Little Nataniël Waltzes With Giants

If you know Nataniël, you won’t be able to resist his latest season. If you don’t, DIANE DE BEER coaxed him to share the story of his upcoming show:

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The title alone will stop you in your tracks: When Giants Waltz – 12 Monumental Concerts by Little Nataniël.

But that has always been his power – getting you to gasp – at his costumes, his words, his gestures – or simply the spectacular staging of his shows.

Not this time says the performer – but we won’t quite take his word for it.

The title dictates that the costumes will be monumental – and that is where he starts – always with the way he looks when on stage.

 Singer, songwriter and storyteller Nataniël returns to the Theatre of Marcellus for his 17th production at Emperors Palace after a year’s sabbatical. This latest creation will first be staged at Artscape, one of his favourite theatres, from September 10, with a smaller band but the same set, props and costumes as well as script to be presented as 12 concerts from October 4 to 27,  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.

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A typical Nataniël year consists of three original stage productions, one at Artscape, one at Emperors Palace and one at the Atterbury Theatre. The rest of the year is filled with numerous concert tours.

These concerts (“the friendly shows”) are as structured and detailed as all his work, but allow him more freedom for improvisation and informal banter. For the first time he will present this format at Artscape and Emperors Palace.

And as a bonus, there will be as many costume changes as he can manage! With the show title as an example, he is going grand and gigantic. “Expect them to be epic,” he says. “I can hardly move them. Every time I do, I find myself with a sleeve in my hand.”

Last year’s sabbatical (only from the grandly staged shows) obviously gave him the chance to reassess. He believes audiences prefer his solo stories rather than a single story told from the beginning to end of the show.

This also gives him more time to play around, allows for a mini-sermon slipped in at some stage which also gives you a measure of where his head is at for the moment – always a bonus.

But then the title should do that too, he explains. “When giants waltz, the earth moves. Apparently,” he says, “size does matter!”

“As far back as your childhood, everything is a battle between big and small. This is my chance to lead a well-dressed rebellion against institutions. I despise any structure that involves a boardroom. Some people, however, will be victims of this stupidity.”

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If all of this simply sounds too serious, don’t fear, the shows are focused on entertainment yet “from a pedestal of profound values and issues,” he says with what may to some sound like a heavy heart.

“It’s fun from beginning to end. If we can’t have fun in this mess …” And if anyone can turn the prediction of the end of the world into something hilarious, Nataniël is your man.

The way he thought about this season was to start with a costume that he imagined as the outfit he would wear at the last ball held on the Titanic!

Staged with his trademark stylish lighting, he has visualised this concert as a series of portraits. It reminds him of those tableaux from a time, long, long ago when photography was in its infancy. “It will hopefully remind people of paging through an album,” he suggests. “When the lights go on, everything stops on stage! In the dark, out of sight, is when everything happens,” he notes. “During the blackouts we move.”

With his stories, he isn’t only comparing big versus small, but also the constant struggle between the indestructible and the threatened, the always present war between the individual and the establishment, and the exhausting debate between the political and the intelligent.

Nataniël performs music from an endless catalogue of blues and jazz evergreens, pop classics and original songs.

This time even the music has been simplified and made as accessible as he knows how.

And no more choreography. While some will miss those quirky hops, skips and jumps so beautifully executed with often military precision, he feels as if someone has handed him his freedom. “I would panic through every show that I would forget my steps,” he explained. “Why did I do that all these years? What was I thinking?”

He shares the stage with his brilliant band led by Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums), and on vocals, Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart.

The minimalist set (notwithstanding the multitude of props) will be complemented by another collection of extraordinary costumes created by Floris Louw, Nataniël’s award-winning designer of the past 18 years.

Describing this as a concert for the connoisseur, he never fails to entertain. His stories and songs, the staging and the costumes, when they all come together – that’s showbiz, and perfect for these tough times.

Cds, dvds, books (including his brand new book – a memoir in Afrikaans and English), ceramics and products from Nataniël’s lifestyle range will be available at all performances.

*Artscape, Cape Town; September 10 to 15.

*Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace; October 4 to 27, 2019

Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15.

 

Bookings at Computicket.

 

 

Nataniël’s Blast of Brilliance, 30 Years in 90 Minutes at Emperors Palace

Pictures: Lorinda van den Berg

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DIANE DE BEER

30 YEARS 90 MINUTES

WRITER, DIRECTOR, PERFORMER: Nataniël

SINGERS: Nicolaas Swart, Dihan Slabbert

MUSICIANS: Charl du Plessis (piano), Juan Oosthuizen (guitars), Hugo Radyn (drums), Werner Spies (bass)

COSTUMES: Floris Louw

UNTIL September 24

Celebrating 30 years as a solo artist is quite something. Doing it in the spectacular style as Nataniël does in 30 Years, 90 Minutes is awesome but not unexpected.

Having watched him for most of those 30 years bar the first few, what has excited me most is to watch his work evolving with time, to witness the confidence grow slowly allowing him to take more and more risks until his stage brand was completely embedded.

That doesn’t mean that he keeps doing the same. This current show says everything about his past but also gives us glimpses into the future.

Nataniël has always noted that the vision for his shows begins with the costumes. It sets the tone for everything else. The costumes are the thing visually. Not that they haven’t always been but they have competed with everything else happening on stage. One always knew that you would be missing some effects at first viewing of his shows, because there was so much going on.

This time though, the stage is stripped and more than anything, the costumes and his breath-taking lighting give the visual cues. A red shimmering jacket sparkles in the light or is turned into a black jacket with flashes of red and a closing outfit is transformed in colour and texture from the beginning to the end of the song. It’s magical!

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Nicolaas Swart, Nataniël and Dihan Slabbert

All of that, as well as the set, are completely woven into the fabric of the storytelling, even when his stories don’t form one narrative other than being proof of his extraordinary ability to capture the imagination and paint pictures with words.

It’s not only the content of the stories, it’s the way they are germinated and have been constructed. In one, for example, he gives you a sentence that could be interpreted in diverse ways depending on how and when it is said, and then he ends that tale with the exact same construct as where it all started. It’s more than smart, it also gives the audience many aspects to engage and play with throughout the show. For those who think he is all about telling a story and singing a song, think again. There’s so much more – even if the former is more than enough. That’s why the longevity and the loyal fanbase.

As someone who has probably seen 90 plus percent of the shows he has created, it was a first for me when one story (spoiler alert: there’s a red Citroen with black stripes involved) was so funny, that my eyes burnt from all the tears caused by laughter.

And then there’s the music. Nataniël has always professed a deep love for singing. It’s what he enjoys most and when you see him live, it shows. His cover versions for those familiar with his music are legendary. His arrangements are so astute, they turn something familiar into something fabulous and he does a handful exquisitely in the show.

The choice of music for this season also includes something old and something new in his self-penned repertoire. To be reacquainted with some of the old tunes and being gifted something new, all adds to the richness of the production.

In addition to all of that you have the accompaniment of four supreme musicians (all in their own right) as well as two gifted singers that add even more tone and texture to the different songs. It is the complete package.

That’s the thing about a Nataniël show. Every detail is covered.

And to top it all, there’s the performer himself. It is his individuality, his unique gift for storytelling and song (creating and performing), his vision and his obsession to keep it fresh that transforms the stage and auditorium into the perfect dreamscape for 90 minutes.

He gives you what you want but in a new guise.

That’s genius!