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It’s about the way we engage, said architect and artist Doung Anwar Jahangeer as he walked a group of white festinos through Grahamstown, starting in the historically white town and winding his way towards the township in an environment that is still visibly divided.
It’s about the way we look with the heart rather than the eyes, he explains in his walkabout, The Other Side, as he leads his band of followers across the bridge into the township, expressing the hope that they will engage and break down the barriers rather than adopt the fear so often part of the South African psyche.
That’s exactly what artists such as activists Brett Bailey with his Exhibit A, Steven Cohen with The Cradle of Humankind and Mikhael Subotzky with Retinal Shift attempted so boldly, commenting on our past while engaging with the present, not allowing their audiences to disengage with what was being presented.
The value of the festival lies in the collection of representative voices emerging like that of Mandisa Roelene Haarhoff and her heart- wrenching story that unfolds in the delicately poignant Crush Hopper. Raised by her coloured great-grandfather, she tells about her desire to marry a white boy, but connects to her Xhosa roots when she is uprooted from her rural background and sent to the city.
This was Haarhoff’s last season before leaving for New York and film studies on a Fullbright scholarship.
“I want to come back and teach my people about film,” she says.
Or the voice of Jitsvinger who raps in Afrikaans (or Afrikaaps, as he says it) and tickles his audience lightly as he draws the curtains on a younger generation who lay claim to their own identity which adds to the richness of the South African tapestry.
While he is just starting out on a road where he hopes to raise issues and redress imbalances, Sibongile Khumalo returned to the Monument’s Guy Butler stage to reflect, celebrate and live in the first of three concerts (Cape Town’s Baxter on Saturday and the Wits Main Theatre on July 28).
With a classical and contemporary ensemble, she showed her intention of celebrating her classical roots in honour of her father, Khabi Mngoma, as well as her love for jazz and traditional music from the word “go”.
It is the latter which lights the fire as she kicks off her shoes and sings with body and soul while sharing stories and reflecting on her often miraculous life.
She surrounds herself with master musicians led by affable conductor Kutlwano Masote and spirited musical director and pianist Mdu Mtshali, with a magnificent Siyabulela Satsha on drums and previous Young Artist winner Samson Diamond leading the string quartet in a concert that offers respite from the rush of the festival.
Not allowing herself to catch breath, young director Tara Notcutt made her mark with six productions at the festival as wide ranging as Three Little Pigs, Mafeking Road, Lord Hamlet, Sex in the Suburb, Dream, Brother and the one that doesn’t want to fade away having already toured the country, …miskien, (picked up for the New York Fringe Festival after seasons at the Amsterdam and Perth fringes), and has everyone talking as she pulls it off, one after another.
She says it is all about collabo- ration with her partners in Pink Couch, actors Albert Pretorius and Gideon Lombard.
As engaging as ever, Athol Fugard celebrates his 80th year with a delicate chamber piece beautifully titled The Blue Iris. Perhaps expecting him to make a much louder noise, some were disappointed, but this is a man reflecting as he moves into one of his favourite settings, the barren Karoo, where he allows three characters, a husband and the ghost of a wife (literally) and a woman who grew up in their house where she later followed in her mother’s footsteps as their housekeeper, to grapple with their memories.
The way people reflect and think about their lives determines their memories which can either release or destroy them. But more than anything, it is especially Fugard’s distinct voice that loses none of its richness or sense of place that one cherishes and holds dear.
Memories, reaching back and across the divide, are also themes in plays like Little Foot (opening with previews at The Market this weekend) and Mies Julie (opening in Cape Town’s Baxter Flipside from tomorrow to July 26, before travelling to The Edinburgh Festival next month. It will be at Pretoria’s State Theatre from September 5 to October 7). Both of these, while showing potential in different ways, will benefit from further runs, with the actors growing in their respective roles and stories blending rather than being overwhelmed by their settings.
International productions played a large role at the festival, especially productions from France, Italy and the Netherlands. Perhaps their current European crisis encourages them to escape into a state of play because this was especially high- lighted in all their productions, from the illuminating and innovative Afternoon of a Foehn and Vortex which took us on a fanciful flight, to the sheer chutzpah of Wacht! which spotlights exactly that, a day in the life of someone who spends their life watching other people, perhaps yearning for that dormant potential to be explored.
The Italians had a blast with Manolibera (Free Hand), a pro- duction which felt like stepping right into a cartoon. Collaborating in the performance were two actors and an artist. Like a conductor, the artist with pens and projector in hand sketches the background for the actors to play in. They either step into it, or he creates it around their antics while they tell their story.
It’s clever, charming and completed the cycle of this year’s festival that proved to be as playful as it was provocative, serious as it was silly, magical and mesmerising, and, as always, a work in progress.