An exhibition of works by two female artists, Dorothy Kay (1886 – 1964) and Mary Sibande (1982 -), is currently being held in Strauss & Co’s dedicated gallery at its Houghton offices in Johannesburg (11 July – 12 August 2022). Hoping to inspire a visit, DIANE DE BEER shares her delight:
Cookie, Annie Mavata by Dorothy Kay. I’m a Lady by Mary Sibande.
Alerted to an exhibition of works by Dorothy Kay and Mary Sibande, I just knew that I would lose my heart.
I have been aware of Kay, but was more familiar with the work of Sibande, whose exhibitions I always try to attend.
Curated by Strauss & Co art specialists Arisha Maharaj and Wilhelm van Rensburg, this latest exhibition is a renewal of their commitment to education, with a curated exhibition juxtaposing the work of two historically important South African artists, Dorothy Kay and Mary Sibande. Titled Dream Invisible Connections, it is a rare opportunity to view a large range of works by both these extraordinary artists with many of the works on loan from private and institutional collections.
And when you walk into the exhibition space at the Strauss headquarters in Houghton, it is immediately clear that pairing these two is a stroke of brilliance.
If, like me, you didn’t know or might have forgotten, Dream Invisible Connections is the fourth in a series of legacy exhibitions, pairing prominent South African artists.
And, as the two curators reminded us during the walkabout (there’s another on July 27 at 10am), it was introduced in 2019 with a presentation of works by Louis Maqhubela and Douglas Portway, and further explored linkages and commonalities between Maggie Laubser and Gladys Mgudlandlu (2020), and Robert Hodgins and George Pemba (2021). Having seen this one and none of the others, I have made myself a promise not to miss any of the future pairings. It’s just a hugely engaging and educational endeavour.
“The possibly unexpected pairing of Dorothy Kay with Mary Sibande fulfils the mandate of the exhibition series by providing new frameworks for the appreciation and interpretation of important South African artists,” explains head curator Wilhelm van Rensburg. “The exhibition proposes new ways of interpreting Sibande’s various depictions of her iconic domestic worker alter ego, Sophie, and, in the case of Kay, of delineating connections between her virtuoso realist painting.”
Even if the artists are described as vastly dissimilar, as an entrance point, Kay’s well-known realist portrait, Cookie, Annie Mavata (1956, based on a photo taken by Kay in 1948) offers immediate connections with Sibande’s equally famous domestic worker alter egos, many depicted in blue uniforms while Kay’s Cookie also depicts the artist’s Xhosa cook in the familiar blue uniform.
Van Rensburg notes that even if produced in a loaded historical context, the grandeur of Kay’s painting shares obvious affinities with the splendour of Sophie.
None of us can forget the series of Sophie billboards in Johannesburg’s inner city which certainly led to the greater visibility and wider prominence of Sibande. I can remember coming off the Nelson Mandela bridge on my way home from the Market Theatre – and every time those majestic Sibande images would make me smile. It was such a glorious way to honour your family’s women by telling their stories in such striking fashion. The message was loud and powerful without any compromises – and remains so.
As can be seen in this exhibition, she works across diverse media, notably textile, sculpture and photography. The exhibition features a number of photographic prints, as well as a magnificent series of new figurative bronzes on loan from SMAC Art Gallery. They are simply exquisite and beautifully contrast with Sibande’s larger works which can easily fill a room.
Clockwise: Dorothy Kay: Forms in Rain; Deck Chairs in the Wind; and 1910 – 1960.
Here though you can move up close and personal, experience the delicacy of her work and also her colours that change as you move around the sculptures as they catch the light differently. If ever I have wanted something … but the pleasure is really in the viewing.
And the experience of Sibande’s work which is constantly evolving as she explores identity in a world that’s constantly changing.
Mary Sibande: I have not, I have. Dorothy Kay: Three generations – after Sargent.
It’s as if in these smaller sculptures she has captured the different elements of what a woman could be, or simply that there’s no door closed if you wish to walk through it.
From a completely different time and world yet with many similarities in what they wish to express and explore, Kay is represented by what is described as “a number of historically important oils. They include The Elvery Family: A Memory (1938), which montages recollections of Kay’s siblings and parents, on loan from Iziko South African National Gallery, and Commerce (1943), a multi-part harbour scene, formerly installed in in the Agents’ Room of the South African Reserve Bank in Port Elizabeth and now in the collection of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum.
And what stood out for me are her family paintings. The links and historical references were marvellously explained on the walkabout but also captured in the masterful catalogue, which is something to treasure. That and the quirky nature of her portraiture.
Both Maharaj and Van Rensburg are fascinating about different aspects of the exhibition and if you can make the walkabout, do yourself a favour. But they have also included all the information in their catalogue featuring an essay by both curators and contextual texts related to key works in the exhibition.
It is worth taking the time to dive deeply into this one. The rewards are huge as you discover much more about these two remarkable artists and their work. And then have the chance to experience their work.
THE UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU-NATAL’S Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) hosts the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) from Thursday, July 21 to Saturday, July 30. The 43rd edition of the festival programme showcases Adaptation, Survival and Sustainability. As is their tradition, the present a carefully curated selection of South African premieres, screening virtually (for free) on www.durbanfilmfest.com and in person at Cine Centre Suncoast Casino. DIANE DE BEER
On Thursday, DIFF2022 opens with the live and a free virtual screening of 1960, directed by Michael Mutombo and King Shaft. You’re My Favourite Place by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka closes the festival on July 29, after which film-lovers still have the opportunity to see the film online on July 30. The awards will also take place virtually on 30 July.
DIFF 2022 is presented in a hybrid edition with online screenings at www.durbanfilmfest.com and a diverse live programme at Cine Centre, Suncoast Casino, Durban. Tickets for all live screenings are accessible on www.cinecentre.co.za. The entire festival programme can be seen on www.durbanfilmfest.com. The 43rd edition of the festival is produced by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, in partnership and with the support of KZN Film Commission, the National Film and Video Foundation, KZN Department of Arts & Culture, Avalon Group and other valued funders and partners.
What I have really always liked about DIFF is that their choices are obviously dominated by the best from home ground, but the rest of their selection is always intriguing, unusual and dominated by issues of the day.
Here, for example, are short reviews of just four of my personal choices to give you an idea:
Valley of a Thousand Hills: It is beautifully shot and as, those who have been to this area will know, the scenery – as the name suggests – is spectacular. But more importantly, the themes are relevant and part of the fabric of so many lives not only in this country but across borders. What do you do when your girlfriend (and hopefully soon-to-be wife) is promised to your brother?
Not only is the arranged wedding problematic in this instance, but so as well is the same-sex relationship that is being hidden from both families. And to top this, Nosipho is being held up to her conservative community as the model daughter.
Directed and written by Bonie Sithebe with fellow writer Philani Sithebe, starring Sibongokuhle Nkosi and Mandilsa Vilakazi, it’s a story that showcases the dilemma of trying to force people to do something that go against everything they are and what they believe in.
It’s important that the language is Zulu, the one spoken most frequently in that region. It contributes to the authenticity of the story as well as the performances. It also celebrates people claiming their own stories. This is how we really get to know one another.
Ring Wandering: If manga is your thing, don’t miss this one. In fact even if it isn’t, if for nothing else, it has one of the most beautifully magical endings one could imagine.
A young aspiring manga artist living in Tokyo is busy with a story about a hunter and a Japanese wolf. He is battling with this tale, especially with capturing the essence of the wolf, which is extinct.
Working on a construction site where he makes his living as a day labourer, he finds an animal skull and is intrigued whether it might be of the wolf he is trying to draw.
He takes it home without permission and returns to the site at night to see if he can find more of the missing bones. And this is where the story takes on a different hue in almost fabelesque fashion.
Written and directed by Masakazu Kaneko, starring Show Kasamatsu and Junko Abe, amongst others, and described as drama, fantasy, there’s something special and otherworldly about the film which is suitable for all in the family (8yrs and older I would guess) as well.
Klondike: This is the most upsetting and realistic of the four films but one, which perhaps because of its relevance, has the most impact. From Ukraine, it deals with the early days of the Donbas war in 2014.
A few years later and with that region now involved 100 percent in one of the most destructive attacks in recent memory, the story (which is based on fact) is truly chilling. With everything we know, you can imagine what is happening right now when watching this terrifying anti-war movie.
Expectant parents Irka and Tolik live in this region of eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. Already in 2014, it was disputed area and the violence heightened when flight MH17 crashed in the region.
Imagine not knowing what we know now and living in the midst of the suddenly explosive land where people of both Russian and Ukranian descent live. Making the war deeply personal while focusing on a couple expecting their first child draws viewers right to the heart of the story.
Not only are the young couple slightly freaked about the imminent coming of their first child, but the uncertainty of what is happening in their area compounds their horror. It is a deeply disturbing and harrowing tale, yet one that all of us need to deal with in our fast-changing world.
Writer and director Maryna Er Gorbach with cast including Oxana Cherkashyna, Sergiy Shadrin and Oleg Shevchuk, do a magnificent job juggling with the reality and emotional impact when your whole life is turned upside down from one minute to the next.
Informed as we are about what is currently happening in Ukraine turns this into newsreel rather than story. And the way the husband and wife tell their specific tale turns it into something up close and personal. We don’t dare turn away.
Donkeyhead: Depending on your age, this one might seem relevant or not, but because it deals with ageing parents, it is something that will impact everyone’s lives. Here it is the siblings that come into play.
All kinds of things happen to families when parents age, are incapable of looking after themselves, and the siblings have to step in. The burden of immediate care always falls on specific members who are either close by or capable of changing their lives to accommodate their parents’ plight.
In this instance, it is the youngest daughter, a struggling writer, Mona, who is still staying at home and most comfortable caring for her ailing Sikh father. When he has a debilitating stroke, the three more successful siblings rush back to their parental home to advise their youngest sibling, whom they see as a failure.
Family dynamics and dependencies are always traumatic and amusing because they are often so familiar even if in different guises. And whether we want to deal with this state of affairs either as children or parents, life doesn’t simply pass us by because we prefer to ignore the inevitable.
It is both an insightful and impactful telling of a much too familiar tale, but one we all need to grapple with before it’s too late. This Canadian directorial debut is directed and written by Agam Darshi and stars Agam Darshi, Kim Coates, Stephen Lobo, Sandy Sidhu and Marvin Ishmael.
All the films reviewed are also screened in cinema (priced between R75 and R115 a ticket), which means they will only start screening virtually (and for free) after their cinema date:
Donkeyhead: screening from July 22, 7pm to July 30.
Klondike: screening from July 26, 21.30pm to July 30.
Valley of a Thousand Hills: screening from July 28, 21.30pm to July 30.
Ring Wandering: screening from July 29, 7pm and July 30.
If, like me, you have been watching that delightful British gardener Monty Don and his travels around the world with the spotlight on spectacular gardens, our very own garden series Tuintoere would have caught your eye. But perhaps not, because not everyone tunes into the Afrikaans channel VIA, which caters to a specific market. DIANE DE BEER discovers this green gem:
I was lucky to have some inside knowledge because I know the researcher, Wallace Honiball, who is also an exciting landscape architect. One of our Boeremark regulars, I have always loved listening to him talk about plants and the environment because of his knowledge – and yet, he almost landed in the profession by default. When he wasn’t accepted for architecture, he could opt for landscape architecture – and he wisely did.
To our and his advantage. With the world turning more and more to environmental issues, with water becoming more and more of a problem, what and how we do landscaping becomes more and more important.
A selection of place and produce from last season’s Free State Liedjiesbos whose owners Dawie Human and Henning de Bruin have become friends and clients..
As things stand currently, architects have to consider the space they’re designing for even more diligently, so you might as well include landscaping into your studies. It is so smart of the Tuintoere team to find someone like Honiball, who adds weight and substance to a series, which might have landed up just exhibiting pretty gardens.
Of course we have many of those – pretty gardens – but when the presenter Derrich Gardner (only realised the appropriateness of the surname now!) interviews the owners and gardeners of the properties and estates they select, he can engage with real authority and information that adds to the understanding of the space we are moving into as viewers.
In the case of Honiball, it is also lovely to see someone engaging so wholeheartedly with his passion. Not only as a landscape architect, but also as someone who is intent on finding the best information and background on every garden that is included in the series. And already in the first season, there were some spectacular – and surprising – ones.
I was for example gobsmacked by a real gem in the middle of the Karoo called Mauritzfontein and when you saw it from the sky (thanks to drone technology), here was this little piece of green paradise seemingly in a very arid landscape.
But of course there was more and for Honiball it has been fantastic to meet some of our most amazing gardeners in some of their own gardens (sometimes handed from generation to generation on some Midlands or historic Cape farms) and other professionals. Patrick Watson, for example, introduced in the first episode of the first series is now a plant buddy!
Wallace remembers a grandmother who was a keen gardener but perhaps, also the architectural home he grew up in always asked for a special garden, which is still growing from strength to strength. He was also a keen artist at school and even some of those artworks had an organic feel to them – perhaps plucked from nature.
But I digress. He is a young man with a fascination and fortunate enough to be able to focus on that world and then apply it in many different ways.
He is excited about the series and the team he works with and considers the research to be hugely exciting – if hard work. He knows that his background is academic, but that is also what makes the programmes so extraordinary. He credits Hermi King and the amazing people from Mrs. King Productions working on Tuintoere for this creative endeavour.
He is aware for example that not many South Africans know about the European influence of so many of our historical gardens. These have evolved in time, which also adds to place and the pleasure. “Think, for example, of the Randlords,” he explains. Gardens were a big part of their legacy because they became a status symbol for those who could afford the best. He also points to Herbert Baker, one of our best known architects, whom he describes as the first landscape architect locally.
As with the first season, each programme in this second series deals with one garden, one designer and is 25 minutes long. That’s not long and it’s important to distil the knowledge into something palatable which lends substance, yet doesn’t overwhelm the audience. And that’s where Gardner steps in with his light hand and easy banter.
The creatively curated gardens of Henk Scholtz in Franschhoek.
From the start this has been an organic venture and since the early days, because they were breaking new ground, they could also establish the blueprint. Honiball also enjoys seeing the final product because of the post production, which has to put the story together in a way that captures everything the team has envisaged.
And then the grand dames of it all – the gardens. “We can only capture specific gardens at particular times,” notes Honiball – a fact we all know, but perhaps didn’t digest as a logistical nightmare. Some are only willing to show off their finery for one specific week of the year. Others only bloom for a very short period of time and all these details have to be taken into account.
The selection process is also very specific. Take someone like world-renowned artist and plant genius Willem Boshoff, who was showcased in the last series. His knowledge of the plant world and how he accesses it was a topic all its own – as majestical as some of the more spectacular gardens.
And when, as in the new series, you are walking into gardens that are 300 years old, you want to show them at their best. Honiball wouldn’t have missed this for the world. He is in awe of the people he has met and even adopted some as mentors because he was so overwhelmed by their knowledge and sensibility. Others again are great sources of hidden gardens in South Africa, all of which contribute to the excellence of the series.
It is the education he has gained that most thrills this budding landscape architect who with his own work, is also discovering the gardens in the rest of Africa, like at a Nairobi project where he is currently engaged.
But in the meantime, here is the running order with the series starting on Thursday (Via at 5pm with re-broadcasts) and showing an episode a week for the next 13 weeks. And luckily there is already a third series planned…
• EPISODE 1 – TUIN TANYA VISSER – Die Potskuur is an intimate look at one of our best known gardeners Tanya Visser situated in KZN.
• EPISODE 2 – JOHANNESDAL VILLA / Stellenbosch is a garden overflowing with artistic touches and roses.
• EPISODE 3 – CAVALLI / Somerset West spotlights authentic Cape gardening with a fynbos garden of note.
• EPISODE 4 – RUSTENBERG / PIETMAN DIENER /Stellenbosch showcases a grand old dame who clings to the past yet embraces the new.
• EPISODE 5 – HUIS STORMVOGEL /Stellenbosch is a collector’s garden where modernity and colour is introduced by the unusual gardens and plants.
• EPISODE 6 – BENVIE / JENNY ROBINSON / KZN boasts the largest exotic garden in the southern hemisphere, and certainly the largest in South Africa.
• EPISODE 7- HENK SCHOLTZ / Franschhoek. This garden is a flourishing abyss, located in the heart of f this quaint village. Every nook, cranny and decorative piece is carefully curated and positioned to play tribute to his life’s poetry
• EPISODE 8 – LANGVERWAGT / Kuilsrivier; Nestled secretively in a valley lush with vineyards, forests, abundant water and ancient oak trees, lies this historic working farm.
• EPISODE 9 – LE POIRIER (the place of pears) / DANIE STEENKAMP/Franschhoek lies between oak trees, surrounded by mountains and overlooking a rive. The architecture, interiors and landscaping are completely integrated
• EPISODE 10 – TIM STEYN – Brahman Hills is in Nottingham road / KZN shows off its spectacular new garden.
• EPSIODE 11 – LUCAS UYS – 1 Jacana Drive Ballito – Bonsai Garden / KZN is a Bonsai garden of note.
• EPISODE 12 and 13 are dedicated to the spectacular gardens at TOKARA / Stellenbosch with the Simonsberg mountains as the backdrop. It’s fynbos-rich and home to exceptional vineyards since the 17th Century.
For those not traveling down to Mkhanda for the National Arts Festival, Toyota SU Woordfees is presenting its second TV pop-up channel, which has been specifically curated to embrace a broad range of genres: writers and books, which is what started the festival in the first place, theatre, contemporary and classical music, dance, lifestyle, discourse, stand-up comedy, film, and visual arts.
There is a strong focus on quality-Afrikaans books, theatre, music, and film, as well as this year’s newbie, discussions on agricultural issues.
A selection of 2021’s most popular TV festival programmes will also be broadcast in non-primetime slots. New programmes specially produced for 2022 will be available on DStv Catch Up.
Here are a few personal highlights:
WRITERS’ FESTIVAL The Woordfees started 22 years ago as an all-night poetry festival, and books and writers are still at the heart of the festival programme.
There are 18 new book talks on the programme, including the following:
Dol heuning with SJ Naudé: A Hertzog Prize winner – and the first person to win the prize two years in a row for prose – refers to himself as “an activist for the short story”. He talks to Marius Swart about where he gets his inspiration from and Sandra Prinsloo reads an extract from one of his stories.
Wanneer vandag en gister nie lepellê: Kirby van der Merwe (Eugene), Audrey Jantjies (As die katjiepiering blom) and Brian Fredericks (Hou jou oë oop) share their inspiration with Diane Ferrus.
Digtersparadys: With Philip de Vos, Lynthia Julius, Elias P. Nel, Louise Boshoff, Grant Jefthas and Franco Colin, Dean Balie and Kabous Meiring (presenter). It’s an afternoon with poetry, musical arrangements by Wilken Calitz and a special musical reading by Dean Balie from the new Adam Small collection.
Pretoria se Elon Musk; Adriaan Basson speaks to Michael Vlismas and Herman Wasserman about Elon Musk – Risking It All (an unauthorised biography).
All 19 book talks filmed last year, including a conversation between iconic theatre maker Marthinus Basson and his friend, 2021 Booker Prize winner, Damon Galgut, will be broadcast again. It’s magnificent if you missed it before.
This is quite delightful as seven quirky clowns play juggle with mimicry, magic and fun. De Klerk Oelofse, Dean Balie, Jemma Kahn and others provide a joyous experience for the family.
Proscenium: Toutjies & Ferreira
Saartjie Botha’s award-winning play starts out as a comedy focussing on backstage before the lights go on, but then it turns into heartache as parents left behind after their children emigrated are in the spotlight. Frank Opperman and Joanie Combrink star.
If you haven’t seen the Rachelle Greeff production starring Sandra Prinsloo, Die Naaimasjien, it’s a must-see with great writing and an extraordinary performance.
Mis and Krismis van Map Jacobs will be re-screened from last year, but the one to watch over and over again is Andrew Buckland and Sylvaine Strike in one of my all-time favourites,
Ferine and Ferase. The play was directed by Toni Morkel, with musical accompaniment by Tony Bentel, and film direction by Jaco Bouwer. It received the coveted kykNET Fiësta Award for Best Festival Production.
Also catch the short but powerful Cleanseby the young creative Jane Mpholo, someone to watch as she addresses issues that need airing in a very personal way. It cuts to the bone.
CONTEMPORARYMUSIC, according to Artistic Director Saartjie Botha, has been given special focus.
Not to be missed are:
Al om Antjie: Antjie Krog is a multi-award-winning literary icon. She is best known for her evocative Afrikaans poetry, her reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and her book Country of My Skull. Artists including Frazer Barry, Anton Goosen, Laurinda Hofmeyr, Antoinette Kellermann, Babalwa Mentjies, Churchil Naudé and Jolyn Phillips celebrate her 70th birthday with some of her most beloved poems set to music.
Brel/Piaf: described as a stylish revue of the timeless songs of Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf, performed by André Schwartz and Amanda Strydom, accompanied by Coenraad Rall and Dawid Boverhoff and directed by Saartjie Botha, is a welcome addition as I missed the live show when it had short runs in Joburg and Cape Town.
Afrika Blues is what guitar genius Schalk Joubert describes as one of his favourite shows. And with the mesmerising voice of Sima Mashazi and musical virtuosos Louis Mhlanga, Schalk Joubert, Albert Frost and Jonno Sweetman, it’s pure gold.
Hanepoot Brass Band Live at The Daisy Jones is also something to witness. They know how to swing. In 2019, Jannie Hanepoot (Gereformeerde Blues Band, African Jazz Pioneers) wrote some new arrangements for eight of his favourite musicians and the Hanepoot Brass Band was born. They’re to die for.
Highlights from the 2021 contemporary music series will be re-broadcast: David Kramer Tribute – Boland to Broadway; Karen Zoid & die Kaapstadse Filharmoniese Orkes; Smeltkroes
Viewers are spoilt for choice with:
Community Spectacular Gala 2021:Anna Davel, Earl Gregory, Luvo Maranti and Zip Zap Circus perform with the Cape Town Philharmonic in the latest annual community gala that raises the roof at Artscape each year.
Elgar Cello Concerto:by South Africa’s foremost cellist, Peter Martens, and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 conducted by Bernhard Gueller.
Mozart and Schubert: Esthea Kruger performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, KV 466, and Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony conducted by Bernhard Gueller.
Celebrating Stephenson and Rajna: The Amici Quartet perform works by Allan Stephenson, Thomas Rajna and Ravel as well as Puccini’s Crisantemi.
Th eStellenbosch University Choir concert as well as Zorada Temmingh’s organ recital from 2021 will be re-screened.
Krummelpap, Afval en Sunlightseepbaddens by the celebrated Garage Dance Theatre from Okiep present dance with poetry by Ronelda Kamfer. I won’t miss this hook-up that makes perfect sense.
Pergolesi se Stabat Mater: During lockdown in South Africa, Cape Town Opera, Cape Town City Ballet and the Cape Town Baroque Orchestra joined forces to create a physically distanced film of excerpts from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, choreographed via videocall by Mthuthuzeli November. It is a multi-faceted exploration of grief, empathy, and faith.
There are some fantastic lifestyle programmes, including Stellenbosch and its very particular and exclusive lifestyle, which features architecture from this historic town, wine (naturally) food and mushroom foraging amongst others.
Standup comedy is also a large feature with both new performances and the popular ones from last year again part of the schedule.
A variety of discussions around hot topics hosted by seasoned journalists Kabous Meiring (anchor of kykNET’s Prontuit) and Pieter du Toit (Assistant Editor for in-depth news: News24).
The seriously funny (or so they say) Filosofiekafee 2021 will be screened again.
Discussions with experts about food sustainability, land issues, and stories of hope.
En tog die deuntjie draal – Die Koos Du Plessis-verhaal: this poet/songwriter changed the landscape of Afrikaans music and lyrics and I will not miss this screening of one of our greats.
Locked Doors, Behind Doors: Indoni Dance, Arts and Leadership Academy directed by the award-winning Sbonakaliso Ndaba explore the stark reality of their members’ lives during the pandemic, when home induced feelings of powerlessness and despair. The documentary uses research into the migrant labourers and slaves of preceding generations to develop choreography that expresses the sacrifices of those who helped to forge the nation of South Africa.
Die ongetemde stem – ’n Herontdekking van Afrikaanse musiek: a programme I caught at this year’s Silwerskerm and again, not to be missed, featuring Churchil Naudé, Frazer Barry, Deniel Barry, David Kramer, Johannes Kerkorrel, Koos Kombuis and more, directed by Riku Lätti and Gideon Breytenbach.
The WOW festival which is the youth leg of the Woordfees will also be represented.
It all began for me with the Charl du Plessis performance for Aardklop Aubade in collaboration with Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool on Mother’s Day titled Songs for my Mother
Not only does he create the imaginative programme for these fantastic Sunday morning classical interludes for Aardklop, but he also performs as soloist or with his trio, Nataniël or another classical performer at these magical hour-long performances once a month.
This time he made it personal as he celebrated Mother’s Day 2022 with a very idiosyncratic and sentimental selection of music which has special meaning to him. His programme was all about the influence of his family’s vinyl record collection which brought back a flood of memories for both the performer and his audience.
And because of his versatility as both classical and jazz pianist, the programme included composers like JS Bach and French chanson superstar Michel Legrand featuring alongside standards by Fats Waller and Chopin.
As always with this extraordinary talent, it was about the selection of music as well as the performance and making it this personal was a stroke of genius.
The other attraction of this monthly series is an introduction of young musical stars from Affies, which has a very strong musical department. This time it was an extraordinary acapella ensemble cleverly named A-minere!’
The next concert is on August 7 with a cello and piano duo, Gerrit Koorsen and Eugene Joubert, who will be performing musical arrangements by three composers from the Romantic period. Tickets at www.ticketpros.co.za
Watch this space for further concerts or check Aardklop Aubade online.
Realising that Pretoria has had a paucity of classical music these past couple of years, musical entrepreneur Du Plessis decided to also introduce a mini festival – Atterbury Klassiek – from July 15 to 17.
It starts on July 15 at 7.30pm with The Scullery Quintet, a new South African classical and contemporary music crossover group that is made up of a rather unusual string quintet. The ensemble features the standard string quartet configuration: first violin, second violin and viola, but the cello role is replaced by double bass, with drum set as the fifth instrument.
This multicultural ensemble was conceived in early 2020 by a group of like-minded musicians who got together to share their varied musical influences and keep their musical abilities alive during the pandemic.
They will be performing arrangements and improvising on compositions by their favourite composers ranging from Vivaldi, Dvorak , Herbie Hancock, and Weather Report to Radiohead, which indicates their repertoire is driven by passion.
On Saturday, July 16 at 3pm follows a piano recital by Gerhard Joubert. He is the 2021 winner of the Atterbury National Piano Competition and will be performing his first full length solo recital in this theatre. He is currently a piano student of well-known pianist and lecturer Francois du Toit and the youngster has won many other competitions including the National Youth Music, Pieter Kooij and Johann Vos music competitions and is completing his BMus degree at the University of Cape Town. The recital will include works by Schubert and Chopin.
Du Plessis and fellow jazz pianist David Cousins will present Double Trouble Jazz Piano on Saturday night at 7pm with favourite jazz standards, Latin classics and music by Handel and JS Bach in new arrangements for four hands and two pianos. Composers include Chick Corea and Milt Jackson and South African Jazz legends Abdullah Ibrahim and Hotep Idris Galeta. Du Plessis is a Steinway Artist and Sama Award-winning recording artist for Claves and Steinway Spirio. Cousins is a Berklee College Boston graduate and teaches jazz piano at Wits. This is their first musical collaboration.
On Sunday at 3pm, t he award-winning violinist and senior lecturer in violin and viola at Nelson Mandela University David Bester again joins forces with leading South African-based guitarist and three-time SAMA nominee James Grace in Paganini to Piazzolla 2.0 for the concluding concert of this classical season.
This follows on a sold-out performances at Woordfees 2020, with Paganini to Piazzolla 2.0 evolving around Máximo Diego Pujol’s Suite Buenos Aires – a four-movement work that sketches a musical picture of life in the South American capital city Piazzolla ultimately called home. Originally composed for flute and guitar, the violin offers a fresh perspective and distinctive sound in this intense and flavourful work.
Following the Aubade concert early in May, impresario Herman van Niekerk joined forces with the Italian Cultural Institute of Pretoria for a fantastic series of concerts starting from his special Sasolburg venue, the Etienne Rousseau Theatre and concluding with a wondrous concert with the spectacular accordionist Pietro Roffi, who joined forces with the marvellous Free State Odeion String Quartet with Samson Diamond, Sharon de Kock, Jeanne-Louise Moolman and Anmari van der Westhuizen.
Van Niekerk has previously also featured this extraordinary instrument with two accordion virtuosi, the Toeac Accordion Duo from The Netherlands, performing at Johannesburg’s Linder Auditorium.
Many classical followers might have been surprised when hearing of the classical bent of Roffi because we are much more familiar with the accordion in more popular genres of music.
With a special Roffi arrangement of the familiar Vivaldi Four Seasons to include the accordion, the main feature of the performance, it was a fantastic choice because even those who just dabble in classical music will be familiar with it. And that gave one the platform to appreciate just what these musicians were doing with the music with such delicacy and obvious delight.
Also included in the extraordinary performance was Bach’s Minuet and Badinerie from his Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor as well as the much loved Piazollo’s Oblivion and AdiosNonino, and an original composition performed solo to start off this remarkable concert and magnificently introducing the magic still to come.
It was mesmerising and yet another reminder of what we had been missing these past few years. For those who missed it, hold thumbs that this collaboration will be repeated again and again in the future.
If you haven’t yet discovered Van Niekerk’s extraordinary programming in Sasolburg (and sometimes repeated in Johannesburg or/and Pretoria, make a note to follow the Etienne Rousseau Theatre notices.
It is joyous that the classics are back and hopefully some of the above concerts will be supported by the pandemic-driven neglected classical audiences.
There’s so much surprising in the André Leon Talley book, which as the title suggests is all about the haute couture world, that temple of mainly French fashion, but also the world of the high priestess Anna Wintour. And then he deals with the rapidly declining media world because of the shift of advertising and of course all the personalities he mingled with daily. DIANE DE BEER hangs on to every word:
Pictures from the book
André Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches (4th Estate)
Anyone who has even the slightest interest in the fashion world would at least have noticed this author at international fashion events.
He stood out –physically because of his size and his race in this almost lily-white world, but also because of his presence, his flamboyance, yes even amongst the fashion glitterati. He knew how to do that.
I’m not sure I would have read the book if one of my smartest friends didn’t gift it to me. She sussed that this might have more depth than simply chronicling the sometimes vacuous world of couture.
And indeed it does. If we have realised anything in this past decade if paying attention to America (and how can we not), it is that nothing when race is involved is as it should be. That was even true for this remarkable man, who made such an impact in the way he celebrated fashion.
There was really nothing he loved more. His own stylish entrance into this world, the way he found a way to work for Andy Warhol and form a decades-long friendship with Karl Lagerfeld. And finally at the tail end of his career, his working and more intimate relationship with Anna Wintour.
As part of the printed world, I was stunned by the revelations in this book almost mirroring what happened in our newspaper and magazine world when their advertising platforms started imploding.
I used to jokingly say that I would be switching off the lights, but not thinking for a second that the rarefied world I had been working in for most of my life would end almost with my formal career – and quite harshly at that.
Surprise then that even for those glamorous journalists and editors who are almost as much part of the story as the people they write about, life was not much different. When printed journalism’s problems escalated locally because of a dearth of advertising, it was happening worldwide. And the bosses there behaved as badly as the bosses locally.
“When Polly Mellen who had been at Vogue for thirty years, was forced to retire, they gave her a cocktail party in the basement of Barneys. I went, and remained utterly confused about it throughout the night. It didn’t make sense; it was undignified. They could have honoured her with a seated dinner, with guests of her choice. Or a golden watch, a Bentley, a Rolls Royce, something! She could decide to keep it or sell it, but a little cocktail bash in the Barneys basement? Ageism at its worst. They wanted to get rid of her at Vogue to make way for someone else. They booted her upstairs to Allure, and she retired soon afterwards. That was not befitting of what Polly Mellen had contributed to Vogue, nor of the decades for which she worked there
This might all sound a bit over-the-top. Who gets a Bentley when they leave the company? No one who can be described as middle class. But I suppose in this moneyed world where the journalists become as famous as those they’re writing about, it happenened.
What fascinated me was the business ethics which are on a par around the world. One thinks it is just in one’s little corner. But as Talley illustrates, this is the way the world turns and why we have the top 1 percent so far removed from ordinary lives that they can’t respond to their employees with any humanity.
It’s not all gloom and doom, however, not in the life of the larger-than-life André. Because of who he is and where he works, he doesn’t have to name drop, those are the people who are part of his immediate circle. From Lee Radziwill (Jacky O’s sister) to Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour (whom he both admires and admonishes for her lack of warmth), and of course many others like the supermodels who reigned during his time as well as the different designers who would share their design secrets, their fears and their dreams with someone like André who had both power and empathy.
From the early days, long before Vogue, he established his own style. That’s what propelled him into this world. He could identify style, he could step into that world with grace and he could write about it with flair. He also became part of the fanfare which is part of the chiffon trenches if you really want to be part of that world. And he did.
His passion for couture and everything that represented is what dominated his life. And like any creative, he simply put his head down and found a way to become part of everything he most loved in this world.
Sadly, Talley (and of course Karl Kagerfeld) died early this year and that world has lost one of its most entertaining and flashy personalities. And as is often the case, he is really only appreciated now.
It’s a fascinating read, because of the man and the universe he lived in. No one is irreplaceable, but I’m sure even Ms Wintour must miss this valued eye who was both honest and honoured to be asked for advice on, for example, her outfit for a smart occasion.
But also his take on the world, his way of entering a room, what he believed his role was and how his whole being was thrown into his daily work. The chiffon trenches is where his heart and his passion lay.
Because Ambassador Norio Maruyama arrived in this country almost at the same time as Covid19, he has had to keep his wits about him when trying to fulfil his mandate. Sometimes there was nothing to do because lockdown prohibited all gatherings, but with the lifting of restrictions, he came up with the idea of hosting small dinner parties rather than large gatherings.
This, of course, especially for those of us not part of the diplomatic scene, was a perfect solution and one that worked brilliantly. Sometimes at the large ambassadorial events, the diplomatic corps gather for dinner talk and other guests are left dangling somewhat.
Yet with these small dinners, not only can the food be more splashy, but – especially, as in this instance, when your host is both a foodie and a wine lover (one with excellent knowledge of local wine, to our excitement) – the dinner can also turn into a huge learning as well as extravagant sensual experience.
From the first dinner (which I wrote, about in previous posting), we knew that not only did we discover new delights when presented with their amazing cuisine, but – especially we also lost our heart to the host and his chefs, Jun Suzuki and his wife Mutsumi.
Returning recently for a dinner, we both felt that because the chef was aware of our admiration for his food, he could relax and be more comfortable in what he presented us with. We are the kind of diners who like being surprised and discovering different levels of a cuisine we are getting to know. And with the excellent wine pairings, as well as detailed descriptions of each dish, it’s my favourite kind of meal. I’m getting nourishment of both the soul and senses – narrative and nurturing. What more could one possibly ask for?
And here some wine notes from wine connoisseur Hennie Fisher, who accompanied me on these dinners:
Often, people who love food also feverishly investigate and research beverages to enjoy along with their food. This includes wine, but also other drinks. In fact, the art of pairing food and wine seems to be an increasingly popular pastime. Ambassador Murayama, who loves wine, of course came to the right country to indulge his interest. One seldom visits someone’s house to be presented with wines from your own country that you know nothing about. You may not previously have drunk that exact wine, but at least, because you have close interaction with wine as an agri-product in South Africa, you generally know either the producer, farm, or estate where the wine originated. On different occasions, Ambassador Murayama brought out the big guns, local as well as international – one example is a sake from Ichinokura.
The ambassador was especially proud of a white wine made here in South Africa, by Stark Conde ‘Round Mountain’ Sauvignon Blanc, because the Japanese symbol for round mountain is the same as his surname, Maruyama. On another visit, we were served a barrel-selected Roussanne 2013 from Ken Forrester, which was probably one of the most exciting wines I ever had the pleasure to drink. A Storm Pinot Noir 2018 was also sublime. On yet another occasion we had a
Testalonga El Bandito Cortez, an orange wine by Elementis, followed by a Taaibosch 2018 Crescendo, and we ended the meal with some serious Japanese whiskies such as Hibiki Suntory, a 21-year-old whisky. We will miss the ambassador’s fine palate when he moves on to his next posting.
As on a previous occasion, we again started off with One Bite of Happiness, a title I love, and it’s exactly what you get. As pretty as a picture, the deep-fried tofu with yuzu was exquisite. This was followed by a Tataki of tuna which simply means the method (pounding in this instance) of preparation served on a dashi foam. You can’t fault the Japanese on fish – and that’s no exaggeration. Next was their delightfully inventive gooseberry salad, taking the place of the more traditional palate cleanser.
Duck yakatori style was the main and this was presented with great flair, to the guests’ absolute joy. And this being our first duck experience à la Japanese, it was quite splendid – and it had to be, not to disappoint after such a theatrical entrance.
Sweets started with an Amarula ice cream with the citrussy mikan and finally a work of art in the form of three sweet things: walnut, mochi (rice cake) and yokan (red bean paste).
Our appreciation was complete and we loved the way they paid homage to the host country with ingredients like the gooseberries and the Amarula.
For the second time in almost a month, we attended a Taste of Japan held annually at Wood and Fire in Brooklyn, as the guests of Ambassador Maruyama. This time Jun and Mutsumi stepped into the kitchen of the restaurant and with the help of yet another of my favourite chefs, Zane Figueiredo, produced an extraordinary tasting menu which was the perfect infusion of Japanese cuisine to satisfy both the novice and those of us who feel we have been introduced to their food by those who know and love it best.
The welcome snack of edamame beans with schichimi togarashi (a red pepper spice) is a staple on Japanese tables, familiar here but less frequently served. It’s a pity because it has that moreish quality which makes it difficult to stop and it’s healthy!
Okonomiyaki, another Japanese favourite and quite yummy, is a savoury pancake (almost pizza-like) and this was flavoured with green cabbage, beansprouts, kewpie (mayo), ginger, nori and otafuku sauce (close to our Wocestershire).
Noodles was next on the list with prawn served with a shiitake broth, assorted veggies and shiso (a mint herb) followed by a delicate arrangement of sashimi, including salmon, sea bass, and with a nod to the South Africans, Springbok carpaccio all with a dash of different Japanese condiments which just take it to another level.
Yakitori (either chicken or green beans with spring onion) was the last appetiser before the mains consisting of Katsu Curry, which included a choice of pork, chicken or aubergine with fukujinzuke (Japanese pickles) and short grain rice.
Most of the servings were small and with healthy food inherently part of Japanese cuisine, it was again a broad introduction to many Japanese ingredients and flavours in a meal that was delicately balanced and, as always, finished with a flourish of mochi and ice cream!
South Africans are starting to realise that we have to do it for ourselves. That’s how change will really make an impact. It’s something artists Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie put into practice with the establishment of Karoo Kaarte at (and with the help and support of) the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees and a handful of other funders . DIANE DE BEER spoke to the two art activists about this ongoing dream of theirs:
Co-Facilitator Vaughn Sadie leading a discussion with the core team (left) with co-facilitator Neil Coppen during rehearsals for Op Hierie Dag. Photography by Ryan Dammert.
Karoo Kaarte (Karoo Maps) was one of the most intriguing and important productions at this year’s Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK).
The project’s name Karoo Kaarte plays on the dual meaning of kaarte in the Oudshoorn context. The English translation of kaarte is maps and in the local vernacular “om kaarte te sny” refers to hanging out and telling both serious and light hearted stories.
Described in the festival guide as the heart of the festival, it was the result of months of research and work done in Oudtshoorn. It was the dream of the late Dr David Piedt, a founding member and Chairman of the KKNK and someone who worked tirelessly for the transformation and renewal of the KKNK over the years.
The project driven by the KKNK was established to make a transformative difference in the Karoo town where the festival is based.
Facilitated by the smart combo of the innovative theatre maker Neil Coppen and the visual artist Vaughn Sadie, the idea was to use the arts in many different ways to change the narrative of the Oudtshoorn community to a more inclusive one.
Karoo Kaarte team gathers for the research and creative process used to bring together a range of participants to reimagine the archive as an inclusive community resource. And images and details of the Karoo Kaarte team engaging, over a series of workshops, with Zietske Saaiman’s large-scale map of Oudtshoorn and its many suburbs which she painstakingly demarcated in masking tape on the floor of the CP Nel Museum Hall. Photography by Ryan Dammert and Karoo Kaarte.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful and compelling tools we have as people to bring about change, and it is exactly what was applied in this project in many different forms. The whole community of the town was encouraged to participate and engage in the research projects, which focussed on as many individuals as possible telling their individual stories, and more particularly, how they saw themselves featured in the town.
The whole exercise is about bringing people together. With our past in mind, many of our towns and cities still show the former fault lines and it is wishful thinking to hope that things will slide into normality by itself. This is some of what they were working with to incorporate and bring everyone together to tell their stories and become part of the fabric of this Karoo town.
Coppen explains how it all started: “I’ve worked with Hugo Theart (KKNK Artistic Director) multiple occasions as a producer and across many of our conversations, he always expressed the festival’s need and enthusiasm for developing projects that invested in the Oudtshoorn arts community and deepened the relationship between the festival, residents and local artists.”
“The Karoo Kaarte Project was born from these conversations and is an expansion and deeper iteration of a variety of projects Vaughn Sadie and I have worked on over the last decade, both in collaboration and separately. As artists and facilitators we both are deeply passionate about, and committed to, initiating public participatory arts and theatre projects across South Africa, creating work that attempts to stimulate empathy, awareness, dialogue and deeper listening through performance and visual arts mediums.”
With the help of the KKNK, their resources and energy, they were able to pull off a project and programme of this depth, complexity and reach. Both Coppen and Sadie moved to Oudtshoorn for six months, collaborating daily with what they describe as an incredible team of young artists, writers, musicians, performers, arts leaders, activists and educators.
The good news is that this is an ongoing project. With the KKNK, their vision is to establish a solid and effective long-term engagement with the community of Oudtshoorn through the arts and expand the project annually to include and feature more and more local artists at the festival.
A big part of the success depended on the people involved. The process was one of broad consultation, which meant that Coppen and Sadie engaged with around 60 businesspeople, traditional knowledge holders, political leaders, supporters of the festival and artists to reflect on the possibilities of implementing a community-led festival programme for the KKNK in 2022.
“Once the project began, we selected a core team of Oudtshoorn-based artists, poets, arts leaders, writers, musicians, researchers, facilitators and educators . These participants were guided over the four-month ‘first phase’ of the project through a series of weekly workshops to introduce the project methodologies and processes.
“Essential to the success of these processes was the involvement of leading intangible heritage consultant Deidre Prins-Solani, who facilitated a series of key workshops around developing the project ethos, harnessing deep listening skills and the importance of preserving and archiving the intangible heritage of the region.”
The core team participants were then trained in oral history skills and methodologies and, from October 2021, conducted 35 oral histories with a range of residents around the themes of music, land, identity, sexuality, disability, history and place. These unearthed a compelling set of stories and life histories which were and are being collated and used to bolster the existing archives housed in the CP Nel Museum, which means that the history of the town is being broadened to capture as much of the community as possible.
For change to truly manifest, everyone has to claim ownership.
From this body of research the team also generated content in the form of four Zines (small magazines distributed at the Festival), art exhibitions, a theatre production and a musical performance for a week-long community-led programme at the 2022 KKNK Festival, all of which we as festival goers could engage with.
On the art side, a participatory collage process saw the team working with hundreds of images handpicked from the CP Nel Historic archives and a selection from the KKNK’s past 25 years of theatre festival photography, as well as personal images brought to workshops by participants. These collage workshops were held with school learners, unemployed youth in outlying rural areas (in partnership with the Youth Cafe) and the broader public.
This process was designed as a quick but thought-provoking introduction by capturing how participants from various walks of life imagined themselves, as well as their sense of place and context within the town and outlying areas.
This then lead to the theatre production Op Hierie Dagand the public arts programme. Both the theatre and arts teams (each featuring around ten participants in their teams) sifted through vast bodies of research to create performances and exhibitions which fall outside of the more stereotypical ones that have come to define the region – and of course many others.
To find musicians, actors, writers and poets for the theatre production, a series of open auditions were hosted covering the town extensively. In the end, the panel saw over 100 people and completed call-backs and workshops to finalise the cast and musicians for the production.
Sadie explains that the visual arts, theatre and music are all invaluable modes of expression for communicating the research. “It’s important to have multiple entry points to make the project accessible to different audiences through different registers.”
“I was deeply inspired by the level of dedication, talent and commitment shown by the whole team and was challenged and changed by creating this work and dreaming alongside all of them. I believe the Karoo Kaarte process proves that collaboration at this scale can yield powerful and exciting creative results,” noted Coppen.
He argues that much of art and theatre making in the Western world is about individual ego, hierarchies and ownership, while all the outputs of Karoo Kaarte were achieved through deep conversation, consultation and collaboration with dozens and dozens of incredible minds and talents. “It was a process whereby each one of us were encouraged to contribute our respective skill sets and abilities to the mix.”
The theatre production of Op Hierie Dag, for example, featured many voices and contributions and a text inspired and co-authored by the citizens of Oudtshoorn. “One of the local participants, Tiffany Saterdacht and I worked incredibly hard to wield all these narratives into a coherent theatrical experiences, but the material itself literally stems from thousands of pages of research and interviews that were gathered by the Kaarte core team.”
“In the end there were so many people responsible for its success and reception and who could feel a sense of pride in what they collectively accomplished and saw up there on the stage.”
What excites Coppen and Sadie is the talent they unearthed. Many of them were young artists and arts leaders who worked tirelessly at their craft and disciplines for several years and honed their abilities despite the challenges they have faced around lack of access, recognition and platforms.
They both agreed that many of the participants across this project were some of the most talented and hardworking artists they had the privilege of working with.
If anything, this project set out to try dismantle this misconception that artists and performers from small towns (the fringes of more urban arts centres) are lesser or “amateur”… when all that’s really missing from the equation is the access to space, platforms, mentorship and resources.
When you are able to offer these elements to these artists and storytellers, they are truly able to shine and receive the sort of recognition that is long overdue to them. So a project like Karoo Kaarte tries to foster and build these platforms and shift the national spotlight to shine on worlds, people and stories that have been excluded from national stages and conversations for way too long. It’s really about treating Klein Karoo based artists and storytellers with the respect, audiences and attention they deserve.
For those of us lucky enough to see some of what they had created, the most impressive was the participants and their enthusiasm.
If I had one bit of criticism it was about not understanding the breadth of the project. I missed out on the museum collages and I know many were unaware of the musical evening at the end of the festival, one of my highlights of the festival. The result was that even more excitement around the project could have been generated.
Fortunately, as Coppen states, “the dream is for this process to continue and grow and expand well into the future and we are already dreaming up new processes as a collective for 2023”.
That is heartening and I for one will be planning ahead to make sure I witness Karoo Kaarte’s evolvement from start to finish. And I’m crossing fingers that this is a process that will spread to cities and towns across the country.
The six Kanna Award nominations for the theatre production alongside the Kanna Herrie-prys for cutting-edge contribution to the festival saw the Karoo Kaarte team sharing stages and recognition with some of South Africa’s top theatre and arts luminaries, an achievement that further begins to blur the lines between so called “community” artists and those who operate in the “mainstream.”
Karoo Kaarte, a KKNK project, was supported by the ATKV, Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief (NATi), the Oudtshoorn Municipality, the Western Cape Department of Culture and Sport, Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE), the Netherland Embassy of South Africa, the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Social Impact and Transformation, the C.P. Nel Museum, SON, Business Arts South Africa (BASA) and Absa. Research was supported under the To-Gather programme of the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia.
To sit in a buzzy theatre and wait for a play to start in Gauteng has been a rare thing these past few years, but it is seriously starting to happen again.
And what a thrill to witness two of our greats, John Kani and Michael Richard, sparring with each other in a play written by Kani.
He has, as many times before, read the times right and written accordingly. When someone of his stature and experience decides to tell our story in whichever way he chooses, we should listen. He is scratching at the heart of our much maligned nation and does it in a way that draws his audience in and has them laughing and crying with great regularity.
Staged in the big Mandela Theatre, where I have witnessed many musicals in my time, and perhaps one or two plays at most, I was nervous about the space and if it could hold the play.
But with the knowledge that racism in whatever form is even more relevant now than at any other time and should be talked about – especially by those who live the experience – the space embraced the play and the people. With only 50 percent capacity allowed, the theatre wasn’t packed, but enough of a crowd was there and they were vocal.
It is the kind of work that allows for that. Two old men, one white, one black, meet under less than favourable circumstances with the one dying and the other employed as his caregiver. Nasty old patterns creep in from the start as the white patient realises a (black) intruder has just entered the room. Stereotypical? Yes, but that’s what we need in these circumstances and Kani is wise enough to know how to tell this story and make his point with great force.
You realise from the start that there’s no subtlety here, but the thing is, racism doesn’t and can’t demand that. And I would much rather be hit full-on over and over again with a problem that persists so viciously through the ages, than sit with the denial countries like the US have to tackle now. They’re still arguing about slavery!
With our apartheid history and if the audience witnessed in the theatre that night are a sample of who we are, we at least know what racism is and that we have it in this country in abundance, but we’re also far enough down the road that we can sit together and both laugh and cry bitterly at what people do to one another. Even when facing death.
Kani has cleverly told his story with all the familiarities around an everyday situation. He is dealing in broad strokes so that you don’t miss the awful stupidity. And then you put it in the hands of two accomplished actors who can pull it off – brilliantly.
It is the stupidity of so much of human interaction that allows Kani to bring enough seriousness to the topic to never veer too far away from what we are dealing with. He has a distinct speaking and writing voice and it’s a thrill to experience both. And now he has added grace and elegance to the ageing process to have one watch in awe how he slips onto his knees and pops back again with the alacrity of someone much younger.
It is the skills he has honed with his abundance of stage smarts through his decades of dedication to his craft which are joyous to experience time and again. And fortunately for those of us who love live theatre, while he enjoys the honours of Hollywood and is picked for the big ones these days, he always returns to his first love. And we benefit gratefully.
Richard is another who always returns when offered the chance – and this was a good one. He does curmudgeon well and switches easily between biting his caregiver’s giving hand and dismissing his own foot-in-the-mouth statements while ignoring the impact on someone who lived through the worst of apartheid at the harshest receiving end.
That’s what this play is about, mirroring those tap-dripping daily ignorant remarks by careless people who have no clue how their behaviour impacts the lives of others.
Tired of people asking when recriminations about apartheid will stop, I turned to my truthsayer, who said: When the victims say so.
And especially in circumstances where one group mistreats and denies another even the basest of human rights, those on the other side, whether participating or not, should listen and learn. And this is what Kunene and the King does so magnificently.
There’s nothing here that we haven’t heard before – in abundance and regularly. The point is that we still hear and witness many of these loathsome behaviours on a daily basis. We’re 27 years into our democracy, a number that rings harshly in South African years.
It is 2022 and we have had a couple of dastardly isolating years during which to reflect, if nothing else. That’s why a play like Kunene and the King is a blessing especially when it is delivered in such a generously heart-warming yet heartfelt fashion.
The production is gently moulded by director Janice Honeyman, who is at her best when having to tell a story. She added the sass of design wiz Birrie le Roux and lighting genius Mannie Manim to add the visual strength as well as a magnificent musical interlude to soften the edges and complete a magical circle.
Kani and the team have staged a joyous theatrical experience in spite of the seriousness of the subject. That’s the way to make us laugh and learn.