ARTS links with the Dutch which have endured since the anti-apartheid struggle were celebrated when at the National Arts Festival (NAF) awarded the Kingdom of the Netherlands with its top Standing Ovation award yesterday.
The 450-show Eastern Cape-originated 12-day outburst of arts came to an end with an emotional acceptance of the award by Netherlands ambassador Marisa Gerards.
Gerards and her husband, Peter Knoope, were hailed by retired constitutional judge Albie Sachs who told the closing ceremony that the arts collaboration between SA and Netherlands artist’s began on an explosive note in 1988 when 300 artists from both countries met in Amsterdam.
Gerards and Knoope had been instrumental in setting up the Creative Arts for an Alternative SA (Casa) that year, which explored the then-unimaginable future of arts in a liberated, post-apartheid South Africa.
This relationship had grown with over 150 Dutch collaborations with the National Arts Festival and there were plans to celebrate Casa at the NAF in 2017, said NAF creative director Ismail Mahomed.
Sachs said it was “cheeky” for a “David (NAF) to be giving Goliath” an award, saying the Dutch were an elite in the international arts world.
Sachs also hinted that the first Casa, where South African artists were hosted at home by Amsterdam residents, at a time of an international arts boycott of South Africa, had sewn the seed for the arts future now being enjoyed in SA and internationally.
He said Casa and the art which flowed from it between the two countries had set up a “wonderful collaboration”.
Gerard, who is in her first year as ambassador to SA, told the artists gathered at the Monument Building that the arts relationship was “beautiful” and spoke of her delight at being able to attend her first NAF in her official capacity.
She said the arts had a “profound” ability to “pass on messages and unite people”.
In an interview with the Dispatch, she spoke of the festival’s “special history” and of its ability to attract intense international focus.
NAF CEO Tony Lankester said: “We have had a great festival. We have seen quality (art) work, and the organization around that has been smooth and seamless.”
Mahomed told the Dispatch that audiences had been discerning. Most patrons had opted for shows which mixed “substance with entertainment”.
He said the festival was a unique South African event and a “wonderful way of putting our country in the global spotlight”.
Adrienne Sichel, representing the panel of judges for the Fringe ovation awards, said their daily deliberations had revealed that, financially, “the creative arts in South Africa is still in survival mode”.
A number of show producers and directors had spread themselves too thin and this had affected quality.
“On the upside, there was a big improvement in the level and quality of community theatre, and we saw more use of established scripts.”
There were also more women directors at festival and story-telling techniques had broadened, with more use of puppets.
Themes attracting the attention of artists were: history, introspections into traditionalism and masculinity, auto-biographies, disability, gender, indentity, tion and human rights.
She said: “The biggest threat to be guarded against remains censorship by government and economic censorship (lack of funding).”
Gold ovation awards went to jazz vocalist Asanda Mqiki; James Cairns (performer) and Gwydion Beynon’s (writer) theatre piece “El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi”and; Craig Morris (performer) and Greig Coetzee’s (writer) “Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny”.
The Adelaide Tambo award for art celebrating human rights went to Irene Stephanou’s “Searching for Somebody”, and the winner of the student theatre award was Rhodes University’s piece “Void”.