Every year during the course of the June/July School Holidays, the National Arts Council of South Africa in partnership with Standard Bank, hosts the ‘National Arts Festival’ in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. This event is a showcase of arts from the various spheres: performing arts such as theatrical pieces, dancing and singing as well as visual art in the form of art exhibitions and fine arts displays. Lectures, talks and tours are also done during the course of the festival.
In this blog post I would like to review a few of the performances and exhibitions that I attended over #NAF17 and I would also like to share a personal thought or three on the arts festival.
I arrived in Grahamstown at 13:30 pm on 7 July 2017, after road-tripping with my mother from East London. I’m still quite a newbie at long-distance driving, but I can confidently say that that drive felt way more comfortable than the last drive I did to Grahamstown from East London. As soon as we ‘touched down’ in The City of the Saints, we made our way to the 1820 Settlers Monument to book our tickets for the shows that we wanted to see over the next two days. We ended up doing a major splurge on tickets, but any money spent on the arts is money well spent, right *wink*. We checked in to our accommodation for the weekend and with that, we attended out first show of #NAF17.
The first show was entitled ‘Undermine’ and it was performed at the Princess Alice Hall in African Street. The show was a three-man theatrical piece that was performed at the National Arts Festival for the third time in a row – it was obviously just that good! The piece was acted out by three men (there names of which I do not know – whoops!) and they delivered a flawless musical theatre-like performance – they had a combination of dancing, singing and acting. The show was about a true story of a man who left his family and wife-to-be behind in Mozambique to travel to the mines in Johannesburg, South Africa to earn money for his family and also return home with a beautiful white wedding dress for his future wife. Instead he returned home having been fired for being the reason why the mine company lost money after he saved a few of colleagues after the locomotives collided into one another. Although all of the above mentioned events had taken place, he returned home with new knowledge, new friendships and a dress for his future wife.
This show was an eye-opener to me, because not only did it educate me of the migratory routes and tribulations that people that lived before experienced, but it also thought me that just because I have my perspective on a situation, it doesn’t mean that somebody else views it in the same light.
The second show was entitled ‘Dance Spectrum’. I judged this show exactly by its title, which it actually lived out to be – a showcase of various dance styles and genres, my fave! The dancers in this show formed part of the National School of Arts in Johannesburg, South Africa. The show showcased a mix of ballet, contemporary and modern dance, as well as jazz and Spanish dancing. This show was thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. Personally, this was one of my favourite shows of the festival because it had a variety of dance genres, each number had its own unique choreography and the costumes were well suited and looked absolutely stunning on stage and last but not least, the dancers captured the audience with their stage presence.
On Saturday, 8 July 2017, our morning started out with a hearty breakfast and a trip to The Village Green Market at The Great Field at Rhodes University. The market really captures the true feeling of the festival. Each stall has something different to offer to the consumer, just as each performance has something different to offer to each audience. From the chopped out wood that was scattered across the field to preserve the nature of the grass, to the saxophonist busking to the buzzing crowd – everyone’s mood was just right!
The third show that we attended was ‘Equilibrium’ at St Andrews College. The first time I heard about this show was when I was paging through the programme for the festival, and the words “Choreography by Hope Maimane” caught my eye. He is one of the most incredible and talented South African Choreographers, and each of his pieces are oh so very unique. I’ve worked with on two different occasions, once at an SABOD Convention Workshop weekend for Hip-hop and Musical Theatre and again in East London at a contemporary workshop, just a few days before attending the arts festival.
‘Equilibrium’ was a showcase of various contemporary dances, each with their own individual title. These dancers had such excellent technique and stage presence, their ability to tell a story and to bring the choreography alive was impeccable! One did not even need to have read a programme with a description of the choreography in order for you to understand. They also tackled some social issues that we are faced with in today’s society – woman oppression and abuse, insecurities about one’s self, abandonment and being one’s own unique individual. I was so moved by this dance group’s performance.
Our final show for the day was ‘A Night with Noma’ starring Noma Khumalo and her amazing backup singers and band. Noma Khumalo was a contestant and winner of South African Idol Season 12 in 2016. Upon entering Idols Noma was always a force to be reckoned with and to this day she still is. I must say that seeing her perform live was truly an amazing experience, because she is truly a gifted musician with very strong vocal capacities. Her programme consisted of an introduction performance by her band, which was made up of a trumpeter, saxophonist, trombonist, guitarist, pianist and drummer. When Noma took to the stage, she took to the stage! She performed a few of her original songs – ‘Joy’ and her new song produced by Sketchy Bongo, ‘Moving On’. She also performed a few of the songs that added to her fame, Beyonce – Daddy Lessons, her rendition of Karabo’s song ‘Ngifuna Lo’ and a Whitney Huston hit among others.
The last show of #NAF17 was ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream – The Ballet’ performed by Johannesburg Youth Ballet and a few guest artists from Cape Town City Ballet. This performance took a bit of a twist on the usual Shakespeare play, whereby three additional actors and an actress came out to give the audience a few chuckles. The technique displayed by this dance group was some of the best that I have ever seen – such technique isn’t often seen in the world of dance anymore and one can tell that these dancers are coached and trained by old-school dance teachers who still take the time to focus on what the most important aspect of ballet is – its technicality. The costumes were also very beautiful and the neon colours and pointe shoes shone so beautifully on stage and last but definitely not least, the brains behind the sets, lighting and backdrops, did an incredible job!
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend at the arts festival, I truly felt at home! I have also been incredibly passionate about the arts and what it has to offer and I wish that those are perhaps not as passionate as I am about it, can see why I love it so much. I feel so inspired and my soul has been nourished and well-fed, I can now take all that I have learnt and seen over the past weekend to use as my inspiration to further inspire my hopes and dreams for the future – stay tuned…