At the Fingo Fest, Grahamstown
Picture: Picture: Michelle Hodgkinson.
At the Fingo Fest, Grahamstown Picture: Picture: Michelle Hodgkinson.
Village Green Scene. Picture: Michelle Hodgkinson.
Village Green Scene. Picture: Michelle Hodgkinson.

11 Days of Amazing read the posters welcoming the thousands of visitors to Grahamstown for a feast of diverse and incredibly exciting culture. For however many days you are there, "Amazing" is truly the operative word.

As happens every year, some detractors complain the festival has lost its shimmer - saying the hype has gone and some store owners have complained that business is down on last year.

I beg to differ. For as many who laud the festival as residents pull out all the stops to make festinos feel at home; for as many who go there and enjoy themselves; for as many who benefit from the boost in business, there'll still be some who see the cup half empty.

Festival posters welcome visitors to town. Picture: Orielle Berry
Festival posters welcome visitors to town. Picture: Orielle Berry

I was wowed by art, theatre, dance and music and street shows; and just enjoyed strolling up and down the roads where some of the hubs where located; I enjoyed mingling in the smaller theatres; cosying up with other jazz lovers at the DSG Hall (the main jazz venue) and at the more intimate venues of The Masonic Hall and the Alec Mullins for example.

I was moved to tears at the sheer beauty of dance and ballet in all its diversity in Interplay,  a compilation by the Cape Dance Company. I was rendered almost speechless by the power of National Arts Festival Featured Artist Mamela Nyamza's Hatched; and amazed at the utter ingenuity and creativity of so many shows. Jemma Kahn portrayed artists Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud in their troubled lives and, their relationship with their muses through the medium of the Japanese paper art kamishibai. This is a medium in which illustrated boards visually describe the action on stage. 

Mamela Nyamza in Hatched. Picture: Sydelle Willow Smith
Mamela Nyamza in Hatched. Picture: Sydelle Willow Smith

Steven Cohen's emotional tribute on the loss of his partner takes the form of performance; projections and an installation of found objects - true cutting edge stuff that project his meditative feelings on grief and absence in "put your heart under your feet ... and walk/To Elu". 

These are just a tiny sampling  of the many performances flighted at the fest. Many will be coming later to the Mother City so watch this space

Tony Lankester, CEO of the National Arts Festival answered some questions I posed:

What have been the most popular shows?

  • Doghouse 
  • The Borrow Pit 
  • Amanda Black 
  • The Gala Concert 
  • AGAIN 
  • Hatched
  • Alphonse
  • Feather on the Breath of God
  • Caliente
  • Stuart Lightbody 
  • Suzanne Vega
  • Vusi Mahlasela
  • Butlers on Broadway
  • Big Boys the Third

Did the digital arts festival, Creativate, prove its worth and how and why?

 Creativate gave us the opportunity to launch something brand new, something that, for the first time, opened up an exploration into technology and the arts. It was a great inaugural edition and we learned a lot - and we're looking forward to refining it and bringing it back in 2019.

What stood out in the festival this year?

The stand-out things were the two big new initiatives: the move of Village Green which was very well received by both traders and the public, and which has added some energy and excitement to the Festival experience. Secondly the launch of Creativate which, although a small beginning, I think we'll look back on in years to come as being the start of something important.

Any more facts and figures you wish to share with our readers?

  • The National Arts Festival contributes R94.4 million to the economy of Grahamstown and R377.15 million to the economy of the Eastern Cape.
  • 99% of people who visit the Festival would recommend it to a friend
  • The National Arts Festival provides temporary employment for approximately 400 people.
  • The Festival distributes about R300 000 worth of tickets to underprivileged communities through our Arts Encounter programme - opening the doors of our theatres to hundreds of people who otherwise would battle to afford access. 
  • The massive Creative City partnership has given life to a range of projects and initiatives - The Fingo Festival at the National Arts Festival is one such project.