Insights and inspiration at the National Arts Festival

THE National Arts Festival is approaching its closing weekend with a line-up of exciting shows, including the sold-out Gala Concert and the works of Standard Bank Young Artist’s Monageng ‘Vice’ Motshabi (theatre), Benjamin Jephta (jazz), Beth Diane Armstrong (visual art) and Dineo Seshee Bopape (performance art). Johannesburg Youth Ballet’s Midsummer Night’s Dream also lies ahead, fusing tradition with a vibrant twist and a range of comedy, music, dance, visual art and more await audiences who are making the trip.

Fire House , with Katlego Letsholonyana, Tebogo Machaba and Ryan Dittmann, tells the stories of fire fighters working in the city of Johannesburg against a backdrop of political instability and fires that cannot be contained Picture: JAN POTGIETER

Festival-goers have dosed up on the cultural binge since it opened on June 29, and the general feeling is that South African talent is out in full force, with several shows bagging Standard Bank Ovation Awards. Work on this year’s programme has focused strongly on identity, memory and reimagining possible futures. Whether in passionate performances or stand-up comedy, audiences have displayed deep empathy with the idiosyncrasies, challenges and hurts that have been put on the table to mirror a nation in flux.

Helen Leigh, from England, is currently travelling solo in South Africa and heard about the National Arts Festival from friends. “It’s really nice to sit next to somebody and say hello and the next minute you’re talking about all the shows that you’ve seen. All the shows that I’ve seen have been on recommendation from other people that I’ve met.”

Jared Reddy, who is visiting from Pretoria, described the Festival as “life-changing” and called for more of the same, “There is a variety of different cultures here. There are so many different races and people are just meshing. It’s not a race thing, it’s not a status thing, it’s about that common ground which is art.”

Gaza Khosa, who watched a lot of comedy, noted that there was also great food at the Festival including African cuisine.

Erin de Cock, an arts student in Grahamstown commented that the Festival gave “Insight into South Africa’s socio-political circumstances at the moment, especially from an intersectional perspective.”

New National Arts Festival executive producer Ashraf Johaardien, said that the Festival was an intense experience for performers and audiences and described it as cathartic.

“It feels like the right place to share, to shout, to express ourselves in a way that we can’t always do in ordinary, everyday life and it is perhaps for that reason that people’s social barriers go down. I have been in audiences where you could have heard a pin drop there was so much emotional investment in the performance – from both sides. We have so many stories to tell in South Africa and the Festival gives us multiple platforms to tell them on,” he said.

This was the inaugural Festival for Johaardien, who has been gathering ideas for the next one. “I am very inspired. My head is already in 2018!”

The call for entry for the National Arts Festival’s Main Programme 2018 closes on July 31.

The National Arts Festival 2017 will close on Sunday July 9.

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