Freezing, but feeling festive

Grahamstown is cold. Very cold. Which makes going out to shows quite a challenge. It is tempting to stay inside, next to the heater. So far I have managed to drag myself out for all my shows, although scheduled trips to the craft markets and art exhibitions were abandoned.

Fortunately all the shows have been worth it.  The festival diary so far:

Thursday – Mouche : based on a story by Paul Gallico, this play features Tim Redpath playing six different characters. One of them is a puppeteer, which adds another six characters to the mix.  It was an amazing play, with puppets, dolls, a moving story and a very strong performance from Redpath. This really did get the festival off to a good start for me.

Friday:  I had not booked for anything, knowing I would be busy at work and not sure what I felt like seeing. Sadly the show I picked was sold out. Disappointing for me, but nice for Guy Buttery. So I bought his cd at the door and went home and listened to it in comfort.

Saturday: Abnormal Loads by Neil Coppen was breathtaking. That Standard Bank Young Artist Award was well deserved.  The show got rave reviews and everyone I know who saw it absolutely loved it. The script, the stage set, the performances – everything worked well.

A quick supper and then up to the monument for the ballet. We watched Swan Lake, which was lovely. Although it was so cold I felt the swans should have been issued with ice skates.

Sunday: Gala concert with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra = two hours of glorious music.  What was amusing was how many Grahamstown people were in the audience.  Supper at Red Cafe followed (I had the Moroccan lamb tagine which was very good). As a bonus we were given comp tickets to see Gary Thomas. A pleasant hour of guitar and singing, and good to be going to see someone whose work I did not know.

And that was the first weekend done.  So far, it has been amaz!ng, as the posters promise. Now if only someone could get the heating turned on.  Last night, in a venue with a fire going, I thought the singer was smoking, and then realised that it was condensation in the air. Brr. And on Saturday night at the monument it was starting to sleet. Big brr.

On the plus side, all the people selling jerseys, jackets, socks, gloves, hot food etc must be smiling.


Feel it, it is here!

The calm before the storm

Now that I finally have a phone that takes decent photographs, and have figured out how to get the photographs off the phone, I thought it might be fun to keep a sort of festival photo diary, with at least one photo from every day.

It feels as though the festival is starting off slowly. This week there have been posters going up, but not as many as I would have expected.  Yesterday (Wednesday 29 June) I walked through Church Square which was strangely quiet.  A few traders were busy setting up their stalls, and the food vans seemed to be well set up. 
Today the square will look very different. I walked past on my way to work to see it full of people fighting the fierce wind as they set up tables and tents. I was tempted to take a photograph but feared that my camera would blow away. Yes, the wind was that strong.
Waiting waiting for the bus

Wednesday night, walking home from work I saw a strange object on the path ahead. Why, I wondered, would someone leave a wooden bench on the side of the road? Had some play lost its prop?

The mystery was solved when I got to the bench. There is now a proper, well-marked bus stop for the Hopper, the festival transport. It is good that they are clearly marked, people have often complained of not being able to find the bus stop. And a bench is a good idea. But I am not so sure of the wisdom of putting a dark brown wooden bench on the bicycle path, with no lights nearby. Any cyclists in town had best beware. Hopefully someone in charge will see the problem and move the bench on to the pedestrian path before there is an accident.  Or should we call that spontaneous street theatre?

Remember me?

The Crystal Calligrapher is a bad blogger.

The Crystal Calligrapher is a bad blogger.

The Crystal Calligrapher is a bad blogger.


Ok, I will now stop writing out lines. Which probably loses some of the impact when you are typing them anyway. But the truth is, I have been a very bad blogger.  I keep thinking I will get back to writing,  but that just has not happened. The same could be said for a lot of other areas in my life as well,  but we won’t go there right now.

So what prompted me to finally log in and say something. Simply – it is festival time. Regular readers of this blog will know that I live in Grahamstown, home to the National Arts Festival. Every year the town is transformed as hundreds of artists and thousands of audience members settle in to brace the cold and embrace the culture.

This week I have been watching the posters going up, seeing strange people on the streets, feeling the excitement growing. Surrounded by so much creativity and energy it is hard not to feel inspired.

I am also aware of friends far away who are hoping for news of the festivities.  I will be busy busy busy the next two weeks, but am aiming to blog each day – even if only to comment on what show I saw, or what I noticed on the streets of Grahamstown.

Watch this space…

More Music : The Rest of the Fest 3

What I know about music is dangerous. I don’t know who was more relieved when I stopped piano lessons as a child – me, my teacher, the piano, or the rest of the family who had endured my clanging. But just because I can not produce music myself doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. And being ignorant has advantages – I have attended concerts where friends have engaged in fierce debates about the merits of the various performers. While I just smile and think “That was nice”.

So I will not attempt to comment or critique the music I heard during the festival. Suffice to say that I enjoyed all the shows I went to. Which were:

18 Strings – Steve Newman, Nibs van der Spuy and Guy Buttery. All three were amazing, but it was particularly awesome when they played together. At one point I counted seven guitars on stage. And came away with two new cds for my collection (I already own several by Steve Newman).

Bach Goldberg Variations –  Zanta Hofmeyer (violin), Morkel Combrink (viola), Wessel Beukes (cello). Beautiful.

North Sea Big Band – jazz  A collaboration between jazz musicians from South Africa, Norway, Scandinavia and Finland. Wonderful stuff, with an amusing note when they included a vuvuzela.

Symphony – Cape Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra – conductor Richard Cock, soloist  Florian Uhlig, who was so good I almost wished I could play the piano. They played pieces by E von Reznicek, Robert Schumann and Antonin Dvorak.

Celso Duarte & Ensemble – music from Mexico, a mix of traditional, classical and jazz. Celso Duarte played the harp and many other instruments, accompanied by a wonderful group of musicians. I was fascinated by the unfamiliar instruments, particularly the guy who played what looked like the jawbone of a donkey!

Home from Home – Chris Mann and Nia – Chris Mann’s poems set to music, accompanied by local band Nia, against a backdrop of artwork by Julia Skeen.

A Song and Dance

The Rest of the Fest – Part 2

Songs of Migration – compiled by Hugh Masakela and James Ncgobo and featuring Hugh Masakela and Sibongile Khumalo, this was an awesome show.  Using music and dance the talented cast capture the experiences of migrancy in South Africa.

Ballet Bonanza : Festival is pretty much the only time I get to see ballet, so the ballet is usually one of the first pages I look at in the programme (unless we are fortunate to have an opera on). This year there were two productions from Cape Town City Ballet.  They put on Carmen two years ago, so I decided to give that a miss. The other programme, Ballet Bonanza was a mix of extracts from different ballets.  It was a lovely show, with highlights from old favourites, and some less familiar pieces.  What was particularly lovely for me was seeing so many children in the audience. This was an ideal show to introduce little ones to ballet, with short pieces and no complicated story, just a chance to sit back and enjoy the music and the dancing.

Sentimientos – this was a very different dance production, but equally delightful. La Rosa Spanish Dance Theatre put on an energetic and beautiful performance of flamenco dancing. I was swept away by the colours, the movement and the glorious music (courtesy of a live five-piece band). Stamping feet, castanets, guitars, a double bass all combined with the swirling skirts and flowing movements. Ole!

The Rest of the Fest

I had all sorts of good intentions about blogging every day during festival. This site seemed a good space to write brief reviews of shows I had seen, and what I had been up to. Sadly this did not happen.

I was so busy that all I could manage was a brief Facebook update on the previous day’s show. While it is now too late to help publicise the shows, I do want to at least make a note of what I saw, and what I thought of each one. So over the next few days I will post brief entries on my festival activities.

My brief festival summary: I saw a lot of shows, and I liked them all. I didn’t get to many of the art exhibitions and missed all the films, talks and lectures. But I did see a good mix of dance, drama, comedy, physical theatre and music (classical, contemporary and jazz). And I somehow managed to still see a few of the soccer matches on tv.

The Best of Three

So far I have seen three shows at the Arts Festival. And all three have been worth seeing.

Poster for Breed

BREED : A play written and directed by Brink Scholtz, for the Ubom Theatre Company and featuring Andrew Buckland. The advert in the programme was rather vague – “a darkly comic tale” does not tell you much. But Ubom is usually good, and both Brink and Andrew Buckland are pretty much guarantees of a good show. So this seemed a good show to start off my festival.

It was a wonderful play. I was impressed by the script and the performances, with each actor captivating the audience. It is indeed a darkly comic tale, showing the intersections between a man, his daughter, a group of squatters and a hapless delivery man. All bound together by a vicious dog, whose unseen presence imbued the play with an atmosphere of barely suppressed fear and potential violence.  I have recommended this play to several people, and those who have gone to see it agreed it was brilliant.

NO FAT JOKES was a bit lighter in tone. I was attracted by the title alone, even before reading the blurb. Written and directed by Roshnee Guptar, it  rails against the conspiracy of the skinny people, as they wage war against fat people.   It will make you laugh, it will make you smile (in discomfort or recognition, depending on which side of the battle line you fall). It will make you want to eat a donut.  Zanne Solomon gives a strong performance . I look forward to seeing her in her other show, Shaggy.

GOOSEBUMP MADRIGALS AND MORE –  The Boulevard Harmonists are an a capella ensemble, made up of students at the University of the North-West in Potchefstroom. While the members might change over the years, the group is a regular at the festival, and is always worth listening to. This year was no exception. The first half of the show featured 16th century madrigals, performed to full effect in the Rhodes Chapel. The second half was equally beautiful, but with slightly more contemporary music, including a crowd-pleasing rendition of “The Bare Necessities”, from the film The Jungle Book. The young singers are highly accomplished and it was a delightful end to the first day of festival.

Curtain up!

Sunday June 20 2010, Grahamstown. The National Arts Festival is officially open.

I have been watching the posters going up, scaffolding for seats being carried into halls, traders setting up stalls in High Street. And now it has all begun.

I have a busy festival ahead of me, with something on almost every night. I will try to blog on a daily basis about shows I have attended and any other interesting festival experiences.

At the moment, my favourite poster is one for a show called The Game. It shows a slightly manic face superimposed on a large green tennis ball. Underneath, in big friendly letters is the line: We are not coming! I have no idea what the show is about, but every time I see the poster it makes me laugh.

Festino moment of the set-up stage was seeing a group of traders putting up a tent, and quite happily tying their ropes around the optimistic sign saying “No Camping”. Somehow I think that is a losing battle.

I had a head start on festive events with two book launches this week. Thursday saw the launch of Chris Mann’s book Home from Home: New and Selected Poems. He performed a few poems with the group Nia. They have a show on at festival and if the three poems we heard were anything to go by, it will be worth attending. I bought a copy of the book and look forward to reading it once things have calmed down.

Then last night I was at another poetry launch, this time Kobus Moolman with his new collection, Light and After. Kobus read several poems which were moving and haunting. Needless to say, another book bought and added to my to be read pile.

Today I have two shows booked. First up is a play Breed and this evening I attend an a capella show, Goosebump Madrigals. Depending how I feel I might go to a comedy No Fat Jokes. How could I not like a show with a title like that. Although there is also the tempting thought of going home and watching the soccer.

My world cup activities will be somewhat curtailed now that the festival is upon us. Time to turn off the television and see live theatre.