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Speak to Nataniël this time of the year and he’s slightly distracted. He will talk about his annual extravaganza at Emperors Palace, but it’s as if his mind is wandering – and it is, all over the show.
What he is thinking about is a choreographic move that he has to create for a specific song, but he has just remembered that he will be wearing an outfit that allows one hand movement and only in a very tiny space.
Not that he’s not paying attention to what you want to know, it’s just that the imaginative juices are flowing more than usual and for someone who sketches fantasy worlds for himself and his audiences, this is a dream time in more senses than one.
This year’s production, fACTORy, was triggered by a one-eyed teddy bear that spends its life on the guest bed at his friend, actor Marion Holm’s house.
“Ours is a longtime friendship and when I sleep over, that teddy bear welcomes me back. It’s been part of my life for probably 40 years and it always feels like a homecoming,” he says about the weathered bear.
To this storyteller the world works like a factory. We are born whole, but then a parent yells at us, or someone disturbs us and our lives become splintered. The rest of our time on Earth is spent trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
“It’s a bit like someone losing their head and then replacing it with a cellphone, or their marriage and becoming obsessed with the internet.”
But don’t worry that this is a show about healing.
“I’m not giving any of the answers, I’m simply sketching a scenario which will hopefully get people thinking.”
With two additions, the cast is the same as last year, with powerhouse Lindiwe Bungane joined by another voice Nataniël discovered a while back, that of Corlia Botha.
He knew about this young singer but had never heard her sing until she sang a Chaka Khan song at a function they attended together.
“All singers know you don’t attempt a Khan song lightly, you must be mad, and she blew me away.”
In rehearsals with Corlia and Lindiwe, he’s attempted to give them challenges, but they’re not easily thrown.
“They also get on like a house on fire, because singers who know what they have aren’t threatened,” says Nataniël. He believes they are the two hottest female voice around at the moment. “And I don’t mean ‘arguably’,” he says.
The other new addition is gymnast/dancer Brad Dreyer, who has been coming to his Brooklyn shop Kaalkop (with his mom) for years. She used to say to Nataniël that it was her son’s dream to be in one of his shows. But only when he saw a YouTube video of Brad did he realise that this was an unusual artist. “He is a bit like a contortionist, more gymnast than dancer, and I’ve managed to work him seamlessly into the show.”
They are joined by singer Nicolaas Swart, who was also in last year’s Black White Man Woman which Nataniël describes as his happiest show ever – speaking about both on and off stage.
Some shows are just tougher to execute, he explains. “When the costumes are too complicated or the choreography difficult to remember, it’s a tough one to pull through.”
And when he talks movement, it’s all his own doing. He calls it “bejaarde ballet” (ballet for the elderly).
“I think it up, introduce it into the show and then I’m the one who struggles most,” he says.
But this year, because some of the costume changes are too big to do on stage, he has some moments he can slip off and catch a breather. His costume designer, Floris Louw, started with the costumes in October last year and his instructions were to go BIG and bold. “I said architecture, machines and gigantic,” says the artist. “I want to wear buildings!”
Texture was the other criteria.
“I wanted him to bead and embroider and to create as much texture as possible. It’s a menopausal thing. I need texture in my life NOW!”
And to be surrounded by his energetic and enthusiastic band Charl du Plessis of (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Werner Spies (bass) and Hugo Radyn (drums) and singer/percussionist Tonia Selley), as well as the handpicked cast, brings him great joy and he’s holding thumbs, something that will translate on to stage.
Off stage, as always, is as hectic as a runaway train.
Nataniël moves his Brooklyn shop Kaalkop on April 1 (it’s not a joke, though) to Pretoria’s Menlopark, where he will be neighbour to his favourite chef Rachel Botes and her popular deli, Carlton Café Delicious.
“She makes much of the foodstuff I sell in my shop and our customers are a similar profile,” he says.
But for those who are fans of both, this will be a big bonus and makes total sense. And as a surprise, he says, the shop will be all white – the only colour which dominates everything he does. Although there is a current penchant for green creeping in.
He has also released his third Kaalkop book with his latest Sarie columns and short stories, as well as the DVD of his food series on Kyknet, Nataniël se Tafel (available on Kalahari.net and through his shop).
He starts shooting the second season in April together with the opening of the shop, but nothing too stressful there.
Nataniël likes the world throwing everything at him at once. It means he simply grabs everything at once and sprints to the finish line.
“One of my dreams for 2013 is to have all the products in my shop be my own and eco friendly.”
They’re almost there, but not quite yet. Watch the space, though.
A final word about fACTORy: “There’s a special slot for cellphone texters right at the start of the show. They’re invited on stage and a big machine gets to gobble them!”
Do yourself a favour, this is one of our most imaginative artists, not arguably... go and see the show.
• fACTORy opens February 21 and runs until March 31, Wednesday to Saturday at 8.30pm, and Sundays at 3pm. No children under 15 allowed.