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.

 

 

PS: Afterthought …

DIANE DE BEER

 

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Nataniël has just finished his annual season at Emperor’s celebrating his 30 years as a solo artist with a season of 30 Years, 90 Minutes: Nataniël Celebrates 3 Decades On Stage.

One of my treats during these 30 years, has been revisiting a production towards the end of a run.

Because his shows have always been dense both visually and in content, review nights were particularly tense for me. This second time round, without stress, is my particular penchant.

I am not just inhaling and observing a one-off season, but one that has been 30 years in the making, was particularly informative and revealing about his creativity, his innovation and imagination.

That’s the way to do it! “I don’t want to bore people with one thing after another of the past,” he said. This was not going to be a best of…

What it was however was an insight into his mind, his personal favourites and a showcase of what he does best starting with his songs and his stories and then everything that he builds and layers around that.

The arrangements of the cover songs he sang, You’re My World by Cilla Black and Lately by Stevie Wonder ( a song he wished he had written, so perfectly it suits his voice) among others, were completely delicious as was some of his own music like Fall which he described as his personal favourite of what he titles his no-hit wonders!

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His voice has matured magnificently and he is completely comfortable and confident and  enhances his distinctive voice with the additional sounds of Dihan Slabber and Nicolaas Swart. And he is joined by a spectacular band led by Charl du Plessis (keyboards) and completed by Jean Oosthuizen (guitars), Hugo Radyn (drums) and Werner Spies (bass) who have worked with him for a very long time which means they can push the boundaries- and they do.

It’s a complete package that holds the rest of the show in a soundscape that runs through all the emotional hefts of a Nataniël story. And this was a show of single stories, each one a showcase of this master at spinning a yarn that has you screaming with laughter yet leaves you with a moment of melancholy that runs deep.

He tells a tale of a vision that he was holding on to while making  a truck-load of paper flowers. The repetition of the task was offset by what they were hoping to achieve – only to fail disastrously. Then comes the question. “What happens to you when the most beautiful thing you have ever seen is only real in your imagination? You go mad…”

And then it all becomes clear. The set that has been constructed on stage from the start of the show, is this particular image and with Nataniël’s extraordinary lighting abilities (he changes his costumes instantly with the colour and angle of the lights), he achieves exactly that. Not only for himself though, it’s also a vision for his audience. And it starts with what might seem a silly story about student escapades!

He speaks about extraordinary people doing ordinary things. But he constantly presents us with what seems ordinary – only to surprise us with wonderful stage wizardry.

That is the wonderment of his craft. And why it has been such bliss to watch the growth and explosive evolvement of this artist and his shows. It is a completely immersive adventure as you step into this fantasy landscape once that first note comes at you, usually from a darkened stage which reveals itself.

His shows are always that – a slow reveal.

Yet nothing is slow about his costumes (designed by Floris Louw) that glitter and dazzle, not in the expected fashion though and more Louis IV than Liberace.

This was his final curtain – for now – after 15 years at this venue, and he wanted to leave in style – which of course he did, powerfully.

He also wanted, in typical Nataniël style, to easily segue into his next venture, a smashing book on his costumes called Closet, to be released on October 9. His latest TV series also starts this week on Wednesday, Edik van Nantes 3 on DStv’s kykNET (144) at 8pm with repeats following.

So while he’s stepping off the big stage for just a moment, he leaves you with marvelous memories.

Thirty years of uniquely Nataniël performances have done that. He truly is a national theatrical treasure.

There’s still a chance to catch the show for some: Opera House, Port Elizabeth: 20 and 21 October; and Sand du Plessis, Bloemfontein; 26 to 28 October: