There are some fabulous shows on offer at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF), to be held in Grahamstown from June 29 to July 9.
As always, the NAF has several programmes and events, including the carefully curated Main, the freer flowing Fringe and the Arena, which gives award-winning artists from the year before a place to present new works and shine.
There is always a full-scale ballet or opera and this year the expansive Guy Butler Theatre at the Monument will see the staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Ballet.
This is not the only treat in store for balletomanes, however, as former Young Artist Award winner Dada Masilo will present Giselle, with music especially written by composer Phillip Miller that “layers African percussion and voice with the Western classical harp, cello and violin”.
If you were fortunate enough to see Masilo’s Macbeth or Carmen at past festivals then you will know the passion with which she imbues her work. The NAF describes her interpretation of Giselle as a “feminist revision of the classical ballet”, so expect the unexpected.
As well as Masilo, other established names returning this year include Sylvaine Strike, Jay Pather, Vincent Mantsoe, Vanessa Cooke, Rehane Abrahams, PJ Sabbagha and Craig Morris.
The Gala Concert, presented this year by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO), is another Main programme highlight conducted by the ever-popular Richard Cock.
Bernhard Gueller will conduct the CPO in the Symphony Concert, which will feature the Standard Bank Young Award winner for music.
On a contemporary note, fans of The Voice South Africa will get a chance to hear two of the judges in concert together, when Karen Zoid and the Parlotones’ Kahn Morbee collaborate.
The Soil, who left Grahamstown in 2011 with a Standard Bank Ovation Award as an up-and-coming act, return this year.
Every year the crop of Standard Bank Young Award winners is an inspiring place to start planning your festival programme. This year they are:
Music: cellist Abel Selaocoe, who will give more than one performance. You will find him playing works ranging from Debussy’s poetic and vivid Cello Sonata in D minor 13 to James Macmillan’s spiritually reflective music, as well as foot-stomping klezmer and African style inspired pieces;
Jazz: double bass and electric bass player and composer Benjamin Jephta;
Dance: choreographer and dancer Thandazile Radebe will present a contemporary African dance piece;
Theatre: playwright and director Monageng Motshabi, who has a new play Ankobiaset, set in “a land where history is forbidden”;
Visual art: sculptor Beth Diane Armstrong, who will present a solo exhibition specifically commissioned for the festival; and
Performance art: multimedia artist Dineo Seshee Bopape.
There are works with a lighter touch too, with comic authors Ben Voss and John van de Ruit co-writing Mamba Republic, a satirical sketch- comedy that sounds sharp. Voss and Van de Ruit are regular festival satire stars, with hit shows such as Green Mamba, Black Mamba and others under their Grahamstown belts.
British stand-up comedian Stephen K Amos will do two shows and there are two other UK acts on the Arena too: athletic comic duo The Pretend Men in the Fringe smash hit Police Cops; and Louise Reay, fresh from the Brighton Fringe with It’s Only Birds, “a comedy in Chinese for people who don’t speak any Chinese at all”.
Then there is the Fingo Festival, the Eastern Cape Showcase, student theatre, family shows, films and much more.
The full programme will be available online when bookings open in early May at: nationalartsfestival.co.za