As the National Arts Festival draws to a close, it is clear that there is no lack of choice on offer. In fact, there was too much choice. And that's a good thing. It says good things about our cultural state.
This year the programme extended to officially include Performance Art as a category, which proved to be one of the strongest and most well-received categories at the festival. One of the main themes that emerged revolved around looking back at our complex history and that of colonisation. Cradle of Humankind is artist Steven Cohen's first major performance piece at the festival. It is an intimate inter-disciplinary work that examines exploitation of our land and people in great depth. This is a particularly personal work for Cohen as he performs on stage with 90-year-old Nomsa Dhlamini, who was his nanny as a child and who helped raised him.
The other major hit of the festival, Exhibit A, is a work by performance art mastermind, Brett Bailey. As the title suggests, Exhibit A is a display that takes the audience through a series of human zoo installations. The works engage the viewer on some of the major atrocities of African colonisation. It is a powerful, disturbing work that has moved many festivalgoers to tears.
The France-South Africa Season 2012 and 2013 launched at the festival includes 70 French productions performed in South Africa for 2012. It works reciprocally so that South African works are performed in France in 2013.
Afternoon of a Foehn by the Non Nova Company emerged as the festival hit and a favourite of critics and festivalgoers. It is a simple yet highly imaginative work that transforms plastic bags propelled by fans magically into ballet dancers, set to the music of Debussy. Ster City, another excellent work from the French Season, is a collaborative effort featuring Nicholas Welch and Lindiwe Matshikiza. Named after a dilapidated cinema house in Johannesburg, the work unfolds in multi-media and various languages including French, Xhosa and Afrikaans, tracing the history of South Africa in an off-beat way.
Not to be overlooked is the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, which had an incredibly strong line-up of musicians this year. The festival has established itself as one of the most important in the country, in terms of being the melting pot of musicians from all over the country, but also because of the education of younger students.
This year, the youth component of the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary. Festival director, teacher and musician, Alan Webster, who has been in charge for the last 12 years, remains modest during the festival and is only really seen behind the scenes. But Webster has been central to the growth of the festival, which in its first year had 42 students and three teachers. Now there are 390 students and 85 teachers.
Keep an eye out for any of these performances, plays and installations in your town. They should not be missed.