On and Off Stage Charl and Nataniël Sparkle and Shine in Story and Song

NatanielCharlOn February 5, showman Nataniël and his piano man Charl du Plessis celebrate 20 years in performance together. They tell DIANE DE BEER why – in spite of such different personalities – it has worked and turned into the perfect professional partnership:

 

To witness these two talk about their dual career is to understand their partnership. Because they spend so much time traveling and performing, they can complete one another’s sentences – and often do.

Du Plessis is also one of those caring souls who understands the pressures his funny man must endure daily and when he can, he tries to make life simple and at the same time sweet.

When they arrive at an airport with someone waiting to drive them to the next small town and

Nats en Charl
Charl (piano) and Nataniël in concert.

tells him to take the front seat, he understands the artist wants to take a back seat in all the implications of the word.

Theirs is no ordinary life as they arrive at small town halls, discover interior decorations that make them want to burst into tears and have to find a way – diplomatically often – to fix. And diplomatic is hardly in Nataniël’s nature and we love him for that.

Charl is also constantly trying to avoid embarrassing situations because Nataniël on seeing something he abhors might ask if there was a blind mannequin in charge of decorations. It’s Charl’s way to find gentler phrases while Nataniël uses humour to deflect his disdain.

He might be sweeping the foyer while Charl tries to make the dressing rooms habitable – or whatever is needed. “I’m a team player,” says Du Plessis, while Nataniël would rather run a mile.

Nats and Charl laughing

A lamp might need straightening or a straight face needs to save the day when first impressions might include a bed as part of the stage set-up.

But part of that has also impacted Du Plessis’s career in a big way. This is how he learnt the ropes. “He was interested in everything from the beginning,” says Nataniël. He wanted to know it all – from lighting to staging – and today it is part of his own shows.”

Du Plessis has contributed in his own way too. The band,  including Du Plessis, that currently plays for Nataniël is part of the Charl du Plessis Trio that he formed. “It makes it so much easier as we all know one another extremely well.” In fact, I have even heard Nataniël say quite fondly (he will deny this!) that his current company operates like a family

“I have become lazy,” explains Nataniël, because of the energetic Du Plessis who has taken so many of the mundane tasks of performance on his shoulders. For him it is about making Nataniël ‘s life easier. At the beginning, his own career might have been a touch quieter, but these days, he is juggling as many balls as Nataniël and he has to operate on a generous abundance of energy that keeps him running.

Charl and Nataniel at play
Impromptu at the French Embassy in Pretoria at the launch of Nataniël’s book about Nantes.

“I used to do everything myself …” says Nataniël as he reminds himself of the early days. But that diminishes as you start growing your empire.

Du Plessis at some point even started producing most of Nataniël’s shows. “There are a few theatres I am happy dealing with but not too many,” says Nataniël. These have become Du Plessis’s responsibility and Nataniël knows he will organise it all with the precision he needs.

“I speak for a living,” explains Nataniël, when chatting about his reluctance to communicate off stage. “Have you noticed, hairdressers often have the worst hairdo’s themselves. So it follows … ” He has probably said as much as he wants you to know, on stage, and he is adamant that it is there that he likes surprising people.

Charl en Nataniel

I have learnt that through the years of doing interviews about upcoming shows. It’s not that he tells any lies or doesn’t give me information, it’s just that once I’ve written and published and then see the show, I realise he hasn’t given away a damn thing! “What’s the point,” he wants to know?

Even the band doesn’t really know what the show is about before opening night. “We only rehearse the music and the scene changes if we need to carry props or some such, not Nataniël’s stories,” adds Du Plessis. “It’s quite tough keeping a straight face on opening night!”

He also doesn’t like complimenting. “I will say something if it doesn’t work or is wrong,” he says. “I reward with gifts and food!”

That was probably one of the toughest adjustments for Du Plessis. But he acknowledges that there was a neediness to have his talent confirmed by others. It’s been a bonus to bolster his own confidence.

He is constantly writing thankyou notes about something that has happened between them or a particular gratitude he wants to express. And in their own way, they have carved a working relationship that is smooth sailing most of the time.

Right from the start, Du Plessis knew that Nataniël wasn’t interested in technology. He wants everything – like his phone eg – to work, but he doesn’t need to know how. That is just one of the interventions he applies in his boss/friend’s life. And even while chatting, Nataniël has some phone queries that need solving.

CharlNat
charl and Nataniël in tandem.

“I write everything down in a paper diary,” says Nataniël. Du Plessis’s life  is checked into his phone or other electronic devices.

When he has sung the last note at a concert, Nataniël already has his mind on that night’s supper, which he will buy on his way home. Du Plessis on the other hand is happy mingling with friends and fans in the foyer for as long as it takes. “He networks, me not so much,” says Nataniël.

Du Plessis is happy to chat to anyone who corners him,  Nataniël is thinking how he can avoid a handshake, one of his many foibles. Du Plessis, explains Nataniël, is happy to explain something to someone in great detail. He on the other hand is curt and hopes to detour as many people as possible.

At some point, Charl decided Nataniël suffers from night blindness, and he is the one to drive as soon as darkness descends.

One of their most dramatic moments was when Nataniël ‘crashed’ on stage because of low blood sugar. “With a phalanx of medics around him and the band trying to help where they can, the audience were laughing because they thought it was all part of a joke,” notes Charl as he shakes his head at their sometimes bizarre circumstances.

“Now I know I simply have to eat an apple halfway through the show,” says Nataniël. They love and learn.

And as they chatter, while Du Plessis is the busy bee and the organiser of the two, Nataniël is the one who keeps everyone laughing. Not always purposely, but it’s the way he operates, how his mind works and how he communicates.

And thus it has been for these two artists together – and in their own right. More than anything, what they have in common is their love of the stage and their ability to perform. On stage, they sparkle and shine for their adoring audiences.

May it last for the longest time!

*They are going to present only a clutch of concerts: TWINTIG!, the first, on July 19 at Atterbury Theatre. Booking at iTicket.

Twintig!TWENTY! with a Symphony Orchestra in the SAND, Boemfontein on September 2 and 3. Tickets at Computicket. 

Watch out for further notices on their different websites and on social media. This is one fans don’t want to miss.

 

 

Diversity is Artistic Director James Ngcobo’s Loadstar at The Market

Pictures: THANDILE ZWELIBANZI

Paradise Blue
From left: Pakamisa Zwedala , Aubrey Poo (centre), Lesedi Job, Aubrey Poo (centre), and Seneliso Dladla with Busisiwe Lurayi (front).

It is diversity which strikes you when you look at the start of the 2020 theatre year at The Market. DIANE DE BEER speaks to artistic director James Ngcobo about his first production for Black History Month (a collaboration in its fifth year with the US Embassy in South Africa) which starts on January 31, but also checks what else is on offer:

It has been a longtime dream of  James Ngcobo to stage Paradise Blue, which he describes as a “dynamic, jazz-infused drama by award-winning African American playwright Dominique Morisseau about what’s at stake when building a better future”.

In a recent YouTube documentary on the gentrification of Los Angeles which in this instance affected an African American suburb also described as the heart of jazz in the city, longtime residents were complaining how they were being pushed out of their own neighborhood. The inference was clear, as soon as the suburb becomes white, it’s time for those who created the vibe in the first place to leave. They can’t afford it any longer anyway.

Similar scenes play out in Paradise Blue, which captures the yearning of individuals sidelined by life into the role of second-class citizens living and working in a black neighbourhood on the cusp of obliteration as part of the city’s plan to eliminate “blight”.  The characters face issues that will resonate today worldwide and specifically with South African audiences while enlightening them about similar struggles faced by low-income inner-city communities around the world.

Ngcobo had this one in mind for a few years and has assembled a young dream cast, all of whom he has worked with before. “It’s about collaboration,” says Ngcobo, which played into his choices.

One of his favourite leading men, Aubrey Poo, plays Blue, a castrated character whose life is in a rut. “He wants it all, his women and his club, yet his is a life of limitations. It looks at patriarchy but also hierarchy, which all come into play,” notes Ngcobo.

It’s a tough piece and he needed a seasoned cast who could pick up the vibe and develop it quickly. “Tight funding determines short rehearsal times,” he explains. The supporting cast includes Pakamisa Zwedala (A Raisin in the Sun) and Seneliso Dladla (One Night In Miami) as his fellow band members P-Sam and Corn. Busisiwe Lurayi (Nina Simone in F our Women) will play the naïve Pumpkin and another regular collaborator Lesedi Job (A Raisin in the Sun  as well as many other performances and directing) as the threatening Silver.

Apart from honouring Black History Month, Ngcobo pays further homage to his love of telling stories with a strong musical element and while it doesn’t feature that strongly in the original play, it’s something that resonates in much of his work as he uses music as another voice to embellish the story.

He also wanted to move away from stories about Rosie Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, all of whom have been celebrated in previous Black History Month performances. This season start tomorrow and runs until March 1 in the John Kani Theatre at The Market, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.

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Wilhelm van der Walt and André Odendaal in Dop directed by Sylvaine Strike. Picture by Kosie Smit.

In the meantime, things are pumping at the Market Theatre Complex. The award-winning Dop directed by Sylvaine Strike and starring André Odendaal and Wilhelm van der Walt  has just finished a short run, and playwright William Harding – whose previous work has included the adaptation of the hugely successful Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof; The Cenotaph of Dan Wa Moriri and most recently Twelve Years a Poet based on the poetry of Vus’umuzi Pakhati – makes his debut as a professional director at the Market Theatre with his play, The Kings of the World.

Kings of the World
William Harding and Kaz MacFadden in The Kings of the World.

As is Ngcobo’s practice, he loves giving young artists a chance, but lends them a strong guiding hand, in this instance, director/actor Robert Whitehead, who will be mentoring the project.

The play is described as a dark comedy about the ineptitude and desperation of our times. It takes place during one night in a suburban garden cottage, where two friends and a roommate confront their neuroses and inadequacies as the night unravels around them.

Harry arrives uninvited at his friend’s cottage. David, having recently returned from a trip to Paris has become somewhat reclusive and reluctantly invites him in. David reveals he has a job opening as a freelance online copywriter.  And Harry immediately wants to be part of the action.

However, complications around the job soon arise and are further compounded when David’s drunken roommate returns.  As paranoia and desperation take over, the situation becomes tense and threatens to boil over into a dangerous conclusion. The cast includes Harding, Chris Djuma and Kaz MacFadden.

Currently running, the season ends on February 16 at the Barney Simon with performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 8.15pm and on Sundays at 3.15pm.

Brothers Gustav Gerdener, Drikus Volschecnk, Dawid MMinnaar and Ruan Wessels
Brothers Gustav Gerdener, Drikus Volschecnk, Dawid Minnaar and Ruan Wessels (front)

Finally there’s an award-winning play by Victor Gordon, Brothers, that reflects the serious side of family tragedies that tear families apart and the fundamental human truths about families haunted by past occurrences.

Again, Ngcobo combines youth and experience with actor Francois Jacobs, who makes his directing debut mentored by the award-winning actor and director, Mncedisi Shabangu, an alumnus of the Market Theatre Laboratory.

 

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Mncedisi Shabangu and Xolile Gama in vuka Machel! at the Market Lab

And to add to the productivity, Shabangu is also currently starring in Vuka Machel (with three shows left, tonight and tomorrow night at 815 and Sunday at 315pm) a revolutionary comedy told by two chicken thieves from Kanyamazane, just outside Nelspruit in Mpumalanga.

In this rollicking storytelling romp, Machel wakes from the dead to find his wife married to Mandela and Mozambique suffering. He challenges Mandela to all sorts of fights. The biggest mistake he makes is to agree to a negotiation at the World Trade Centre where Mandela challenges him to a boxing match. (Mandela is notorious for winning all his 50 fights through negotiations.)

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Two actors at play in Vuka Machel!

 

Originally created in 1998 and the winner of an FNB Vita Award for Best Director in 2003, Vuka Machel was last performed as a one-off presentation as part of the Market Lab’s 30-year celebrations this year, where it received such an enthusiastic response that it was clear that it needed a longer season.

Written and directed by Market Lab alumnus Shabangu, and performed by Shabangu (who is an absolute treat to watch as his face and whole body all go into performance mode) and Xolile Gama (who is the fall guy), the play is a funny and insightful commentary on the lives and philosophies of two of Africa’s most influential leaders. But just in general, pushing all the boundaries, it’s a blast and perfect for the start of a year.

And for Brothers, there’s further excitement with a cast which includes Dawid Minnaar  who is joyously becoming a regular at The Market supported by an exciting and quite novel cast including Drikus Volschenk, David James, Gustav Gerderner and Ruan Wessels.

Brothers with Dawid Minnaar and Drikus Volschenk
Brothers featuring Dawid Minnaar and Drikus Volschenk

It’s also worth taking note of Karabo Legoabe’s impressive and authentic set.

Brothers is a family drama set in the Eastern Cape in the 1950s. It is a harsh existence and the story focuses on the return of a brother who had mysteriously disappeared 18 years earlier. The story reflects both the social strata and attitudes that exist within a poor white family who eked out a meagre existence in this desolate part of the world. As one can imagine, the brother’s return unearths all kinds of family secrets and frustrations that have remained hidden all these years, and the results are unexpected and dramatic.

Brothers runs until February 24 in the Mannie Manim Theatre concluding the first clutch of plays at the Market Theatre in 2020. It’s one to experience more than anything for the debut of a young director and an excellent cast.

It’s a strong starting salvo and promises much for the rest of the year.

Bring on the women…

Retief Scholtz’s Dop is a Moment in Time with the Actors Participating in the Dance

Dop poster

DIANE DE BEER

PALY: Dop

PLAYWRIGHT: Retief Scholtz

DIRECTOR: Sylvaine Strike

CAST: André Odendaal, Wilhelm van der Walt

VENUE: Market Theatre

UNTIL January 19

“Skink nog ‘n dop,” (pour another drink) is the constant refrain between the older customer and a young barman. And in this context, dop means both drink and to fail – both of which dominate the interaction between the two.

Because the requests never stop, what starts as bravura conversation dominated by the man who introduces himself as Frank Venter (Odendaal), soon becomes maudlin.

It’s his birthday and as a leap-year baby, born on 29 February 1960, his father made sure that his birthday was only celebrated every 4 years. Tonight is his 60th and Frank is determined to celebrate with as many toasts as he can muster and might have missed out on through the years.

DOP - Foto kosie Smit (002)
In contem-plation, André O)dendaal (front) and Wilhelm van der Walt in the Sylvaine Strike-directed Dop. Picture: Kosie Smit

The youngster serving, Tim, is South African but spent most of his teen years in Australia. He was kept in touch with his birth country and language, which he now speaks with a heavy Aussie accent, through a loving granny who wrote him regular letters. But his absence from his homeland, all his parents’ doing, was a painful one and he has returned in search of something lost.

And suddenly the link becomes clear. Coming from different perspectives, these two drifting souls understand loss and the pain that comes with that.

They might differ in age and seemingly have little in common but as their conversation twists and turns they discover some truths that hit the mark for both of them. Frank seems to be drinking to forget rather than celebrate and Tim is determined to mine him for some wisdom on a declaration of love.

Dop 3 (002)
André Odendaal and Wilhelm van der Walt in Retief Scholtz’s Dop. Picture: Kosie Smit

It’s about random conversations between strangers that quickly become quite intimate because of the free flowing liquor and a compulsion to scratch underneath the surface. Both find themselves at crossroads with parallels but more importantly understanding and insight for the other’s dilemma.

As part of the growing melancholy that becomes part of the night, memories are interwoven as the music of Johannes Kerkorrel (late ‘80s and early ‘90s) becomes an emotional soundtrack.

It is the setting, the movie-go-round set which suggests amongst others the physical but also the mental effects of too much liquor and also the superb performances as the two men work at cross-purposes to pull as much as they can from one another.

Odendaal walks a fine line as the drinking starts having an effect and he swings between boisterous and belligerent. He also introduces some fine gymnastics whether to show off a youthful passion or simply stretching for his car keys.

But it is his detailed work of an ageing man still dealing with resentment towards a neglectful father as well as a more recent loss, the thin veneer of a man who doesn’t care and yet can show insight towards other mournful souls.

Van der Walt as the counterpoint plays with a youthful enthusiasm but also an eagerness to have his own needs met. He is trying hard to keep his customer happy while hanging  loose, pouring drinks with some panache and keeping the banter light.

For the director, apart from her first foray into Afrikaans writing, the play is also different to anything else she has done, a challenge she relishes and pursues. There’s always the Strike trademarks but she always stretches herself, the actors and her audience.

This is Strike heaven: two brilliant actors, a strong text which she could play with and steer, and a set that allows her actors and the stories to dance.

It’s a moment in time and while there’s a sadness that lingers, it also captures the magic of two strangers reaching out, trying to make sense and finding some understanding. That’s life – and often richer than one can imagine.

Nataniël’s Antidote to a World in Pain is to Make Us Scream With Laughter – Please Don’t Refuse to Listen

DIANE DE BEER

Nataniel in red
Nataniël in classic red.

 

Nataniël’s  LILY REFUSES TO LISTEN

With musician Charl du Plessis (piano), Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drums)

Costumes by Floris Louw

VENUE: Atterbury Theatre, Lynnwood

DATES: January 21 to 25

Book at iTickets

 

Nataniël starts his year exactly as he ended it – on stage with the laughter and merriment of his latest show, Lily Refuses to Listen.

This short run is specially for those who missed it first time round – or those who want to see it again. It is that good – and funny!

As always, he pitches perfectly, not only with the music but also with the mood that he creates in both stories and song.

Whether we are ending or starting a new year, nobody wants to hear any bad news. This is a time of reflection, of course, but rather than focus on all the sadness and misery in our troubled world, he finetunes his music and words sharply with both sweetness and hilarity, something no one does better.

From the moment he starts singing My Sweet Song, the  music sets the tone with a slow swing, but as he slips into his first story, all of that changes dramatically.

The stories, all stand-alone, show Nataniël at his best as he lets rips with language and laughter, the perfect antidote for this time of year as we want to kickstart it, preferably raucously.

He gathers his usual wacky characters, all visualised with detailed descriptions, all determined to take your breath away.

It’s the way he conjures up a world we all recognise but in spectacular colours and with an exaggeration that’s tough to resist.

And with one of the show’s aims (New Year resolution perhaps) to get people to think about their lives and take courage to say no rather than too easily agree to something they really don’t want to do, he’s also quick to jump on anyone playing with cell phones, the bane of performers as the lights are clearly visible and especially distracting for those on stage.

That and people who keep chatting during the performance who are as much a disturbance to the performer as those in proximity of the culprit.

It’s about the performance, staying in the moment and giving a show that embraces everything this showman admires. And for him it is time to call them out. So pay attention, it’s the entertainment you’re there for, you and those around you.

The music is all about nostalgia with classics like Sweet Georgia Brown,  a beautiful  if perhaps not so familiar Beatles song, Golden Slumber, Ain’t no Sunshine, Many Rivers to Cross and more, a few original numbers elaborated with stories about some of the songs and their composers.

One of this singer’s many attributes is his amazing arrangement of classics to suit his voice but also to make it his own. It adds to a familiar tune and sometimes completely changes the meaning of a song because of the way we listen.

And finally, the costumes. It’s where all his shows begin, the design and  creativity of the couture to lead into the stories and songs. Again, it is spectacular in all the colours of the rainbow with shapes that make your head spin and a desire to copy some of his detail.

If you’re not quite in the right place yet to begin the year, this is the perfect place to start. It will put your head in the clouds where it can stay for a while as you get into the rhythm of the new year and all it will hopefully stack up to be.

 

 

Peter Pan on Ice is Fun Festive Entertainment for the Family

DIANE DE BEER

Poster 2 Teatrosmall (002)

PETER PAN ON ICE

COMPANY: The Imperial Ice Stars who collectively hold more than 250compdetition medals and include 23 former World, European and National Championship-level skaters

PRODUCER and ARTISTIC DIRECTOR/CHOREOGRAPHER: Tony Mercer

VENUE: Teatro at Montecasino

DATES: Until January 11; Tuesday to Friday at 7.30pm; Saturdays 3pm and 7.30pm; Sundays 2pm and 5.30pm

It is the time of year when entertainment takes on different proportions. For many the end of 2019 means sheer exhaustion and what we need is some rollicking fun and whoopee, ESCAPISM in capital letters.

That’s exactly what this one is with accent on family, which is perfect for this time of year. This is when you want to pack the kids into the car and take them for a magical evening to a show that creates a magical wonderland.

PANimage1
It’s fun and games for the cast of Peter Pan on Ice

It’s not easy to capture the amazement of young and old in one show but the sheer splendour of skillful skating will do it every time. And then to scale it down to fit onto a theatre stage while not diminishing any of the spectacle, is quite something.

The previous shows by this company include Swan Lake on Ice, Sleeping Beauty on Ice and Cinderella on Ice, all of them spectacular in their own right and expect nothing less from this one. Their reputation is firmly established.

Peter Pan is perhaps a more complicated story to tell in this fashion but the company made full use of the inspiring and inspired extras including flight, something that Peter Pan and Tinker Bell do with grace. It’s huge fun including some unexpected innovative figures like a dancing crocodile who is arguably the most popular character on stage – even though he frightened a few of the young ones at first sight.

Perhaps that’s why Captain Hook didn’t seem as ferocious as his reputation predicts and one expected him to be. After all he is the leader of the fearsome pirates!

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It’s a show packed with athletic acrobatics.

But this is a great yarn and while perhaps it’s not for the very young, there’s enough action to keep everyone happy. From the astounding and non-stop acrobatics of the full cast, the balletic aerial gymnastics and exquisite flight sequences, which are always fun to watch, the balance between the spectacular and skillful skating and the action sequences with even a fire-on-ice scene for breath-taking dramatic effect are all part of a theatrical presentation.

As the story unfolds, Wendy and her brothers are whisked off by the boy who never grows old and his accomplice, Tinker Bell to Neverland where they meet the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and some swimming mermaids on the way to a showdown between the good guys (Peter and the gang) and Captain Hook and his pirates.

Towards the end, everyone was in the mood as the champion croc gets them rocking and the magic of Peter Pan and his girl, once again, captured the imagination.

It’s a smart invention, an ice spectacular in a theatre. It keeps it intimate, turns the choreography into something more balletic and up close, while audiences in a sweltering Africa are transported to a completely different world.

Take the leap with them. It’s a way to send of the old and welcome the new!

Nataniël Set to Sparkle in Xmas Show

Nataniel Xmas posterDIANE DE BEER

It’s been a remarkable year for Nataniël with his first memoir published in both Afrikaans and English last month and a return to Emperors for his spectacular annual show. Now the sparkler on the tip of the Christmas tree is his end-of-year concert at the Atterbury Theatre in his hometown.

The title, Lily Refuses to Listen, is already worth the price of admission, but especially for those whose spirits are dampened by the distress of today’s world, this is one to opt for. An escape that will have you thinking while laughing and crying from start to finish!

From Tuesday December 3 tot Sunday December 8, Nataniël presents a brand new show at Atterbury Theatre for a limited season of 6 performances only.

“At the end of another year of being bombarded by bad news,” he writes, “damning prophecies, evil politics, corruption, loud neighbours, endless traffic, horrific music, bad advertising and desperate social media,” this is a time to celebrate personal space, personal choices, selective listening, self-care and resilience.

“Out with the bull, in with the beauty!” is his war cry. “Out with the yes, in with the no! Out with the trends, in with the timeless! Out with parties, in with privacy! Out with the ordinary, in with the exclusive!”

“Everybody was screaming as loudly as they could this year,” explains Nataniël as he speaks about the inspiration for this particular show. “Everyone wanted to make sure they would be heard or become famous.”

He also admonishes those who do selective listening. “You have to listen properly,” he says. “I want to tell people that it’s important to listen, not to be intimidated, but to really listen.”

Choice of music is never a problem. He loves Christmas music and often takes old familiar songs and turns them into something individual yet as sacrosanct as the original. Songs from the treasure trove of timeless blues, jazz, soul and pop, as well as original songs will all feature.

Costumes will be to die for, colourful and festive with a contemporary take on a more glorious time.

Lily Refuses To Listen features fantastical stories in both English and Afrikaans, but don’t expect anything to be ordinary or to unfold without exotic names for strange yet wacky and witty creatures and towns with names that remind you that we live in a weird and wonderful world. With this storyteller’s vivid imagination, it’s easy to follow the yellow brick road wherever it leads. And for 90 minutes, what is round might become square, but you would find it difficult to leave.

Nataniël shares the stage with c (piano), Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drums). Costumes are by Floris Louw and a Kaalkop Christmas Shop will be available in the foyer.

The show is 90 minutes long, with no interval, no cell phones, no shorts and no children under 15.

LILY REFUSES TO LISTEN: 3 – 8 December 2019; Atterbury Theatre; Book at iTickets

Teksmark Delivers Powerful Storytelling

yanaPictures: NARDUS ENGELBRECHT

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The narrator in Fresh Meat by Zac Fleishman

 

In four years Teksmark, a concept thought up by Hugo Theart (artistic director: Kunste Onbeperk) and supported  by Cornelia Faasen (CEO of the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief NATi) as well as Lara Foot (CEO and artistic director  of the Baxter Theatre Centre), has gone from strength to strength. Nothing emphasised this more strongly than the last session at this year’s event a few weeks ago. DIANE DE BEER reports:

On the programme four diverse productions, four stories and four genres, all offering challenges to the actors and the audience.

If the idea is to promote theatre (which must be top of the heap), develop South African stage plays and create a platform for writers to showcase their ideas and scripts for possible further development by interested parties, including independent funders, festivals and theatres, it’s a runaway success. Every year the input expands and the products excel.

The idea at the start was to grow Afrikaans playwriting and to create new plays for especially festival stages – with work that would eventually travel to more traditional stages. But with the Baxter’s support, last year Foot encouraged the further expansion of allowing different languages to participate. This includes all the official languages.

This arguably has had unexpected value, not only in the broadening of storytelling possibilities but also in discussions between what in this country is still problematic – different groupings. It is especially exciting because in general those participating are young. This allows them from an early age to participate in complex conversations and hopefully in the future, collaborate, as some stories become South African in a more inclusive way.

Telling our own stories  in our own language, as the Afrikaans festivals are well aware of, is critical but can sometimes be isolating. This particular stage by flinging open its doors has expanded the storytelling notion into something quite exuberant as the different voices engage, start     conversations and listen to the stories of others – some with many similarities, others not so much. All of this is, apart from anything else, also an exercise in getting to know one another.

Theatre can do that best – and it is the right time. Embracing one another is much more enriching than the other way round. We have tried that with disastrous results – for everyone.

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Gretchen Ramsden (front) and René Cloete in Herschelle Benjamin’s Agulhasvlakte.

First on the agenda that final morning was budding young playwright Herschelle Benjamin’s Agulhasvlakte, set in a bio-diversity hotspot where many endangered flowers are at risk of becoming extinct. It’s the story of two sisters, each extinct in the eyes of the other, who are trying to reach out.

He deals in issues of climate change, land reform as well as sibling rivalry and relationships. It is beautiful work by a young cast, René Cloete and Gretchen Ramsden, who should be kept when the play is developed. But the foundation was the exquisite text.

Benjamin, who studied drama at the University of Stellenbosch and has been firmly entrenched in the arts on many different levels. He has been writing plays constantly these past few years and this one in particular, has stepped up a level. It’s about the story and the language, a young man who feels confident enough to take on two female characters, and a play that should travel, is hugely accessible and tells a story so unique yet universal.

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A scene from Fresh Meat by Zac Fleishman.

One almost felt sorry for the plays to follow but fortunately, each one brought its own magic. Zac Fleishman, a young man standing firmly on his own two feet but with a surname bristling with theatre history, played with the macabre with a futuristic feel and a story that stretches the mind, always an exciting prospect in a theatrical sense. Who doesn’t want to walk out of a theatre changed?

The text plays with themes of desire, taboo, order and dirt. The writing started with a desire to make historical research and concepts more visible and digestible outside of academic journals and official institutions. With his background, he knew this would be theatre and storytelling. He is currently busy with his Honours in history and playwriting, which means more good things in the future. And to see this particular one play out is an intriguing prospect.

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Wian Taljaard and Nicole Holm in Roosmaryn by Ben de Vos.

From one thrill to the next, Beyers de Vos’s Roosmaryn is exactly that. His debut novel reached the Sunday Times fiction long list this year and similar achievements seem possible with his playwriting debut. While he is sticking to crime themes, that’s the only similarity. Writing dialogue was novel for him, but with a lively imagination and a creative writing Masters to his name, this was a blast.

He described it as “a bloody tragedy about ghosts, trauma, guilt, a racist penis and the consequences of violence”. He also had the bonus of Nicole Holm as the protagonist, someone who knows how to grab a stage majestically.

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A scene from Karatara by Wilken Calitz (musician and writer) and Shaun Oelf (choreographer and dancer) with Shaun Oelf (sitting), Grant van Ster (looming) and Dean Balie as narrator.

Karatara was the perfect conlcusion of three days of explosive debut dramas by emerging and established playwrights. Dealing with the catastrophic Knysna fires where nine people from the Farleigh community lose their lives close to the Karatara River, this was described as a community’s loss through a combined narrative of dance and drama.

On first reading the text, it held huge promise but was also one of those scripts that could go horribly wrong. But it didn’t. Wilken Calitz (musician and writer) and Shaun Oelf (choreographer and dancer), who comes from that area, combined magnificently and magically. And for the future, they have hit a rich vein.

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Gideon Lombard and Emma Kotze in Maansonde by Philip Rademeyer.

Directed by Gideon Lombard, who had earlier given a bravura performance in Philip Rademeyer’s MaanSonde, it was the perfect mix of emotions and movement, narrative and intuition.

It’s a slam dunk of what theatre can accomplish when creativity is allowed to blossom, when theatre makers care and are encouraged, when the platform is an exciting but safe one, and set up for young theatre makers to experiment and learn.

Those of us watching were reminded of the power of live theatre, of telling our stories, of reaching out and coming together.

That’s why theatre will always flourish. As old as the mountains, telling stories keeps renewing itself while communicating in a way that’s as familiar as it is novel, as comforting as it’s challenging, as revolutionary as it drowns you in riches.

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The Boy from the Mountain with playwright Thukelo Maka and Kwindla Pearl Antony.

And these weren’t the only young voices to resonate. It was just that the four pieces in their differences had such impact played together in one session. Others during the run included Caitlin Wiggill with her glorious stream-of-consciousness A Prayer Group Called Water Wings; Lwanda Sindaphisa’s I Will Teach You How To Share The Milk zooming in on domestic workers and their two sets of “children”; gay marriages and their all too recognisable problems in Rafiek Mammon’s hilarious Marry-Go-Round; Philip Rademeyer’s disturbing Maansonde; Veronique Jephtas’ brilliantly scathing and personal take on the hair issue in My Kroon se krank; Thukelo Maka’s ritualistic exploration of death in different culutral groups in The Boy of the mountain; and in conclusion Wessel Pretorius’s Valskermstories based on Pascual Wakefield’s personal narrative on dealing with a diagnosis of testicular cancer at the age of 20. He also stars in the production.

Bring it on in 2020!

 

The Theatre Gods Align for Koningin Lear

Koningin Lear with cast
TV screens amplified

We haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism”, in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

From “Why we’re in a New Gilded Age”, The New York Review of Books — 8th of May 2014, Paul Krugman, reviewing Le Capital au XXI e Siècle, Thomas Piketty

And published as an introduction in the printed version of Koningin Lear

 

DIANE DE BEER

Pictures: Hans van der Veen

 

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The magnificent Antoinette Kellermann

Playwright Tom Lanoye has masterfully taken the iconic Shakespeare tragedy, King Lear, and recast it in a contemporary landscape with the most pressing issues of the 21st century all coming into play –  greed and grandiosity leading this particular wolfpack.

He starts with gender, flip-flopping the roles as the title Koningin Lear suggests, and gives the mighty Elizabeth Lear three sons: Greg, the eldest, Henry, the second in line, and Cornald or Corneltjie, her darling child. With the eldest two married, the two wives, Connie, the OTT shopaholic, and Alma, from the wrong side of the tracks and struggling to shrug that off, both play a particular type yet also connive with their husbands to secure future power.

Yet, as the original so smartly shows, greed might be the excess of our time, but there’s nothing new in the world of the top dogs except perhaps technology and the universal scale at which that power grows and disintegrates. It’s no longer a single kingdom on an island, everything and everyone in our universe is connected.

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Neels van Jaarsveld and Anna-Mart van der Merwe

When you sneeze – especially if it affects the money markets – the effect takes on tsunami proportions. And this is where director Marthinus Basson ups the ante, being someone who always holds the bigger picture close. With this one it really counts.

The design adds to the dynastic feel of the production, which plays on different levels. Basson emphasises the age we live in with technology.  A backdrop of TV screens used in many different ways immediately add urgency and heightens the impact of the precarious nature of what Elizabeth is about to do.

More than anything else, power corrupts. And to play with it almost nonchalantly like this mother does, we all know will have devastating consequences.

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Antoinette Kellermann

This a family concern –  one that is worrying, because it is not necessarily the best that steps into a leadership position. Family is the determining factor, whether worthy or not.

Just a few minutes in, we already know that Elizabeth’s adviser would have been a better choice to make the handover a smooth and more successful one. For decades Robert Kent has been Elizabeth’s shadow, completely loyal to the family, often at his own cost

Lanoye’s words needed to be transformed in a South African context by someone who could adapt yet not dilute the essence of the playwright’s words. Antjie Krog, who previously worked wonders with the Mamma Medea translation, was the obvious choice. Not only did she have to translate, she had to transfer it to a local context.

Just listening to the language of this magisterial text is sublime, even the way Krog uses swear words or plays with the different characters in the way they use their language. She also knows how South Africans will react to different cars as wealth trophies and that “my losie by Lords” has more impact than Loftus, for example. It is all in the detail and why you can’t read, listen and experience the language and meaning enough.

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A scene from Koningin Lear

It’s a play that indulges your sense of disgust at the wealth accumulated by the powerful, their lifestyles, arrogance and disregard for anyone but their immediate family and then only those who find favour. They live by different rules and have no idea of or interest in anything but their own prosperity and anything that affects their well-being.

It is a work of majestic scale and demanded a majestic cast. With Antoinette Kellermann as Koningin Lear, half the battle is won. She is majestic as the matriarch of a business empire that she is in the throes of handing to her three sons. But first she asks for a declaration of their undying love with the results disastrous as she sets in motion a run of revolting, rampant greed and how that unhinges a dynasty in a modern world.

It’s no surprise that Steinhoff is snuck into the text at some point. If you still hadn’t got the drift, that will force you to take notice

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Edwin van der Walt in his extraordinary turn as the junkie and the powerful Antoinette Kellermann

We know the original story. It’s the way Lanoye has made this tigress fight until her last breath, the way Kellermann has ingested the text so that she can charge into glorious battle with her character and slay any dragons in her path.

And here her demise doubles up as she doesn’t only hand over all her weapons, her wealth and thus any sway, she also struggles with dementia with age finally catching up, something no money or willpower can change.

As the sons struggle with their inability to conquer the business world, pale shadows of their mother, their wives on the sidelines egg them on and soothe their egos.

It’s like an epic melodrama with a master conductor and performers who know how to play every word in its finest nuance. With the gravitas of André Roothman as Kent and a supreme supporting cast, it’s a play that strikes no false notes. Everything is music to your ears.

The three sons, Neels van Jaarsveld, Wilhelm van der Walt and Edwin van der Walt, with Anna-Mart van der Merwe and Rolanda Marais as the wives, represent a family in freefall. Not only have they not been schooled to take on their heritage, they only register the perks without any of the pitfalls.

On the sidelines, Matthew Stuurman is the carer and very importantly the moral compass who has nothing to gain or lose yet reacts with compassion to someone’s need, not something that registers where money is the only currency.

From start to finish, it is a production that ticks all the boxes. From the content to the language, the design and the staging, the extraordinary choice of cast with Kellermann conquering her most challenging role, it’s theatre to savour – over and over again.

Koningin Lear with cast

Koningin Lear is on at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre  from November 7 to 16.

 

The Arts Not Always Recognised In The Way It Should Be Counts at Aardklop 2019

Aardklop 2019 made great inroads under difficult economic and social circumstances with women stealing the show on many of the stages writes DIANE DE BEER;

 

One of the problems that Afrikaans festivals battle with is inclusivity. It is less problematic in the Cape (Woordfees and Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees) because Afrikaans is a language spoken by different groups.

Less so in a place like Potchefstroom where English would be the spoken language common to most of the people. But that doesn’t mean trying to embrace the different communities should not be attempted.

You want a whole town to celebrate and share in the advantages of any arts festival. The arts have often been used as inspiration in this country – good times and bad – and can be used as a common language.

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Organsier and jewellery maker Seitebaleng Legoale with poet Tlholeho Lekena celebrating their award

This year inroads were made with an art tour (for the second year in succession) to the local township Ikageng. Catching a specially designated shuttle, the Maboneng Township Experience, is the start of an inspired journey.

Founding director Siphiwe Ngwenya who instigated these art tours in Alex, Langa and Joburg previously, was also instrumental in the Ikageng initiative now being run by Seitebaleng Constance Legoale who has started specifically in one designated street where sometimes it is the house of the artist, other times, art is exhibited in specific homes. She believes this is just the beginning.

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Poet Tlholeho Lekena in action.

With Carien Brits from the ATKV’s language department as part of the experience, she kickstarts the tour on the shuttle with a talk on language, that spoken most widely in Ikageng (Sesotho) and the culture those making the journey will experience in the township where we are greeted by a local poet Tlholeho Lekena. He does a great introductory poem titled Grey, promoting the absence of white and black while rather focussing on a combination of the two – in essence an absence of colour.

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An anguished rape lament

From the different kinds of art, photographs, live poetry and writing put up on the wall raging about rape to the colourful grandmothers who are often the backbone of their self-made families, it is yet another small step to change township into town with none of the often-self-imposed barriers.

They were rewarded with an Aardklop award for ground-breaking work and hopefully the venture will go from strength to strength.

On the stages, it was the time of especially three women: Sandra Prinsloo, Antoinette Kellermann and Cintaine Schutte. Naturally there was more, but festivals always produce something extraordinary that stands out for different reasons.

Here it was about performance in three very different productions, yet each one with its own challenges and each one very specific to the production.

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Sandra Prinsloo Picture: Eye Poetry Photography

Prinsloo stars as Susan Nell in Kamphoer (on at The Baxter in Cape Town until October 26) , a piece that on paper looks tough to transpose to stage. But with the phenomenal Prinsloo working for the first time with insightful director Lara Foot (the production is currently playing at The Baxter in Cape Town), they workshopped the text with scriptwriter Cecilia du Toit, and produced something powerful for especially this time.

It’s a story of violent abuse during a time of war, someone whose rape earned her the damning title of camp whore, a woman left for dead at the side of the road, and finally, after many detours and gentle helping hands from concerned strangers, a chance at retribution.

For Prinsloo and Foot, the X factor was bringing this extraordinary woman to life. It’s not just about what happened to her, but how she experienced her life, something she had no control over. It is the way Nell (Prinsloo) takes you through her life, removes her skin layer for layer as she is violated and tries to rebuild and find a way to regain a measure of what could become a life once again.

It is the way she shares her story, the fragility of what becomes her existence, reaching a hand to help others but never escaping the trauma of her past that has such emotional impact even when she has lost that part of herself – she believes, forever.

If anyone wonders about rape, the lasting effects and the different ways it impacts individual victims, Nell’s story unleashes the horror in a way that removes any questions as it takes you to the core of what this defenceless woman had to endure.

None of this would have come across without the unique text, the choice staging and direction and Prinsloo’s towering presence as Nell.

She gives a performance of such devastating delicacy that the aftershock is shattering.

Cintaine Schutte
Cintaine Schutte

In the translated Tien Duisend Ton (which I originally saw in English), and here directed by Nico Scheepers with Cintaine Schutte and Albert Pretorius, the two lovers trying to make sense of their lives, Schutte’s desire for a child with Pretorius slightly dubious, what really matters is the performances.

And while Pretorius does what needs to be done, it is a blossoming Schutte’s performance that has you holding your breath throughout.

It happens at breakneck speed, almost in manic monologue fashion with Schutte’s inflection, her body language, the speed with which she reacts and charges her performance with emotional heft, that has you gasping.

Keep up and don’t lose her as she races off at a speed that’s sometimes exhausting yet always exhilarating. It’s contemporary, young and dealing with issues that many – young and older – struggle with on a daily basis, if they’re blessed to have that kind of luxury which this couple obviously have.

Schutte has been someone to watch from the start but this past year has obviously been her time and perhaps a new confidence is starting to emerge and colour her performances. No longer the new kid on the block and with a series of roles in her repertoire, the range, which is expansive for someone so young, she seems to have a newfound fire which is mesmerising.

And there’s so much more to come.

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Antoinette Kellermann     Picture: Hans van der Veen

 

Then there’s also the grand dame of classical theatre Antoinette Kellermann as Elizabeth Lear in charge and in command of the luminous translation of Tom Lanoye’s Koningin Lear by Antjie Krog (on at The Baxter in Cape Town from November 7 to 16) . With the support of a tremendous, choice cast, she inhabits a woman whose power is waning on a business and personal level.

As the story goes, she decides to pass her wealth on to her heirs, but they have to declare undying love before the inheritance can be owned. And that’s when the fun begins.

It’s also the arc she is expected to play, the transformation from start to finish as she first emerges as the powerful matriarch at the top of her game. And yet, from the beginning, there are some unnerving hitches which Kellermann exposes with subtlety because of the crescendo she is aiming for at the end.

With this performance of extremes, she has the mammoth task of getting to grips with a text which drives all of her actions. But Kellerman, being the artist she is, takes on the challenge and triumphs magnificently.

Because of the ambition of the playwright, all the elements had to work together sweetly – and they do. That’s what makes this such a majestic experience.

And these are but a few of the elements and people that made the 2019 Aardklop swing – under difficult economic circumstances – proving once again that the arts do so much more than simply entertain – even as it pulls that off too.

Nataniël Makes the Earth Move in When Giants Waltz – 12 Monumental Concerts

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The stars from When Giants Waltz

DIANE DE BEER

WHEN GIANTS WALTZ – 12 MONUMENTAL CONCERTS  

Artist/writer/composer: Nataniël 

Musicians: Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums)

Vocals: Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart

Costumes: Floris Louw

Venue: Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace

Dates: Until October 27; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15

 

No matter how little or how well you know this artist’s work, he surprises you.

How does he do it? I watched in wonderment and awe while experiencing the thrill of a performance that epitomises the excitement of live theatre – and it happens year after year.

It’s like a surprise party. Before the time he has much to say about what won’t be part of the concert, for example, the absence of a set, no more choreography, music that’s not accessible, no overarching story – he doesn’t speak much about what will be part of the show.

That’s Nataniël, someone who works imaginatively and creatively to catch his audience off guard, to always bring something new, not only with message as he moves with the times, but also with his evocative stage craft.

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Creative costumes are part of the storytelling.

Following a hiatus last year after more than a decade of annual shows at this theatre, he’s back with a vengeance in a way specifically structured to catch you unawares. The costumes are bigger and even grander in conception than before with many gigantic garments filling the giant-themed landscape.

They are heart stopping, from a different era, in royal fabric and often bright colours, with the result that many are clamouring for an exhibition of his stage couture. The finer detail is difficult to catch from an auditorium.

There’s a costume in front of a backdrop which mirrors the fabric, lamps drop from the sky and moonscapes create a lunar atmosphere, a brilliant blast of red with a sign dropping from the heavens with the word blue – in fact colour plays a huge part as his storytelling both tickles and tortures as he is wont to do. There’s always a sting in many of his tales.

Then the performance and the show, the substance and the visuals, the stories and the songs with musicians of stature who all contribute to the overall artistry, take over.

From the entrance with Nataniël tripping onto stage draped in creature couture which immediately puts you in an imaginary place, this genius storyteller takes you a-wandering in his world of merriment intertwined with melancholy.

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Nataniël in full flow

The language, the images he conjures up with his characters and the lives they lead, the way everything unfolds and the music which drifts between blues, jazz and a few pop classics – some original, others re-arranged – all come together sweetly.

Backed by three sassy vocalists or sometimes performing with only the sounds of a lone guitar as accompaniment, Nataniël has through the years found the music that works best for his voice and which accommodate and remark and elaborate on his stories. Sometimes he might google the saddest jazz song in the world (for example), which he then sings and when he can’t find anything for a particular story, he simply writes one.

He has never had a hit, he says only half-forlornly, but he shines when performing live, relaxed in his own skin, crooning with musos who know his style and get into the swing and rhythm (as well as a constant change of costumes for the band too) of his particular vibe. Everyone shines.

The show is presented in a series of montages, almost like paging through an album. The costumes and props do the visual fantasy and the stories fill in the details. These leave you giggling and gasping in turn as as he dips into the often hysterical lives of a woman who has arranged her life to accommodate the elephant in the room, another with blue ribbons whose knitting finds no conclusion and yet another whose names are constantly switched until she owns her identity.

He bookends the show with the history of giants and their place in the world and in conclusion, confronts those who feel larger than life with unchecked power, who believe they are mightier than the law and trample those they regard as lesser human beings and easy to destroy.

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Nataniël in song

In each tale, once the laughter dies down, and just before the next song, the sadness of all the hilarity at what is sometimes the horrors we all encounter in normal living, hits you full on. But, with perfect timing, just before you succumb, a stunning new costume, or a song fills the empty space and we move on.

This is an artist who has perfected his craft. None of the normal rules applies. He has used a director on occasion but not for the last decade. He writes all his own scripts, guides his designer in the costumes he hopes to see, plans the lighting which sometimes only show the costumes in full light as the last note rises and designs the stage and anything he needs to accomplish a mood for a story and a song.

It’s transcendent what he achieves and in-between, he tours the platteland with shows and speaking dates, does cooking shows and TV series, and has just published his first book that didn’t first play on stage – in both Afrikaans and English.

It’s his imagination – unchecked – that never lets him down as he draws a world with his visually rich stories (in both English and Afrikaans) while entertaining in a manner few can achieve year in and year out.

When giants waltz, Nataniël says, the earth moves, which may be true. He doesn’t have to rely on size or stature, he gets everything moving with his gigantic creativity and imagination.

That’s the artist he is and it’s joyous to experience this kind of quality.