Gregory Maqoma, Mamela Nyamza and more to dazzle National Arts Festival 2023

Gregory Maqomain in Exit/Exist. Picture: Supplied

Gregory Maqomain in Exit/Exist. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 15, 2023


The arts, music, dance, poetry and theatre fraternity and the entire creative industry are again gearing up for the annual National Arts Festival (NAF), set to take place at its hometown of Makhanda, previously known as Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape.

The iconic arts festival is set to take place at various venues in and around Makhanda from June 22 until July 2.

Some of this year’s headliners include world-renowned contemporary dancer and choreographer Gregory Maqoma, who will be presenting his powerful solo dance piece “Exit/Exist,” a work that explores his Xhosa ancestry.

In this timeless piece, Maqoma recalls that the work, which taps into the “body archive” emerged from “days and nights of movement practice in traditional Xhosa dances, dancing in the mountains of the Eastern Cape”.

The work is performed to a lush score by Simphiwe Dana, with the ensemble “Complete”, whose performance credentials include touring with the late music icon Hugh Masekela.

Gregory Maqoma in in Exit/Exist. Picture: Supplied

Another choreographer who brings a work motivated by her highly acclaimed 2007 solo work “Hatched” is Mamela Nyamza, with the premiere of “Hatched Ensemble”.

The piece conveys deeply personal and challenging issues of tradition and artists' evolving contexts within creative industries. Hatched Ensemble” is performed by ten dancers trained in ballet, an opera singer and an African traditional instrumentalist.

Nyamza, the 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, was recently announced as the JOMBA! 2023 Legacy Artist.

The 25th annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience is scheduled to take place at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Art from 12 to 17 September.

Mamela Nyamza’s Hatched was performed at the NAF in 2018. Picture: Jan Potgieter

Festival goers can also expect a thrilling new work, “Hold Still” by Nadia Davids, a story of a family shaped by different generational traumas who must confront their own histories to get through a single, life-changing night.

Directed by Jay Pather, the multi-themed play focuses on the complexities of an inter-racial, intra-cultural family living in the shadow of catastrophic political histories, and what we’ll do to protect those we love.

Lyle October, Andrew Buckland and Mwenya Kabwe in Hold Still. Picture: Mark Wessels

Written and produced by the poet Pieter Odendaal “Droomwerk” will now make its stage debut at NAF 2023.

The play is based on Odendaal’s exploration of his heritage as a white Afrikaans-speaking male with slave ancestry. The work explores the ancestral roots of mental health in order to bring healing to family trees devastated by colonialism and apartheid.

The 2022 Standard Bank Young Artists will be also presenting their works at this year’s Festival.

Koleka Putuma (Poetry) was the winner of the NAF partnership award, the Distell National Playwright, in 2019 and returns to NAF as a Standard Bank Young Artist just four years later.

Lady Skollie will be making her NAF debut as the Visual Arts Standard Bank Young Artist winner and Theatre Duo, Billy Langa and Mahlatsi Mokgonyana, who are the 2022 Standard Bank Young Artists for Theatre have spent much time on the stages of Fringe and curated programme over the years.

Linda Sikhakhane is the 2022 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz. Linda first came to the Youth Jazz Festival at age 14 with the Siyakhula Community Music Centre and attended five more times after that.

Thamsanqa Majela is making his return to NAF, holding the title of Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance and Msaki will come full circle with her Standard Bank Young Artist for Music performance at the National Arts Festival where she first performed on the Fringe in 2014.

The 2022 Standard Bank Young Artists. Picture: Themba Mokase

This year’s Distell National Playwright winner Sibongakonke Mama will present her debut script “Ibuhlungu le Ndawo,” a story about the notions of home, its meaning, and its creative analogy.

Seasoned and upcoming comics including Mojak Lehoko, Stuart Taylor, Chester Missing, Khanyisa Bunu, Kate Pinchuck and Tseliso Masolane, Tsepiso Nzayo, Thulasizwe Sithole, Callum Hitchcock, Zach Esau will form part of this year’s comedy showcase at NAF.

Mojak Lehoko. Picture: Supplied

“The South African art scene is making sense of itself in a persistently complex environment but we see the spaces for testing new work and ideas are shrinking,” said NAF artistic director, Rucera Seethal.

“The role of the festival as a platform for new, different and unseen works has never been more important. The festival continues to play an important role in the launching of new work and careers, it is in these eleven days that the seeds are planted.

“Artists are working with the stories closest to their hearts, perhaps looking for connection, security and hope, as an uneasy world evolves around us. There is escape too, into language, the body, communing in joy, exploring stillness, and finding beauty and laughter,” added Seethal.

The complete 2023 National Arts Festival programme will be revealed and open for booking on on May 1.