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Public art paradise

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TO Infecting 3

Pantsulas, their bodies ritualistically adorned with white clay, seduce central Cape Town traffic.

Then the same versatile CityScapes quartet – Mxolisi Nkomonde, Sibusiso Gantsa, Sandile Mkhize and Khanyiso Kunene – danced among the cycads near the Golden Acre shopping centre, and then finally on the Fan Walk bridge over Buitengracht Street. That’s when they weren’t leading audiences from site to enthralling site on the colour-coded routes where art could be seen for free.

In Long Street, these guides directed attention to four honed bodies, initially sitting at steering wheels, exploding with frustration and physicality in their cars, parked briefly with engines running, in the piece My Sound Is Too Big For This Confined Space.

Their audience peered through the windscreen and windows, reacting loudly to Leán Coetzer (choreographer), Luthando Ntsodo, Paige Dawtrey and Steve Smith.

On a Saturday night, Julia Raynham, sporting an anthurium headdress and her naked body washed with clay, stripped off her floor-length artificial hair cloak, before her long hair was cut by a blindfolded Peter Assad as the aroma of braaing smileys – sheep’s heads – filled the sacrificial air at Prestwich Place in Green Point.

This olfactory backdrop to the multimedia Phylum and Phoenix, in the memorial garden alongside the ossuary housing the remains mainly of slaves, was provided by Joburg’s Ntsoana Dance Theatre, with Vaughn Sadie and their urban performance Teka Munyika.

At noon, composer Hendrik Hofmeyr stood on the noisy Cape Town station concourse as 2011 Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (Gipca) fellow Justin Krawitz played, on a strat-egically placed baby grand, the world premiere of his Sonata per pianoforte. Krawitz’s Cape Tone was delayed by a day because of the Cosatu strike.

Over at the Golden Acre Atrium, Cape Town City Ballet’s Johnny Bovang breezily lifted Megan Swart in a pas de deux to Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin as the crowd munched their lunch, or stopped, mesmerised by the company’s Invasion.

On the final day, a bandaged Akirash (Nigerian artist Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiya) and two painted City Varsity students spooked station passengers and porters with the final intervention in Abawon: Stains – Akirash’s site-specific rituals that dealt with issues of stigma.

I speak for myself and the thousands of Capetonians and visitors who encountered Infecting the City Public Arts Festival performances, installations and interventions, when I say that seeing an opera, ballet, dance, theatre, or going to a concert will not be the same again.

This five-day festival has altered our expectations and perspectives of these art forms. Or, in many instances, served as an introduction to them.

The slogan for this event, presented by the Africa Centre and curated by Jay Pather, was “your cape town. your space. your art. free.”

The fifth edition, now firmly established in the inner city from its origins at Spier in Stellenbosch, captured our senses with sounds, sights, sites and imagery that had ethnographic, cultural, architectural and historic resonances.

Applause came from unlikely places, such as construction workers on scaffolding, or drivers in Adderley Street, traffic hooting for Jackie Job and Emilie Lelouch as they danced and flew on the station roof in their performance of We All Matter.

People taking a twilight stroll down Government Avenue followed as Anne Trulove (soprano Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi) galloped off on a horse-drawn cart in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.

In front of the Delville Wood War Memorial, German tourists stopped, joining security guards to watch Dada Masilo’s Death and the Maidens, which opened the festival in the late afternoon.

The theatricality of this theatre dance work was diminished by the lack of stage lighting.

What wasn’t diminished was the intimacy, with the choreographer’s subversive intentions and the potent physicality of the dancing. This Joburg company’s work provided a contrast to a lot of Cape Town dance’s dated aesthetics and theatrics.

Most informative was the discussion on Towards a Public Art Policy for a World Design Capital, hosted by Gipca, with the Africa Centre and Creative Cape Town.

While Joburg has had such a strategy since 2006, surprisingly the by-law-entangled Mother City has none.

As the role of Design Capital 2014 looms for Cape Town, one thing bureaucrats don’t have to worry about is the brilliant creativity the city has on offer. Top of the list would be Athi-Patra Ruga’s extraordinary Ilulwane, his take on Xhosa male circumcision, performed at the Long Street Baths with synchronised swimmers; Leila Anderson and Stan Wannet’s riveting Castle Street shop instal-lation, The Diagnosis; and Ole Hamre’s choral multimedia community project Capefon, in the Groote Kerk, which interfaced with the Cape Town Philharmonic on Church Square.

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