a snapshot of one individual’s experience – and it was enough to keep me smiling even in lockdown!
May the artists bounce back with brilliance as they battle the worst possible odds.
The winners are:
WOW Teacher of the Year
WOW School of the Year
Klein Nederburg Sekondêr
Best Production: Fringe
Moord, op die 8ste gat
Best Performance: Dance
Wag / Waiting
Best Achievement: Visual Art
The Shape of Things to Come – Olaf Bisschoff
Best Technical Achievement
Johan Griesel and Revil Baselga – Sound mix: Karen Zoid 20 jaar pops
Best Achievement in Arts Journalism
Best restaurant in Die Burgeroorlog [The Burger Wars]:
Best Production: Contemporary Music – Podium Production
Amanda Strydom: Stadig oor die klippers
Best performance: Contemporary Music – Open-air Production
Best Performance: Contemporary Music – Music-driven Production
Die poet, wie’s hy?
Best Performance: Classical Music – Vocal
Stellenbosch University Choir conducted by André van der Merwe
Best Performance: Classical Music – Instrumental
Miclen LaiPang (violin) for Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata with the LGT Young Soloists
Best Supporting Actor (Male)
Stian Bam – Valsrivier
Best Supporting Actor (Female)
Anna-Mart van der Merwe – Valsrivier
Best Actor (Male)
Robert Hindley – Valsrivier
Best Actor (Female)
Nicole Holm – Tweespoor
Janice Honeyman – Valsrivier
THE BOOK PRIZE WINNERS IN FOUR CATEGORIES ARE:
Yusuf Daniels – Living Coloured (Because Black and White Were Already Taken)
Marinda Engelbrecht (Maklik met Marinda) and Herman Lensing (Dit proe soos huis)
Jeanne Goosen – Het jy geweet ek kan toor?
Woordfeeskortverhaalbundel 2020: Aanhou beweeg en geraas maak (Selected by: Suzette Kotzé-Myburgh, Valda Jansen and Madri Victor)
Best Upcoming Artist
René Cloete – Huppelkind
Toyota Top Order
Karen Zoid: 20 jaar pops
This new prize will henceforth be awarded to an excellent musician or production that falls outside the traditional boundaries of contemporary music.
The award goes to Karen Zoid 20 jaar pops. It was not only the topselling show at the festival this year, but it also succeeded in blending contemporary and classical music seamlessly. This production inspired and entertained – a fitting celebration of her 20 years in the music industry.
J. Bobs Live – Off the Record (Jefferson Tshabalala)
In Solidarity Prize (Distell)
The In Solidarity Prize is awarded to roleplayers in the arts who tirelessly work, often for little or no compensation, towards greater social cohesion. Brand receives this recognition for her work with communities and students as well as her excellent professional work in the performing arts.
Previous winners: 2017: Simon Witbooi (HemelBesem); 2018: Janine Neethling; 2019: Felicia Lesch
Best Festival Production
Die poet, wie’s hy?
Given the extensive range of the festival programme, several panel members served on the Woordtrofees panel across the various genres. Panel members were invited to the panel on the basis of their expertise and experience across the genres. Given the scope of the programme, some panels were assigned convenors. These were: Haddad Viljoen (Drama), Heinrich van der Mescht (Classical Music) and Rafiek Mammon (Contemporary Music). The panels made recommendations to the oversight panel which was responsible for the categories Best Upcoming Artists(s) and Best Festival Production. Gillian Mitchell convened this panel which included Paul Boekkooi and Diane de Beer.