Here now, is the Best of the Rest. Well, not all of it. 240 pages! Y’all need to get out your sticky notes and highlighters and do some sifting work of your own.
This is The Critter’s Guide to:
The Abstract. The Esoteric and Experimental. The Fringey-Fringe productions which infiltrate the Liminal. Those that stir up our sensibilities. Them that hurl caution to the winds. That which shakes itself loose of providing answers, setting the emotions and thoughts whirring for days after the experience.
Usually I’d turn to the Fringe Dance and Physical Theatre sections in the programme and hey presto, it’s all there. But jislaaik guys… it’s a little scant this year. So scant, NAF merged the two sections and nog steeds we’re not racking up even 30 productions there.
[Stage whisper, aside]: Noticeably, we’re missing several dance faithfuls like MIDM, Vuyani, CDC, CAPA, KMAD, Underground Dance Theatre (although we last saw them a few years ago), Flatfoot, and others like Phakama and Liquid Fusion who were becoming regulars. Sure there’s good reason. Do fill us in.
But no matter! We’ll tangle and twist it around a little. Ignore the labels! Anyhow, much of what you’ll find under Fringe Theatre (until three years ago called Drama), I’ll comfortably punt as Physical Theatre… the likes of Kafka’s Ape, Unfathomable, Warona, Trash Hound, Phitlho (The Hidden), pretty much all from the Contagious crew, and the Rob van Vuuren goods like Electric Juju (described as a “physical theatre fantasy epic”). So. Ja.
Let’s forge ahead with our Guide to the Unexpected, the Weird & the Wonderful.
On that there uncurated hodgepodge of a Fringe, we’re liking the looks of:
Lost & Found: Matchbox Theatre Collective are no newbies to the NAF. Co-directors Bailey Snyman (SBYA for Dance in 2012) and Nicola Haskins regularly impress with their physical prowess, as we’ve mentioned here and here. They know how to magically make the taxing demands of dance performance look like they’re swanning around the Village Green on a Sunday afternoon. Find yourself a ticket. (They’ve also got Gas Lands happening on the Main.)
Battles! Iimfazwe! Transportation To The Past: Makhanda’s homegrown artists show off their superior performance and singing skills in this historical tour, directed by Masixole Heshu. The Critter was impressed by last year’s The Xhosa Chronicles (read here) and we’ve applauded several of these performers on stage before with Ubom! for many years, with Rob Murray (here), and Tara Notcutt (here). I’m keen. #supportlocal
Ukupheleliswa: We know little about this crew, and the programme note talks about educating audiences – which if done subtly can be good, if not, can spell disaster… but choreographer Sanele Ximba comes from Flatfoot Dance training so we’re curious to see what’s happening here.
Zombie Attack: Snuck in right at the bottom of the physical theatre offerings is Zombie Attack. Gaëtan Schmid performs. Andrew Laubscher directs. Both are consummate theatre practitioners and they’re guaranteed to provide hearty comic warmth to cure the festival chills.
2Dee: Found this one in between the magicians, sorry, illusionists (what’s in a name?!) I’m a sucker for shadow puppetry (also all puppets), and 2Dee is promising to captivate, delight and charm us by exploring “the spectacular versatility of this ancient art-form through a collection of poetry and short stories”. Oooohh. Count me in.
When Coasts Meet: Nomcebisi Moyikwa dons her director’s cap for this one. I’ve had this and this to say about her work back when she bagged two Standard Bank Ovation Awards in one fest. She’s an artist who prefers to veer off the well-trodden theatre pathways so you can expect she and young writer-performer Khwezi Becker to take us on quite an expedition through identity politics to question if and how and where we belong.
My Daily Bread: Students from the University of Western Cape tackling the important issue of food security, food privilege, food waste. A hot topic for a continent where so many live below the breadline, where so much of our food is exported to 1st worlds and ends up in landfills. Interested to see how they deal with this, and hoping for much youngblood creativity!
Ordentlik: Another team unknown to The Critter but their blurb has me intrigued. They speak of “the volksmoeder in a decaying cycle of ordentlikheid” and promise a “brutal deconstruction of this colonial figure in a post-apartheid era”. Ja, nee, hel, klink interesant.
Ityala Lamawele: Mandla Mbothwe and Thando Doni direct. Amidst the stellar cast are powerhouses Faniswa Yisa, and Chuma Sopotela, 2018’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art. The story concerns “a dispute between the fictional twins Wele and Babini over their deceased father’s estate … resolved via a traditional Xhosa legal trial”. It promises to be a visual feast of musical storytelling and word on the street is it’s rather fantastic.
Warts and All: This one’s from the PE school of AFDA, and I confess I might’ve skimmed over it if I hadn’t noticed the directors’ names – Haxton, Schneeberger, and Dr Smit, who’ve earned their NAF stripes several times over. The quirky blurb tells me to get ready for a healthy helping of satire and fun and perhaps a little pathos too, hey guys?
Back to Fringe Dance for a moment, we’re keeping an eye on the international artists and groups visiting Mzanzi’s biggest arts fest, each offering something a little different:
Sunduza Dance Theatre from neighbouring Zimbabwe, presents The Adventures Of Robert Moffat, about the 1830s diaries of Scottish Missionary Robert Moffat and his meetings with Mzilikazi, King of the Ndebele.
From further north in Angola come the Palasa Dance Company with Candongueiro, which explores Angola’s social issues through the lives of people connected by the local public transport, the candongueiro.
Barriers, Bridges and Bones is a collaboration between South African Bonwabise Mbontsi and American Teianna Chenkovich who “journey to find what connects people and makes us human in a seemingly disconnected and inhumane world”.
And from across the deep blue we welcome the Nan Hua Temple artists from China, who are collaborating with South African artists to present the spectacular Mother Earth. There are two performances (1st & 2nd day of NAF) so no snoozing or you’re losing.
Now, there’s a few corners in Makhanda where you’ll find the kinda stuff to awaken, jolt, and inspire you:
Arts Lounge Africa is a platform for live art, installations, exhibitions and conversations with artists, writers and curators. It’s free and there’s coffee. Do yourself a favour.
The CREATIVATE programme of exhibitions, workshops and discussions looks bloody awesome and we’d not blame you for choosing to spend your entire festival rooted there. Up at the blocky monument, look out for: African automatons; 3D printed fine art sculptures; “lingering ancestral spirits that have been turned into residual code”; “how games and politics are intertwined and are inseparable”; a Poetic Hackathon; and a “very real Orwellian 1984 situation – happening right now”. Is there more to say? Go.
No arguments. Make time for the Return of the Cypher free sessions at the Black Power Station. There’s so much happening there that’ll challenge the questions and distort the thoughts you have about arts and culture in our Azania and beyond.
We also sneaked a peek over there at the Main where the super-experts select the works. Here’s a sprinkling of ideas that beat back the traditional genre labels. (Hint: a closer look at the info strip below some shows reveals insightful notes like: “intermedial”, “performance art”, “physical theatre” and so on.)
This is what we’re hoping to squeeze into the 11 Days of Yeehah:
DEURnis / Uzwelo: Like most, I’m a fraidy-cat about being called up on stage and DEURnis sounds like a tricky reincarnation of that terror. Still gonna try it out. Seems a zesty concept: solo performer, solo audience member. Three 20-minute performances per show. Ensure to check which ‘group’ you’re booking. They explain the deets best themselves so click the bold title to link to the info. Tickets are limited, peeps.
The Boat: I’d be surprised if the A-team collaboration of Themba Mbuli, Fana Tshabalala, Thulani Chauke, and Billy Langa doesn’t deliver a knockout success. Music by Xolisile Bongwana. Watching this space.
Ersatz: I’m a Black Mirror superfan so that’s all the promise I need. Done.
Swarm Theory: Dudes, check this out. It’s right up our alley we reckon. Site-specific. Spontaneous. Stirring. “…unique to its ecosystem of sounds, smells, rhythms and people”. Probably seriously scary in its deeper themes. Created by Kyla Davis of Well Worn Theatre (who has 5! shows at fest) along with physical theatre and clown extraordinaire Daniel Buckland. Featuring them both and a cast second to none. Hell’s bells, we’re looking forward to getting caught up in this.
Encryption: I experienced choreographer Kristi-Leigh Gresse’s Sullied last year which took on religion and body politics, but for reasons unknown I didn’t write about it then. Mistake! Because I appreciated it so. It was clever and emotionally charged and raw and gritty and so good that it won a Gold Standard Bank Ovation Award (hence being on the Arena this year) and went on to win a South East Dance award at the Brighton Fringe this year. Not bad.
Birthing Nureyev: On the Arena programme and conceived by that wonderous bastion of creativity that is Ignatius van Heerden. Following on 2017’s award-winning Nijinsky’s War which I said was polished and disquieting and captured the essence of ‘fringe’ – read more here – we’re being delivered a work on another of Russia’s most iconic dancers, Rudolf Nureyev. Yes please, we are excited.
Moonless: Gopala Davies directed the abovementioned Nijinsky’s War, and a coupla moons ago we wondered carefully about his theatre here and here. If you’re familiar, you’ll understand why we say his middle name is Abstracto-Mysteriouso. With Moonless, the “…performance is physically driven, deviating from the primacy of the spoken word…” which we were promised in 2016’s Les Cenci (see linked review). Davies and co-creator Micia de Wet have numerous awards between them. But best of all, there’ll be pictures and animation!
In Situ: Mira Calix uses “music and sound, which she considers sculptural material” to create a sound art installation. A collaboration with a sonographer and interplanetary geologist to meld visuals with the aural… if it weren’t on the Main, it’d be crazy Fringe methinks.
Arcade: Sure to take the “whoa, that shit’s out there” cake, is this body-based live-art pop-up gallery of performance art. First Physical Theatre Company, Gavin Krastin and Alan Parker (who’ve been discussed here and here respectively), are curating this immersive exhibition featuring a group of cutting-edge emerging performance artists. Can’t wait.
Aaaaand, no. That’s enough to fill the 11 days twice. Although the above word count could fulfil a PHD thesis, this is in No Way an exhaustive list. There’s so much more to explore. Please do.
Good luck choosing. See you in Makhanda.