Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Jemma Kahn.
Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Jemma Kahn.
Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Jemma Kahn.
Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Jemma Kahn.
Executive producer Ashraf Johaardien puts it succinctly: “The festival deliberately juxtaposes high concept with entertainment for all because it is precisely the tension between those two poles of artistic expression that fuels the engine that drives the National Arts Festival’s 11 Days of Amazing.”

Johaardien works together with an artistic committee to curate the main programme, sifting through the applications received and crafting a programme that will entertain and challenge audiences.

This year, the spotlight falls on a range of both emerging and established female artists. Look out for this year’s featured artist, Mamela Nyamza, visual artist Gabrielle Goliath, author Mary Watson, curator Tina Smith, actors Klara van Wyk and Buhle Ngaba, as well as Standard Bank Young Artists Thandi Ntuli, Jemma Kahn and Chuma Sopotela.

Festival chief executive Tony Lankester said: “We’ve given a lot of thought to the way audiences engage with us, what they want to get out of the time they spend in Grahamstown, and we’re helping create many and varied pathways to an amazing experience.”


Trailblazing dancer and choreographer Mamela Nyamza takes the title of featured artist this year. The featured artist is recognised for their contribution to the South African cultural narrative and is invited to bring multiple works to the festival. Nyamza will present three works, including a new piece, Black Privilege.

The work is informed by the artist’s experience of the rejection of the other by mainstream gate-keeping institutions.

Hatched, first brought to the festival 10 years ago, is Nyamza’s autobiographical piece about the life changes experienced through motherhood, and features Mamela’s 18-year-old son, Amkele Mandla, who performed in the show as an 8-year-old when it premiered.

Each year, the festival celebrates the work of the recipients of the Standard Bank Young Artist awards, with each artist presenting exciting new work that will premiere at the National Arts Festival. Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre 2018, Jemma Kahn, presents The Borrow Pit that through the lens of kamishibai, an ancient Japanese story-telling medium, tells the story of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. These men each had a muse who helped them on their way to prodigious fame. As you might suspect, it did not end so well for the muses.

Indlulamthi will be presented by Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art 2018, Chuma Sopotela. The isiXhosa word for a giraffe, in direct translation, Indlulamthi also means “the ones who are taller than the trees”. Sopotela uses this image to celebrate the children who are on the pavements of Grahamstown and highly visible during the festival. The piece will be performed on the streets of Grahamstown and, using video, sound and performance elements, seeks to challenge our thinking of currency and the connection between people.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Music 2018 Guy Buttery presents his programme, The Mending.

His endless movement towards a distinct musical voice has led him to distil heritages and traditions (as well as their contradictions and tensions) with decolonialised elements into a new and highly innovative song form that combines the artist’s love for both southern African musical traditions and ambient music forms, fusing cinematic soundscapes within the context of South Africa.

Buttery will collaborate with artists across a number of works to produce a sound that is expected to include Indian classical aspects and a capella vocals alongside a variety of strings instruments, including a sitar and double bass, with Buttery on improvised soundscapes, mbira and various guitars.

The dance programme presents strong and exciting works this year. Mzokuthula Gasa, who makes his first appearance on the main programme, choreographs and directs Amaquawe, a piece that explores what would happen if those who died for our freedom woke up - what would they say?

Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM), will celebrate its 40-year anniversary with Ukubonga, a programme choreographed by Sylvia Glasser, Themba Mbuli and Sunnyboy Motau, and starring Muzi Shili, Teboho Letele and Oscar Buthelezi. The three works on the bill honour the company’s achievements and pay respect to the work and artistry of MIDM founder, Sylvia Glasser.

Indoni Dance will present Ikhaya, from award-winning choreographer Sbonakaliso Ndaba, who explores the aftermath of losing her mother in this deeply personal and emotive piece. The cast includes Bulelani George, Lubabalo Pupu and Mthetheleli Dlakavu.

In performance art, loss, memorialisation and women are prevalent on the programme.

Bridging the gap between performance and visual art, formidable artist Steven Cohen will perform his work, Put Your Heart Under Your Feet... And Walk/ To Elu, an intense meditation on loss, grief and absence, following the death of Elu, Cohen’s partner and artistic collaborator.

The Mothertongue Project’s Walk is a performance piece created in response to Maya Krishna Rao’s The Walk, crafted after the 2012 rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey by six men on a Delhi bus.

Walk is a South African response focused on the gang-rape and murder of teenager Anene Booysen, to honour these women and to talk honestly about rape culture. The cast includes Koleka Putuma, Rehane Abrahams, Sara Matchett, Siphumeze Khundayi, Nolufefe Ntshuntshe, Genna Gardini and Lukhanyiso Skosana.

An international team of artists working in our current epoch have collaborated to create Between Horizons.

Inviting audiences to consider how our lives are shaped by circumstance, privilege, and transformation, the piece is choreographed and performed by Kieron Jina (South Africa) and Marc Philipp Gabriel (Germany).

This year’s main theatre programme is deeply representative of the current South African theatre context, according to artistic committee member for theatre Lara Bye. Many of the works on offer cross and blur genres, and make interesting use of non-traditional theatrical spaces.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) arts and culture department’s rendition of Reza de Wet’s iconic African Gothic is the culmination of a process that has involved more than 300 students and lecturers from different departments at the UJ faculty of art, design and architecture. It is directed by Alby Michaels.

Phillip Rademeyer directs Monsiieur Ibrahim En Die Blomme Van De Koran, a heart-warming Afrikaans retelling of the book by Eric Emmanuel-Schmitt in which a Turkish Muslim living in Paris takes a Jewish boy under his wing, performed by Dawid Minnaar.

From Cape Town comes Mhlanguli George’s Theatre In The Backyard. George’s signature theatre concept brings community and commercial audiences together in an intimate experience of arts and culture in the backyard of a local dwelling, closing the gap between mainstream and community theatre.

Destined for a venue in Fingo Village, Is he Mad? tells the tale of a man who cannot accept the death of his wife, while Wait... Linda is a dance piece that juxtaposes traditional and contemporary ideas.

Finally, at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, the focus is on young people who are finding new and exciting ways to use our vast heritage to create new exciting work.

Guided by the theme of Legacy: The Remix, the programme will see the likes of 2004 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Jazz, Tutu Puoane presenting her Joni Mitchell Project.

The National Arts Festival takes place from June 28 to July 8. This year marks 50 years since the late Winston Mankunku recorded his classic album, Yakhal’inkomo and writer Percy Mabandu will lead an all-star band to celebrate the musical occasion.

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