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Artists Grapple with Turmoil and Fragility as NAF Returns to Live Shows

Published on 26 April 2022

A scene from Hamlet by Janni Younge - image by Bronwyn Lloyd

Stories of turbulence, healing and triumph thread through this year’s programme as the National Arts Festival returns to Makhanda in a live festival format from 23 June – 3 July 2022.

“There’s a pull towards stories from history, and explorations of other ways of seeing and being, throughout this year’s programme. Uncertain times can lead us to look back, to try and make sense of the present, to find ground,” says NAF Artistic Director, Rucera Seethal. “This year, artists have bravely located themselves inside historical moments, failing ecologies, deep personal questions, and even endings. Here, audiences can expect catharsis, drama, beauty, humour and fascinating storytelling woven through the programme.”

Janni Younge may have returned to the classics for her new production of Hamlet, but the deep conflicts of the piece’s central character receive a powerful contemporary treatment through life-size puppets. The cast is grounded in the formidable presence of Andrew Buckland, who takes the role of Claudius, and the costumes are simple, humble but almost spectral as they float around the puppets.

Mpume Mthombeni in Isidlamlilo! (The Fire Eater)
Sandra Prinsloo in Kamphoer - die verhaal van Susan Nell

Standard Bank Young Artist winner 2011, Neil Coppen, and acclaimed actress, Mpume Mthombeni, present the powerful new one-woman tour de force Isidlamlilo! (The Fire Eater). With elements of Zulu folklore, biblical mythology, magical-realist framings of South Africa, as well as humour and pathos, the piece relays the dizzying and death-defying life story of Zenzile Maseko. Maseko, a sixty-something Zulu grandmother, who rents a cramped room in a Durban’s women’s hostel, is haunted by her past as an IFP assassin (fire-eater) in the build-up to the 1994 elections. When Home Affairs mistakenly declares her dead, Zenzile finds herself cast into the middle of a Kafkaesque nightmare, driven to desperate measures to prove she is still alive and, in the process, reawakening parts of her identity and past that she has spent a majority of her adult life trying to suppress.

Mthombeni and Coppen have worked in close collaboration for the past 15 years creating and touring works both locally and internationally, including the multi-award-winning Tin Bucket Drum, which premiered at the 2010 National Arts Festival and went on to tour locally and internationally for several years.

2022 Fleur du Cap Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Sandra Prinsloo, returns to the National Art Festival stages for the first time in many years with the critically acclaimed, multiple award-winning Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell, directed by Lara Foot, who also brought Tshepang and Karoo Moose to the National Arts Festival stages. Based on a true story, Prinsloo plays Susan Nell, who faced an unspeakable ordeal during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). Following her father’s death during the war, Susan ends up in the Winburg concentration camp where she is brutally raped and left for dead.  She survives the ordeal and escapes but sixteen years later, while serving at a military hospital in England during the First World War, she recognises a patient as one of her rapists. With this unfortunate encounter, Susan is once again confronted with the pain and humiliation of her past.

Iyeza - image by Lauren Theunisseun
seven ways to say goodbye Image: Val Adamson

2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art, Buhlebezwe Siwani’s Iyeza is a deeply reverent exploration of the healing power of plants at a moment where people across the globe are reconsidering their relationships with the plant world. Drawing on ancient indigenous connections to the natural world and asking questions of our tendency to take its rich bounty for granted, Buhlebezwe’s own journey to heeding her ancestral calling of ubungoma, the ancient African healing tradition, runs parallel to this piece. The work unfolds through a residency beginning in early May in Makhanda.

Flatfoot Dance Company’s seven ways to say goodbye emerged as we struggled to transform isolation into community after the heavy COVID lockdown. Birthed shortly after the violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal, it’s a journal that echoes the early pillow books of Japan’s Sei Shonagon as it lists ‘seven ways to say goodbye’.

Stepping into the heartland, choreographer Lliane Loots has taken eight dancers through a journey that asks them (and the audience) to confront the sticky and sometimes porous relationship we have to endings and partings. Father to son, mother to daughter, lover to lover, old age to dying, individual to politics combine in a moving journey to finding self. It confronts the idea that saying goodbye is about leaving behind history that binds us, both personally and politically. A display of gravity-defying dance and embodied story telling of the intimate and the holy, seven ways to say goodbye is a celebration of all that is sacred and beautiful.

Another musical work that is a catharsis for healing, Ingoduko gives ‘voice’ to the Xhosa indigenous instruments uhadi and umrhubhe. Presented by Cape Town-born, and internationally trained, musician Thandeka Mfinyongo, Ingoduko honours and preserves indigenous music for a new generation but also calls for a cultural homecoming and healing. Laced with nostalgia, the music of the two bows creates a platform for the participation, performance, and consumption of indigenous music to inspire a new wave of contemporary devotees.

Gabi Motuba in The Sabbath image by Mvelo Mahlangu
Darkroom Contemporary performs deus :: ex :: machina. Image by Oscar O Ryan

The Sabbath is a series of compositions written for string quartet by jazz singer and composer Gabi Motuba. The project endeavours to understand and tend to historical moments by bearing witness, A very personal project for Motuba, The Sabbath was created in 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak and news of loved ones perishing in a matter of days formed the backdrop to the work. Not only does the series attempt to think through a violent past and the complexities of present encounters, it also seeks to be a sanctuary for those attempting to come to terms with great tragedy.

Future-forward design and technical elements are the tools that Darkroom Contemporary’s deus::ex::machina – human geography in a virtual world utilises to search for connection within chaos. Part telematic performance, part interactive online experience, deus::ex::machina is live, real-time motion controlled by the audience.

Created by Louise Coetzer, with interactive design by Thingking, the music features 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist, Cara Stacey among others. Developed during, and in response to, the global lockdown in 2020, this multiplayer game invites viewers to meet online or in real life. The shared experience of simulated connection is driven by the viewer, who controls dancers in the piece in a real-time voting process, ultimately deciding a unique outcome for each performance as it unfolds live and via live stream.

These shows are just some of the plays, performances, exhibitions, installations and concerts on the 2022 National Arts Festival programme. Previously announced shows can be found here.

Visitors are advised to go to Makana Tourism, various booking agents and online aggregators to book their accommodation soonest. Festival-goers also have the opportunity of adding on some time exploring the Eastern Cape. For more details on where to stay and what to do in the province go here.

The full programme and ticket sales will be available online at www.nationalartsfestival.co.za