When you are sitting in contemplation at the end of a year, your head packed full of memories of live festivals for the first time in 24 months, you realise the excitement, exuberance and energy live theatre brings to both performers and audiences. There’s simply nothing that compares DIANE DE BEER discovers. Here are just a few of those magical moments…:
There were many performances that I will hold onto for a lifetime, some that linger, others that were a fun watch, and one performance in particular that just made me senselessly happy.
(Pictures of Die Moeder by Emma Wiehman and top far right, Nardus Engelbrecht)
It was also the play, the director, and the rest of the cast, (Dawid Minnaar, Ludwig Binge, Ashley de Lange) , but Sandra Prinsloo was the star of Die Moeder, which had its debut at the Woordfees. It held all the potential of being something special, but what this actor brought to the role was spectacular. If this is how she dances into the twilight of her career, buckle up.
Director Christiaan Olwagen has been away playing successfully in television and movies, but it’s always on stage that he has been most impressive for me. It feels as if it is a medium he understands and where he feels at home and his vision translates magnificently.
With that driving her and a magnificent script, it was up to Prinsloo to plumb the depths of an ageing woman who has lost all sense of herself as the world (and her family) seems to have discarded her. Or that’s how she perceives it to be.
Prinsloo slips under her character’s skin (and yours) and more in a performance that simply surpasses everything she has done before (and there were some great ones). But this was next level and for this gracious actor, a just reward for years and years of hard work.
We all knew she was one of the greats and then she went one better! We’re blessed to have her.
The other magic Saartjie Botha created, with live performances allowing yet another experience of Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland’s Ferine and Ferasse, was the breathtaking Firefly. A production I can see over and over again, each time reliving the complete and overwhelming embrace of old-fashioned storytelling.
But let’s start at the beginning. I have been to perhaps too many festivals in my time, but this was my first time at Cape Town’s Suidooster at the start of a new (and hopefully) live 2022 and I was surprised and impressed by Jana Hatting’s ingenuity. Some of the smaller festivals have tight budgets, audience complexities and artists who are all vying for a slice of the cake.
She introduced a brilliant mini season titled Voices/Stemme for which she invited seasoned and exciting younger talent to tell stories, short ones, and they hit all the right buttons. It’s good at a festival, where the menu is diverse, to have short interludes of dedicated excellence. And with performances by Chris van Niekerk, Devonecia Swartz, Buhle Ngaba and Elton Landrew, for example, with directors and writers like Amelda Brand, Wessel Pretorius, Dean Balie and Jemma Kahn for these 10-minute short pieces, it hit the sweet spot time and again. And the shows were all free … and packed.
Because of the Zap Zap Circus, also on the Artscape premises, they’re included as part of the festival and that’s another huge tick in the box. There’s nothing like a circus for the whole family and especially this one, where such amazing development work is being done, is worth promoting. It also meant that the venue was available for other shows.
It’s a great little festival with great vibes as it is all contained on the premises of Artscape. Watch out for this one with many hidden treasures including young talent showing off their best on many different platforms. They had some amazing jazz as well, with some literary excellence happening on the writing/authors side.
KKNK was back with a bang, a smaller and shorter festival, but one that packed a punch. Perhaps it was a case of old favourites back at their best, but with the long break, that’s exactly what we wanted. Marthinus Basson delivered a double whammy with a recharged Ek, Anna van Wyk and a play that crept up on me and is still at work, Terminaal 3, both with star casts and both lingering with obliterating impact.
For me it was also a renewed admiration of Frieda van den Heever, the director and compiler of Oerkluts Kwyt, a programme celebrating the poetry of Antjie Krog, and the performance brilliance of Antoinette Kellermann, both of whom turned 70. Van den Heever had previously created the perfect Die Poet Wie’s Hy with Dean Balie.
She has a wonderful sensibility, she knows how to pick them and then present a programme basically consisting of the spoken word and music, but the way she balances content and creativity is delicately stunning. For this one she also brought on board astonishing sounds, two women who sing under the Ancient Voices title, the duo Lungiswa Plaatjies and Nimapostile Nyiki, – extraordinary.
I was also reminded this year to watch out for producer/performer/writer Anna Davel (production manager for above mentioned show). She has turned into someone who seems to spot gold. She was also responsible (and part of performance) for Aardklop’s Mixtape van die Liefde where another new artist, Stephanie Baartman, made her mark. She has been part of the television soapie circuit for a few years, but she announced her presence on stage with poetry and song. And that, I suspect, is just a smidgeon of what she will show in the future.
Everyone was also raving about Davel’s exceptional 21, presented at KKNK. She has always shone on stagte, but her voice and her comfort levels on stage have matured magnificently.
Karatara, a production I’ve written about frequently, is one that honours the story which deals with the devastating Knysna fires. The performers (dancers Grant Van Ster and Shaun Oelf and Dean Balie, narrator) as well as the creative team, Wilken Calitz and Gideon Lombard created something extraordinary . It’s worth seeing again and again as it feeds the soul.
And who can forget the art of Karen Preller? Her mesmerising exhibiton took you back in time in an extraordinarily unique way.
Om Skoon Te Wees with Conradie van Heerden
And as an interlude there was the hugely successful Lucky Pakkies, an extension of the previously popular Uitkampteater, which created a stage for shorter if no less exciting work and some extraordinary performances.
It’s also a concept that allows performers to practise and hone their craft in different genres as well as roles. Writers are given a chance for short and sassy work, actors have a smaller if intimate and often vulnerable stage and directors are offered an opportunity to try different things in challenging spaces.
In the Free State, it is always the art that overwhelms and again they didn’t disappoint, one example being Pitika Ntuli’s Return To The Source (which can still be seen at the Oliewenhout Art Museum on your way to the coast), which is simply stunning and perfect for the space at that amazing institution, and they also have a provocative permanent exhibition worth viewing again and again. André Bezuidenhout’s unique photographs was another winner, with the subject well-chosen and then magnificently captured.
And then there was the welcome return of Elzabé Zietsman with the hard-hitting Femme is Fatale. This is someone who understands how to grab you by the throat when there’s no other way. Her intent is to violently if necessary showcase gender-based violence. We all know the scourge it is in this country and no one is listening.
She is going to try her best to make you listen. And with a script which is as blunt and blistering as it is determined, she hits where it hurts most. Being the veteran she is, there’s not a note, a line or a hair out of place and she shows what contemporary cabaret can achieve when done with heartfelt honesty. It’s a courageous and memorable performance.
Another standout and engaging performance was the dance production Blame It On the Algorithm by the Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre. It was mesmerising, memorable and something completely different, always a gift for a festival.
Finally it was with a new stance that Aardklop approached the 2022 live season. Instead of hosting a festival in Potchefstroom (it will be returning there in 2023), shows were also presented in Pretoria and Jozi. There are many differing opinions about the success, but for artistic director Alexa Strachan it is about survival.
They’re a small and possibly struggling yet determined artistic collective and they produced a few winners of which the standout was Nataniël’s Die Smitstraat Suite, an astonishing accomplishment.
It’s been a lifelong dream for this prolific artist/composer whom many simply know as a pop composer. Not being my field of expertise, he explained that the music was inspired by the classical oratorium with nine compositions sung in English and Latin (some of his songs not previously recorded combined with original music). He was accompanied by the excellent Akustika Choir led by Christo Burger.
And to add his trademark stamp, an original series of stories, which cleverly pulls the title and the full performance together.
This is what makes him so unique. Few people have the skill to come up with something as complicated as this music with choir and solo parts, accompanied by the Charl du Plessis Trio. And then to add some achingly funny stories that introduce an explosive touch before you lose yourself again in the exquisite music.
He also had two other performances at festivals during the year. First there was Moscow at the Suidooster at the beginning of the year and then Prima Donna at the KKNK. Both of these were innovative and unique in performance, scripts and music, all executed by the artist himself except for the musicans (Charl du Plessis Trio) and costume designer Floris Louw who all contributed with flourish.
Produced under the Aardklop Aubade flag, this classical season, introduced by Aardklop and led by Charl du Plessis presents Sunday morning classical concerts at Affies to re-introduce the classics to a previously enthusiastic audience as well as a stage for especially solo artists, but not exclusively so. It’s another great festival invention.
In similar vein, with the help of the KKNK, artists Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie established the ongoing Karoo Kaarte with the aim of promoting real change in communities. The idea was to use the arts in many different ways to change the narrative of the Oudtshoorn community to a more inclusive one.
These were early days, but the work which included fine art projects to navigate and explore identities as well as a theatre production which involved the community and workshopped a story to include all their lives and dreams.
Ownership has been activated, but this was simply the beginning and it is going to be hugely exciting to watch how this develops and how local artists are given wings.
And of course there was so much more…