The Annual Mzansi Fela Festival at the State Theatre, now in its fifth year, has become a training ground for up-and-coming artists as well as a platform for established ones.

But in essence it’s a fun way to end the year by bringing together the best of what South Africa has to offer in a variety of artistic disciplines, while creating the space to groom future stars.

It’s at this time that the State Theatre buzzes with a lot of shows happening simultaneously for two weeks and there’s lots to look forward to, but it’s all about knowing what to catch and when.

The fest opens on Thursday and, as is tradition, with a march from the Union Buildings to the State Theatre marking the International World Aids Day.

This will be followed by various free performances at the Lillian Ngoyi Square featuring the likes of DJ Cleo.

Music is the biggest drawcard of the fest and the State Theatre is using this opportunity to feature artists who may have never performed in this building before.

The Parlotones are the headliners this year and being one of the greatest alternative pop bands in the country, they should be able to easily pull in the crowds. They’re on the Opera stage for one night only on Friday.

They’re followed by another great artist, Thandiswa Mazwai, on Saturday. Judith Sephuma is on Sunday and Lira, a definite favourite, is on for two nights on December 9 and 10.

Gospel music gets its share with Winnie Mashaba and Bafana Ba Sebesho performing in the Drama theatre on December 11.

On the smaller Rendezvous stage you can enjoy rock sounds from bands such as Outside The New, Son of 1 000, The Christian Heath band, NeVaMe and Chiba Fly on December 10. Black Coffee will spin the decks on December 9 at the old Cappello’s space.

Poetry gets the spotlight on December 8 with Kgafela oa Magogodi, Lefifi Tladi, Natalia Molebatsi and Afurakan headlining at the Rendezvous theatre. It’s going to be a provocative and feisty word exchange.

Comedy is also part of the festivities with comedians such as Kedibone Molaudzi, Donovan Goliath, Ronny Modimola, Justice Kubheka, Jacques Barret (from Australia) and Carl Joshua Ncube taking to the Drama stage on Thursday.

One of Mzansi Fela’s biggest features is developmental theatre where community groups from Gauteng and other provinces collaborate with the State Theatre’s field workers to produce original works, or present classic South African plays. Community groups will showcase their works during the day at the Momentum theatre from Friday to December 9.

The drawcard for theatre lovers was going to be Paul Grootboom and Aubrey Sekhabi’s new play, Rhetorical, which lends itself to struggle theatre for today’s times, based on Thabo Mbeki’s speeches. It had a short run at the Market Theatre, but because of certain glitches, its run has been postponed and it will only come to the State Theatre next year.

This leaves productions such Julian Seleke-Mokoto’s Money Maker, which has shown at the Windybrow Theatre, the National Arts Festival and the Market Theatre, which looks at the lives of prostitutes. This runs on Friday and Saturday. There’s Love at First Fight happening from December 6 to 8 at the Arena.

But it seems it’s contemporary dance that promises to bring a scorching and provocative theatre experience. The Ntsoana Contemporary Dance Theatre is a dance collective which generates and implements concepts framed within socio-political concepts, committed to exploring the diverse and evolving South African cultures and cultural practices.

The company is presenting Lime Light on Rites which examines how marketing and publicity exploits people’s emotions.

There’s a lot of money to be made from death and businesses in that field are taking advantage of the social pressure to have big funerals. Lime Light on Rites looks at this from a conceptual approach and it sounds very interesting. The show runs from December 9 to 11 on the Arena stage.

Then there’s the DansInventions season presented by Moving Into Dance Mophatong, from December 9 to 11, also taking place in the Arena, showcasing the work of four innovative young choreographers.

The four works are Inception by Sonia Radebe, which interrogates the origin of things; Silent Departure by Sunnyboy Motau, a celebration of the freedoms black people have achieved to date; Inside by Muzi Shili, which is a call unto people to start living life to the fullest and Fractured II by Fana Tshabalala, which follows on from Fractured performed at the Dance Umbrella Festival 2011.

The work is inspired by the saying: “Don’t judge the book by its cover”. The choreographer believes the reality or truth of everyone and everything lies inside where one will not usually think to look.

DansInventions had its Johannesburg run in October at the Dance Factory and this is a chance to see it if you missed it. It boasts incredible work.

lTickets for the Mzansi Fela Festival are available at Computicket from R10 to R220.