Festivals, each one of them, are their own creatures. They’re put together in a way that hopes to attract audiences and once they’re there, will feed and nourish them in many different ways. That’s exactly what this year’s Klein  Karoo National Festival achieved and here are just a handful of reasons why. DIANE DE BEER gives her impressions of some of the best:

Pictures: Hans van der Veen

Picture (above) capturing the Karoo by Fahiem Stellenboom.

First the music productions:

Stylish simplicity of Woordmusiek staging.

Woordmusiek: One of the toughest  things is to keep a stage/performance career going. Coenie de Villiers knows this.

Stylish simplicity of Woordmusiek staging. (Van der Veen)

Especially on the music side. Even if someone like De Villiers is hugely popular, his music part of the Afrikaans lexicon, and his performance style slick and always smartly rehearsed.

It’s quite something to keep reinventing yourself, however. How long will an audience keep listening to the same songs done in exactly the same style and presentation?

Coenie de Villiers (Van der Veen)

De Villiers has always had the key to renewal: collaboration. And while that can also work against you because it can be seen as too gimmicky, he has the musical and performance nous to make it work – and in this instance, brilliantly.

With this one, he decided to focus on his lyrics. He cleverly invited three of our top actors, all with distinct voices – Jana Cilliers, Vinette Ebrahim and Antoinette Kellermann – to read his lyrics as if poems, which they are when done in this way. And in between, he performed his music, some with, and others without song.

Voices that opened vistas.

The staging was stylish without any frills, and guitar genius Mauritz Lotz provided another musical element – and voila, it was a sublime performance with not a note or sound out of place.

Anders/Eenders: a musical ensemble that sparkled. Each individual performer had his/her own style and together, they blend and cook musically.

There’s the superb songbird Sima Mashazi with the extraordinary voice and stage presence; African guitar genius Louis Mhlanga who is as gentle as his music is glorious; the exuberant Riaan van Rensburg on percussion; keyboard king Ramon Alexander; and brilliant producer/bass Schalk Joubert who always looks as if he is enjoying making music while finding the best sounds.

The fact that they all compose and perform their own music adds to the special sound they create as a group. It is the best of who we are, with music that covers the spectrum and tells stories that criss-crosses the country and holds us all together.

You walk out of there overwhelmed and bouncing with African rhythms. It’s a blast and so much part of the South African fabric.

Kanna for Best Presentation – music, sponsored by Castle Lager: Ver innie wêreld Kittie ; Kanna for Best Ensemble, sponsored by Kunste Onbeperk; Ver innie wêreld Kittie

Ver Innie Wêreld Kittie: It might be an intimate setting, but it’s a huge story with heart  – and one of David Kramer’s best. I loved the intimacy of the staging with only four dazzling actors/singers (Dean Balie, Rushney Ferguson, Jenny Stead and André Terblanche) and two musicians, Nick Turner and Yvan Potts.

In 1952, Doris Day and Frankie Lane had a hit with Sugarbush, which was apparently written by Josef Marais (the stage name of Joseph Pessach). Marais and his wife Rosa de Miranda became hugely successful in the US as a folk duo who sang Afrikaans songs translated by Marais into English.

Back home and much later, Kramer hears about Marais’s talent because these two musos both grew up in Worcester. But no one remembers Marais, except Renaye Kramer’s aunt Lily Lange who was courted in her youth by Pessach, who wasn’t considered a good enough catch by the family.

From left: , Jenny Stead , dean Balie, Rushney Ferguson, André Terblanche with David and KKNK Ce=EO Hugo Theart.

Weaving all these stories together, Kramer adds meat to the story by telling a tale of appropriation, something which has long been a problem on especially the African continent. The performers, the staging, the story, the words, used very sparsely but specifically, and the way Kramer tells the story, all contribute to a magical musical affair.

As usual, Kramer has excelled in the casting, with this quartet bursting with talent. And keeping it small, hopefully this one will travel far and wide. It’s a universal story told with heartiness and honesty by performers who are world class.

And then theatre:

Kanna for Best Interpretation, sponsored by Wicus Pretorius: Dawid Minnaar – Mirakel

Dawid Minnaar in a delicious performance with a brave Bettie Kemp who sailed through the play brilliantly as a last-minute replacement.

I have to start with Reza de Wet’s Mirakel ,directed by by her close friend Marthinus Basson. This has always been a stage match made in heaven.

But I hadn’t realised that this was a play I had never seen – and what a delight with a darkness captured in the script. De Wet can be quite melancholy with stories that tear you apart as she scratches around in the psyche of her people.

The cast of Mirakel with a fully cooked dinner including roast lamb … every performance!

But here she looks at a theatrical touring group with a much more gentle eye as she captures all the stereotypes in what can be a very melodramatic world. All the world’s a stage and nowhere is this more true than here.

And Basson’s first masterstroke was the casting. Dawid Minnaar’s performance sets the tone and gives free rein to the rest of the cast as they all swing into over-the-top storytelling that will have you in stitches.

But what lingers is the toughness that is here hidden by play, the struggle to practise something that brings pleasure. The way we regard and value our artists and allow them the space to breathe and to grow. All of which in the long run will bring huge rewards.

I hope this can travel all over and play as many runs as can possibly be imagined. If ever you want to flee the problems of the present, this is where you want to go. It’s fun, it sketches a world we are all familiar with but perhaps not often part of and it allows the actors to go at it full tilt – and no one does it quite as deliciously and with so much relish (one can almost see him smacking his lips as he enters the stage) as Minnaar.

This is one I will cherish for a long time as the depth of what De Wet wanted us to contemplate lingers.

Kanna for Best Design and Technical Contribution, sponsored by Herotel: Craig Leo and Neil Coppen for the concept and design of Droomkraan Kronieke; For a second year running and deservedly so Herrie Prize for innovation or ground-breaking work, sponsored by Kunste Onbeperk: Karoo Kaarte

The enchanting cast of Droomkraan Kronieke stole hearts and more.

And as with Mirakel, similar things can be said of Karoo Kaarte’s Droomkraan Kronieke.

If anyone were wondering about the viability and sustainability of this dream project driven by Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie, they simply had to witness the leap this team has made in just a year following last year’s Op Hierdie Dag, which also received much praise, seven nominations and a win for artist Marinda Ntantiso.

This time they were aided by internationally renowned puppet master Craig Leo as well as actor Carlo Daniels, and the full team of actors worked much more in a cohesive unit, than the previous time.

It was a fun, emotionally fulfilling and rewarding experience as the actors displayed their performance skills, exuberance and energy and their growth in professional approach and execution.

This is a production that will play anywhere without any explanation needed of where they come from and who they are. That’s simply embellishment and heightens the admiration one feels for what they have achieved and the lives that are changed. Both for those performing and watching.

I wrote a huge piece on Karoo Kaarte last year (check for it in my blog if you want background), but it should also stand as a blueprint of how to make a festival (or any event) inclusive in an attempt to upend the status quo.

What Droomkraan Kronieke achieves more than anything else is to show and point to the potential right in front of our eyes and what happens when two artists (with the help of gracious donors and many other hands) can achieve with a community that has previously been held back and not given the opportunities.

Kanna for Best Director, sponsored by the ATKV Nicola Hanekom – Mirre en aalwyn; Kanna for Best Presentation – theatre, sponsored by the Het Jan Marais Nationale FondsMirre en aalwyn; Kanna for Best Literary Contribution, sponsored by NATi; Nicola Hanekom – Mirre en aalwyn (original script).

Leading the way, a heartbreaking performance by Amalia Uys.

Finally, Nicola Hanekom is back with yet another of her shattering site-specific pieces Mirre en Aalwyn, and as always she’s tuned into the zeitgeist, with abuse the one issue that has for many years grabbed the headlines. More  than ever, it is critical in communities worldwide and in South Africa in particular.

There’s hardly a woman who reaches adulthood who cannot speak of an incident and often worse that can be ticked off as abuse. (If anyone heard Trump’s recent monstrous ramblings, that says it all). And instead of things improving and more people taking up the cause, it’s as if people turn their heads away and ignore those talking too loudly.

Elzabé Zietsman is doing the festival circuit with her devastating solo Femme is Fatale and now Hanekom has also stepped into the arena with a piece that doesn’t flinch as they go full on to investigate this scourge in especially women’s lives.

And in this instance where it besets families and the women have no protection, no one to turn to, no positive role models, it’s almost as if they turn on themselves. It’s the only thing of value they have to display and that’s where they go. And to add to the dilemma, they have found a voice in social media where everything is amplified, not always in especially the vicitms’s interest.

Oudtshoorn with its spectacular weather and environment offers the perfect canvas and Hanekom has refined this gloves-off type of approach when dealing with tough topics.

Her cast, always handpicked with great care, tell a story that audiences have to hear, and Hanekom introduces enough darkness and light to hold the attention and make the most explosive impact.

If you don’t leave this one shattered, think again.

And watch out, it might be difficult to play somewhere else because it is site-specific, but when there’s a will, there’s a way. And for this one, that’s how it should be.

Until next year, meanwhile there’s the Karoo Klassique from 4 to 7 August later this year. Also check the next story on the fabulous art.