The French Season in SA is meant to encompass collaborations between scientists, academics and sportsmen, the departments of trade and tourism, but the most visible area for the public to notice is the arts.
Over a six-month period about 120 productions and exhibitions will visit the country to showcase French culture.
Some are collaborations a long time in the brewing, some purely French work – and some will be collaborations created with South African artists specifically for this season.
Laurent Clavel, commissioner-general for the France-South Africa Season, said: “The concept of the season is for people to have a better understanding of who the French are right now and who the South Africans are right now.
“Contemporary France is not exactly what you think of when you think ‘French’, and this season will give just a glimpse of what it really is.
“Cultural diversity is one thing we share, it is something we are experiencing every day and engaging with every day. Our process may be different but the idea is the same, and there is no better way to show who we are.”
Bongani Tembe, commissioner-general for SA for the season, pointed out that they had to be mindful of artistic freedom and would concentrate on quality as a yardstick for when they started looking for South African work to showcase in France.
In the meantime, though, South Africans can look forward to some amazing opportunities, such as the Old Masters exhibition that will run at the Standard Bank Gallery from the middle of the month.
The exhibition, subtitled the human figure, will feature 60 works by mainly French masters such as Dégas and Matisse, and it is the first time these works will have been gathered in this particular collection.
Twelve young local photo- graphers will be paired up with French and South African professional photographers to take part in a project called Landscapes, based at the Market Theatre Photography Workshop. It will culminate in an exhibition in Arles, France, next June.
On the film side, the South African season in France will start at the Cannes Film Festival, although this year’s Durban International Film Festival will feature between 16 and 18 French films and the animated film festival in Annecy will showcase South African work.
The Danse l’Afrique Danse! festival, running in October around Soweto and Newtown, will feature mostly contemporary dance productions, while Durban’s Jomba Contemporary Dance Experience will also feature French dancers.
Iziko Museums in Cape Town will launch Rendez-vous 12, which is an international platform for young artists who participate in the Lyon Biennale.
Rendez-vous 12 will showcase the work of an international group of 20 young artists in Cape Town and facilitate the participation of South African artists in next year’s biennale.
Grahamstown, in the meantime, featured a wide variety of performances and exhibitions courtesy of French artists and collaborations between French and South Africans for the National Arts Festival.
On the dance side there was a retrospective performance of Pudiqe Acide/Extasis, a piece choreographed by Mathilde Monnier and Jean-Francois Duroure in 1984, as well as the performance art/dance piece, !Aïa.
Ancestors was a short workshop between local Grahamstown residents and the collective Les Grandes Personnes (who helped to create the Giant Puppet Company based in Joburg).
The outdoor performance piece is a reinvention of experience through the creation and animation of real or imaginary ancestors.
Presented as both an exhibition of manipulable paper maché statues and a performance piece, Ancestors featured a skills transfer process in that the locals went through a writing workshop as well as learning how to make the statues, but whether the process was a one-off happening depends on the availability of funds.
• Artists who have ideas or proposals for collaborations with French artists should check the National Arts Council/Department of Arts and Culture’s website for forms and more information (www.dac.gov.za)