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:


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.

nataniel poster

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.”

NatanielEmperorsPortrait (1)

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 Celebrates 30 Years on Stage

By Diane de Beer

Nataniël celebrates three decades on stage with 30 years, 90 minutes running from Friday August 24 until Sunday September 24 at Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace. He will be joined by Charl du Plessis (piano), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Werner Spies (bass), Hugo Radyn (drums), Dihan Slabbert (vocals), and Nicolaas Swart (vocals).The show starts at 8pm from Thursdays to Saturdays, and at 3pm on Sundays. No children under the age of 15 will be permitted.  Fans can also purchase a limited-edition luxury souvenir programme at the show.

Nataniel show pic
30 years, 90 minutes

Even in those early years it was clear that this would never be a problem. Apart from being a mover with a mission, he has always been a solo creative soul that could slip easily between genres, conjure up creative endeavours and, more than anything to keep himself entertained, come up with something completely different and new at the snap of a finger.

That is what keeps so many intrigued. I was always amazed at critics who complained that his shows were always about telling stories followed by songs. That has always just been the packaging for him but once you creep inside that head, nothing stands still and there’s no time for stagnation. The framework might appear the same, but everything inside has been turned upside down and inside out.

For Nataniël it has always been about change, surprising his audience and keeping them entertained. And that is also how he has gone about planning his 30-year celebration. He wants to make some noise for his audience.

His annual show at Emperors (a stripped-down version played in Cape Town at the beginning of the year) 30 Years, 90 Minutes which opens on August 24, will be a display of his life on stage. Not that he thinks people remember things like that. Or that anything of that nature lasts.

Yet he has very loyal fans and he relishes a sense of occasion. Everyone knows about his obsession for example with Christmas and how he turns this into a magical spectacle for himself and those close to him. A similar principle applies

“My career is 30 years old, I’m not dying,” he says about the celebrations. And that is why he will focus on longevity rather than legendary status. “This will be the mother of all celebrations!” That’s all he basically says about the show. In typical Nataniël fashion, he doesn’t reveal too much.

Take him by his word though and get ready to party. Nataniël is serious about the secrecy in which he shrouds his shows. As a journalist, he gives you enough to do a story and there is something of what he will put on stage but on opening night, when you see what he has created, it’s as much a revelation as if you hadn’t been told anything.

That’s his thing, his magic trick. It is all about the unexpected, the way he tells stories, even his song choices and how he performs them. How will they be arranged, musically performed and how will they fit into a show. There’s nothing left to chance for this perfectionist performer.

He wants to celebrate those who performed with him in the past as well as unveil some of who he is for those who perform with him now and weren’t born then. That’s just the way his mind meanders. “It’s about looking ahead,”he says “What will the new chapter look like?”

Rehearsals, when the whole show comes together, that’s some of his happiest moments. That’s what he wants to show. “It opens like a rehearsal,” he says. “I want the audience to know about the process.” He describes the show as a “night of the forgotten”, stories and shows as he went in search of archive material, that he had forgotten about. “Everything that appears on stage has been on stage before – all my favourite elements of the past 30 years.” It even means re-staging some of his biggest flop moments

Those who follow his career will need little encouragement. They know they have a formidable artist in their midst, someone extraordinarily special, who on a night will blow their mind … perhaps their world!

Nataniel CD cover
Packaging is the appeal

But that’s only half of it. Already part of the celebrations, Nataniël also released a celebratory CD this year, One Day In A Castle. “I like that booklet packaging,” he says about his decision to produce it in CD format. He describes this one as one of the most honest productions he has done. “I wasn’t doing it for airtime, didn’t want it to sound plastic-y, wanted lush arrangements and rich sounds,” he says. He’s achieved all that!

And then there’s the book. He cleverly decided to tell his story with visuals – his costumes no less. That’s how he views his world. When he does a show, or thinks up his next story, it is to the costumes he turns first. It’s all about the look, the pictures he will present and how he shows the world his life.

That’s what this costume book represents – the story of his stage shows and, if you listened carefully through the years, his life. But that’s not all. The way he orchestrates his world is a lesson for those trying to forge a career.

Because he is always doing three things at a time, he tends to intertwine, pull those strands together that can work many streams and explore everything in different ways. His last TV show, shot in an old chateau just outside Nantes, also benefited from his extravagant costumes. With his brother Erik, the photographer of these costume pictures, also part of the production team and co-presenter with Nataniël on his Nantes TV series, these costume sessions would conclude each episode while also presenting the chance to capture the images for his book and posterity.

Because of the way his imagination runs wild, each shoot turned into a production itself. Not all the costumes were shot in the charming French countryside and sometimes it would mean building the fantasy he hoped would best tell the tale on his return back home. “We built sets which exploded into a circus in a forest,” he notes. But they also had to recreate some of the sets from previous shows. It’s the kind of detail his precision demands.

His practical side also slips into the equation though. Even if he wants this to be the most exquisite book in the world, he doesn’t want a coffee table book that gathers dust. It must be affordable and something that people will dip into with delight.

Nataniel in costume
Nataniël’s work of art

He has always been clear about his costumes: “It can’t go on stage if it isn’t a work of art,” he says simply.

For him, the costumes are the best representation of his life. “It is the only thing I collect,” he says, which for this super compulsive shopper (generous to a fault, so usually for others) is some confession.

In the end, looking back, he’s shocked. “I have been making a career for 30 years living in obscurity. And I’m not even a politician,” he claims.

And he does giggle when he finds himself in the middle of a shoot, a male in a tutu surrounded by a clutch of colourful chairs! Outside of context, he knows this is ridiculous. But that is his life and that’s why people listen to every word and follow each step he takes.

It is his extraordinary mind, the way he draws the curtain on the way he thinks, embraces the world and invites them to share his fantastical vision.