National Arts Festival

Entertainment for all

Grahamstown's amazing line-up ranges from high-brow to mass appeal

Alon Nashman in "Alphonse"
Alon Nashman in "Alphonse"

Entertainment for all, juxtaposed with high concept, is what the National Arts Festival promises this year, NAF executive producer Ashraf Johaardien said.

In particular, there are a clutch of phenomenal emerging and established female artists. Look out for (among many others) choreographer and 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.

The main programme is a “heady mix of uniquely South African and international arts, culture and creativity,” Johaardien said.

“So, segue with us from fresh takes on Shakespeare, the return of Corne and Twakkie in The Most Amazing Show to the un-dance of Steven Cohen, the utterly compelling un-theatre of visiting Canadian playwright, Greg MacArthur, and the awesome unconventional Theatre in the Backyard of Nyanga-based theatre producer and director Mhlanguli George.”

Here is a brief overview of highlights on the main programme – and remember this is separate to the Fringe, jazz, Arena, Standard Bank Young Artists, children’s and other programmes!

Romeo and Juliet is the ballet on the 2018 National Arts Festival main programme
Romeo and Juliet is the ballet on the 2018 National Arts Festival main programme


The dance programme presents strong and exciting works ranging from classical ballet to more modern work.

Mzokuthula Gasa choreographs and directs AmaQhawe, a piece that explores what would happen if those who died for our freedom woke up – what would they say?

Moving Into Dance Mophatong will celebrate its 40-year anniversary with Ukubonga Inhlonipho, a programme choreographed by Sylvia Glasser, Themba Mbuli and Sunnyboy Motau. ,

The 2018 ballet is Romeo and Juliet, performed by Cape Town City Ballet under artistic director Robin van Wyk, and set to the classic Prokofiev score.

The Cape Dance Company presents Interplay, a programme of works including a new work from South African-born choreographer Mthuthuzeli November; a restaging of work devised in 2009 by Nyamza about young adulthood and a piece exploring how the voiceless feel. Iconic choreographer Adele Blank will restage Sweet on Bob, an ode to jazz legend Bob James.

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 South African State Theatre presents Kiu, an examination of drought in Africa and the importance of preserving water performed to haunting, live Afrocentric music.

Pro Helvetia brings exciting work with a Swiss-Mozambican connection to Grahamstown: Thomas Hauert’s Hã Mais.

Steven Cohen in "put your heart under your feet…and walk/To Elu "
Steven Cohen in "put your heart under your feet…and walk/To Elu "
Image: Pierre Planchenault


Loss, memorialisation and women are prevalent on the Performance Art 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. It’s been described as shocking, sad, beautiful and uncomfortable all at once.

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. WALK is a way to honour these women and to talk honestly about rape culture.

Gabrielle Goliath has presented elegy performances in various parts of the world, and will be presenting the Eastern Cape premiere of the work at the National Arts Festival.


Gathering Strands is a retrospective exhibition of works by Lionel Davis, artist, educator, anti-apartheid activist, political prisoner and former District Six resident.

Best known for his linocuts of life in District Six, Davis held a retrospective at the National Gallery in Cape Town in July. The exhibition celebrates four decades of his activism and creative production.

Ubuntu – I am Because You Are: A Search for Ubuntu with Permission to Dream curated by Usha Seejarim draws on works from Standard Bank’s corporate collection. I
DU30: 3 Decades of Dance Umbrella commemorates 30 years of the Dance Umbrella with photographs by John Hogg and Suzy Bernstein.

Warriors, Comrades and Volkstaat Kommandos is a retrospective of work by South African photojournalist TJ Lemon.

Doghouse from Danish company Makropol invites a limited number of people to wear VR headsets and attend a virtual dinner party.

Amanda Black will sing at the National Arts Festival on the main programme
Amanda Black will sing at the National Arts Festival on the main programme


Together with the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, the National Arts Festival presents Afropoets featuring Urban Village – folk music layered with electric, funk and traditional influences. They will be joined by The Brother Moves On, a South African performance art ensemble, and the new face of Afro-Folk, Bongeziwe Mabandla.

International singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega and Bay jazz diva Amanda Black will also perform.

Choral Connections celebrates the ways in which singing and choral music brings together people from all backgrounds.

The Gala Concert on July 1 will be performed by the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Richard Cock, who also present the Children’s Concert earlier on the same day.

Zanta Hofmeyr (violin), Susan Mouton (cello) and Malcolm Nay (piano) are The Wits Trio Plays Schubert.

Mahube features the crisscross rhythms of Malawi and Zimbabwe and the choral splendour of the south with Steve Dyer and Bokani Dyer having assembled an ensemble of 10 award-winning musicians.

The cast of "Jungfrau" are, from left, Jacques da Silva, Tracey Lee Oliver, Carla Classen and Ameera Patel
The cast of "Jungfrau" are, from left, Jacques da Silva, Tracey Lee Oliver, Carla Classen and Ameera Patel


Many of the works on offer cross and blur genres.

Jungfrau is the latest directorial work from 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Jade Bowers. Based on the novel by Caine Prize-winning South African writer Mary Watson, the book has been adapted for the stage by Ameera Patel, who also takes a lead role.

UJ Arts & Culture will present its rendition of Reza de Wet’s iconic African Gothic (translation of Diepegrond).

Phillip Rademeyer directs Monsieur Ibrahim en die Blomme van die 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.

Canadian Alon Nashman returns to Grahamstown with Alphonse, which the BBC has called an “unmissable show of genius for all ages”.
Another Family Fare show on the main programme is The Little Prince.

Comedy fans will be thrilled with The Most Amazing Show featuring goofy Corne and Twakkie played by Louw Venter and Rob van Vuuren respectively.

From Cape Town comes Mhlanguli George’s Theatre in the Backyard with a double bill of Is He Mad? and Wait ... Linda.

Swiss author and director Boris Nikitin rewrites Hamlet into a mix of experimental documentary play and music theatre.

Mamela Nyamza is this year's featured artist at the National Arts Festival
Mamela Nyamza is this year's featured artist at the National Arts Festival
Image: Jean Michel Blasco


Trailblazing dancer and choreographer Mamela Nyamza takes the title of Featured Artist in 2018, recognised for her contribution to the South African cultural narrative.

Nyamza will present three works, including a brand-new piece Black Privilege which is informed by the artist’s experience of the rejection of the other by mainstream gatekeeping institutions.

Nyamza’s Phuma-Langa calls for renewed reconciliation of all South Africans through the diverse experiences of the country’s many cultures.

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 eight year old when it premiered.