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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…

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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.

It is coming!

No, I am not referring to that small sports event being held in South Africa.  I am talking about the National Arts Festival, starting in Grahamstown on 20 July 1010.

This is an annual extravaganza of art, with music, drama, dance, comedy, crafts, exhibitions, talks and much more. Grahamstown is transformed as thousands of artists, performers, stall holders and festinos flood into town. Even is you don’t attend a single show, the people watching potential of this event is enormous.

I love the festival, and am always excited when it finally starts. But I must admit that after a week I am getting tired and irritable and am quite ready for everyone to go home. So how I will cope with an extra long festival remains to be seen. While most events that usually happen in June and July  have been cancelled or rescheduled (you know, that small sporting event that we won’t mention), for some strange reason the organisers of the arts festival felt it would be a good idea to extend the run. From 10  to 15 days.

We are waiting to see if this is really a good idea. On the one hand, we might get a lot of extra visitors. Either foreign tourists who have come to South Africa to watch sport and decided to take a break from soccer for a bit of culture. And then there are South Africans from the host cities trying to avoid the sport. So this could be a bumper festival. On the other hand, it might be very quiet. I wonder how many people really want to travel at this time, what with expensive tickets and crowded airports to contend with.  And some days or nights it will pose a dilemma for festinos – do I got to a show, or do I stay at home and watch soccer?

In my case the answer will usually be  – go to a show. I already have several shows booked, and will add a few more to the list. I will blog about the shows I attend, here and on facebook. And will most likely be talking about little else over the next few weeks.

Let the games begin show start.