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The National Arts Festival comes to a soggy end in Grahamstown this weekend after starting in good weather.
The first half of the festival saw more than 120 sold-out performances, including director Tara Notcutt’s Three Little Pigs; festival favourite London Road (which recently won scriptwriter Nicholas Spagnoletti the Olive Schreiner Prize for drama); and perennial fest darling Nicholas Ellenbogen’s Mayan Raiders, all from Cape Town.
The French Season in SA has also been successful, with performance art pieces Vortex and Afternoon of a Foehn selling out as word spread about the gorgeous shows featuring dancing plastic bags.
Choreographer Cindy van Acker – who travels to Cape Town next week to work with the Eoan Group tomorrow and on Monday, and to present a talk at the Gipca Great Texts/ Big Questions series on Tuesday – was on hand for a Q&A session after the first performance of Lanx and Obtus, greatly adding to the audience’s understanding of the sometimes dense piece.
Kimberley-born choreographer Bailey Snyman, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, polarised audiences with the debut of his new piece, Moffie, which explored the gay man’s experience in the army.
While some called it “memorable and remarkable”, words like “politically offensive” and “aesthetically queasy” were also bandied about.
Shock master Steven Cohen’s Cradle of Humankind was just as polarising, with opinion divided between whether he is exploiting his co-performer or highlighting the exploitation of people.
The streets of Grahamstown were quiet, with public art performances concentrated at specific venues. Fiddler’s Green was turned into an amusement park for children with no performances or sales booths.
While the cold kept many people inside, huge audience attendances at serious dramas such as Red (which goes to Theatre on the Square in Joburg), Mies Julie (which opens at the Baxter next week), Race and The Blue Iris (opens next week at The Fugard Theatre) indicate that people are hungry for good, serious theatre.
Ovation Awards for the best productions on the huge Fringe will be handed out tomorrow, but nominations indicate that there are several pieces of good, serious work waiting to be picked by theatre spaces.
Jemma Khan’s The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories for Consenting Adults draws on the Japanese storytelling tradition of Kamishibai while children’s theatre receives a much needed boost with the delightful A Tale of Horribleness, from Cape Town-based company The Space Behind the Couch.
Last year’s festival reported record attendance of just more than 200 000 people and they are hoping to echo those figures, but it is becoming obvious that the festival has reached a plateau in terms of how many people can be hosted in formal accommodation.
The streetchildren are still painting their faces to try and busk money, but more and more the festival is starting to draw them into formal performance spaces such as The Return of Tshini Kwedini – the public art production which draws on local cultural groups such as the Phezulu Project, Sakhuluntu and other local artists groups who provide an outlet for local youngsters to learn about the arts.