IT WAS a trek from the top to the bottom of the South American continent followed by a five-year stay in Argentina that cost Nikki Froneman her heart.

She decided to channel her passion into something practical and decided it was time the African and South American continents had much stronger cultural ties.

“We have much more in common with each other than with the northern hemisphere,” she remarks, and her stay in Buenos Aires, specifically, charged her to get something going.

“They have amazing theatre and abundantly so,” she says.

So Froneman founded Proyecto 34ºS in 2008 to encourage cultural exchange between the two conti- nents, but starting with the two countries she knew best.

She took some productions to Buenos Aires that were well received, but she was looking for something special. This was when she put a call out for Theatre in Translation. She wanted the best plays from the two countries and received 90 from Argentina and 30 from South Africa.

These went through a well-scrutinised process of judging, whittling down the plays, and then they were sent across continents for those judges to pick the one they liked best.

“Locally, Mike van Graan’s Green Man Flashing was the winner and we received Cooking with Elisa, written by Argentinian playwright Lucía Laragione, and it has been translated, directed and performed by South Africans.”

It premiered at Grahamstown where it received good reviews and will open at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square with a run from tomorrow until August 2.

“It makes sense that we should be exchanging this kind of work,” says Froneman.

Up to now, she has received most of her funding from Buenos Aires and is also effusive in her praise of Argentinian ambassador Renato Carlos Sersale Di Cerisano, who has been hugely helpful and is constantly able to help without interfering in the arts.

“It’s amazing to have the support of someone like that because it opens many doors,” says Froneman, who views these endeavours as only the first building blocks of what she hopes to achieve.

“It’s amazing to see what value they place on the arts,” she notes, and that’s something that she hopes will be infectious. “We can learn so much from one another. There’s huge potential for both countries and eventually the two continents.”

This particular play, for example, is part of Argentinian Week (see below) which will run in Pretoria and Joburg for a while longer than just a week implies. She hopes that all of this activity between the two countries will also foster a healthy debate and on-going discussions that will enrich cultural ties in the future.

“There are many similarities and touch-points,” she explains, pointing among others to our struggle with apartheid and the harsh politics in Argentina’s past.

For her it’s about creating new circuits and finding new spaces that people might not have considered. Her entrepreneurial spirit is the kind of active participation one hopes to find in the arts. It’s people other than the normal producers or actors who come with a fresh angle, creating work and opportunities as well as opening up different avenues unexpectedly. “We have to create more movement and a more equal playing field,” she says, reaching out to local government and funders who might want to step on board.

She emphasises that going into this tough field, you have to be proactive. “The pathways exist, but we have to find them.”

She’s also determined that any kind of exchange should benefit both parties.

But to see what she’s talking about, check out Cooking with Elisa (pictured), a fable by author and poet Lucía Laragione, which recalls the period of Argentina’s “Dirty War” of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

The piece deals with two women on an estate in the countryside vying for power as they pluck, slice, skin, snap, carve, chop, roast and boil French delicacies for a demanding madame and monsieur, with undertones of the dark arts and political dictatorships.

The star of this show is actress Patricia Boyer as the domineering and cruel cook, Nicole, and introducing newcomer Lurdes Laice as naive young country girl, Elisa.

It is directed by 2012 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, Princess Zinzi Mhlongo, and boasts a stunning set and atmospheric costumes by Noluthando Lobese.

It tells the story as if we’re watching an art movie from that period. Boyer as the brittle and always boiling cook takes you there every step of the way as she dissects and destroys anything that comes her way.

Check it out at Auto and General’s Sandton Theatre on the Square.