Amazing ride ahead: the 2018 National Arts Festival’s Main Programme revealed

The line-up for this year’s National Arts Festival Main Programme extends an invitation to audiences to join a thrilling journey that travels through the established and familiar to brand-new, uncharted creative territories.

Now in its 44th year, the Festival will run from 28 June to 8 July in Grahamstown. The full National Arts Festival programme will be online and live for booking on 7 May 2018.

“The Festival deliberately juxtaposes high concept with entertainment for all because it is precisely the tension between those two poles of artistic expression that fuels the engine that drives the National Arts Festival’s 11 Days of Amazing,” says Executive Producer Ashraf Johaardien.

The Festival spotlight this year falls firmly on a phenomenal range of both emerging and established female artists. Look out for (among many others) choreographer and this year’s Featured Artist Mamela Nyamza, visual artist Gabrielle Goliath, author Mary Watson, curator Tina Smith, actors Klara van Wyk and Buhle Ngaba, as well as Standard Bank Young Artists Thandi Ntuli, Jemma Kahn and Chuma Sopotela.

Johaardien works together with an Artistic Committee to curate the Main programme, sifting through the applications received and crafting a programme that will entertain and challenge audiences. Added to that are the works that complement and add to the programme, selected by Johaardien. “The ‘Festival Selection’ includes productions made possible by partners and sponsors as well plays or initiatives deemed necessary to complete the programme both for artistic as well as strategic reasons,” he explains.

The Main programme this year is a “heady mix of uniquely South African and international arts, culture and creativity,” Johaardien says. “So, segue with us from fresh takes on Shakespeare, the return of Corne and Twakkie in THE MOST AMAZING SHOW (yes, they’re back!) to the un-dance of Steven Cohen, the utterly compelling un-theatre of visiting Canadian playwright, Greg MacArthur, and the awesome unconventional THEATRE IN THE BACKYARD of Nyanga-based theatre producer and director Mhlanguli George.”

Other elements of the programme – including the Arena, Fringe, the new Standard Bank Village Green and exciting new Festivals within the Festival, Creativate and The Festival of Film and Ideas will be released shortly.

“Each year the Festival sheds its skin and presents a whole new experience for our visitors – and the innovations we’re introducing will make sure that 2018 is no exception,” Festival CEO Tony Lankester said. “We’ve given a lot of thought to the way audiences engage with us, what they want to get out of the time they spend in Grahamstown and we’re helping create many and varied pathways to an amazing experience,” he said.

Here follows a comprehensive guide to the Main Programme for 2018:


Trailblazing dancer and choreographer Mamela Nyamza takes the title of Featured Artist in 2018. The Featured Artist is recognised for their contribution to the South African cultural narrative and is invited to bring multiple works to the Festival. Nyamza will present three works, including a brand-new piece, BLACK PRIVILEGE. Presented by the National Arts Festival, co-commissioned by Ruhrtriennale (Germany) and co-produced by PACT Zollverein (Germany), the work is informed by the artist’s experience of the rejection of the other by mainstream gatekeeping institutions.

Nyamza’s PHUMA-LANGA, presented by The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative, calls for renewed reconciliation of all South Africans through the diverse experiences of the country’s many cultures. HATCHED, first brought to the Festival 10 years ago, is Nyamza’s autobiographical piece about the life changes experienced through motherhood and features Mamela’s 18-year-old son Amkele Mandla, who performed in the show as an eight year old when it premiered.

Each year the Festival celebrates the work of the recipients of the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards, with each artist presenting exciting new work that will premiere at the National Arts Festival.

“We at Standard Bank have long understood the importance of investing in youth and their careers. By enabling them to build sustainable careers, we contribute to a viable creative economy. This imperative gives the Festival a more important focus. It’s central to the work of nation building and future proofing our country through empowering our creative young people,” says Jenny Pheiffer, Head: Brand and Sponsorships: Standard Bank.

This is what audiences can expect in 2018:

Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre 2018 Jemma Kahn presents THE BORROW PIT.

Through the lens of kamishibai, an ancient Japanese storytelling medium, award winning theatre maker Jemma Kahn (The Epicene Butcher, In bocca al lupo) tells the story of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. These men each had a muse who helped them on their way to prodigious fame. As you might suspect, it did not end so well for the muses.
THE BORROW PIT asks with harrowing humour, ‘Is art more important than people?’ Written, directed and illustrated by Kahn, she also joins a stellar cast of Tony Miyambo, Wilhelm van der Walt and David Viviers.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art 2018 Chuma Sopotela presents INDLULAMTHI

‘INDLULAMTHI’ is the isiXhosa word for a giraffe but, in direct translation, it also means ‘the ones who are taller than the trees’. Sopetela uses this image to celebrate the children who are on the pavements of Grahamstown. The piece will be performed on the streets of Grahamstown and, using video, sound and performance elements, seeks to challenge our thinking of currency; and the connection between people. “At height, INDLULAMTHI, will be almost a statue element, which will then dissolve into nothingness again”, says Sopotela.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance 2018 Musa Hlatshwayo presents UDODONA

Against the many on-going incidents that draw attention to the silenced brokenness of the black male identity, UDODANA explores the black male body; its associated and constructed identity and its placement in the society (particularly in traditional African communities, households and churches). Fusing both abstract and narrative approaches, the work explores indoctrination and incubation into the systems that ignore the development of black power and unity.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art 2018 Igshaan Adams presents WHEN DUST SETTLES

Incorporating aspects of scented sculpture, textiles, found objects and performance, Igshaan Adams’ WHEN DUST SETTLES installation will comprise between fifteen and twenty artworks and take the form of an immersive environment in the subterranean space of the Monument in Grahamstown.

Revisiting earlier bodies of work, the presentation will draw inspiration from conceptual themes, artistic processes and materialities dating back several years to investigate the evolution of ideas within the artist’s practice. The work includes a performative element with Adams’ brother, Kashief Adams.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Music 2018 Guy Buttery presents his programme GUY BUTTERY: THE MENDING

Guy Buttery’s endless movement towards a distinct musical voice has led him to distil heritages and traditions (as well as their contradictions and tensions) with de-colonialised elements into a new and highly innovative song form that combines the artist’s adoration for both Southern African musical traditions and ambient music forms fusing cinematic soundscapes within the context of South Africa.

Buttery will collaborate with artists across a number of works to produce a sound that is expected to include Indian Classical aspects and a capella vocals alongside a variety of strings instruments including a sitar and double bass, with Buttery on an improvised soundscapes, mbira and various guitars. The combination of this varied instrumentation creates a rich tapestry pioneering new musical terrain and will surely be something National Arts Festival audiences will remember for years to come.

Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2018 Thandi Ntuli presents a trio of works at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival

Thandi Ntuli will feature in three performances at the Festival. The first, on Friday, 29 June will be an exploration of her music to date from her albums The Offering, and the recently released, Exiled.

On Saturday 30 June she will be in the REBIRTH OF COOL with DJKenzhero on the decks and a powerful young band to create a reinterpretation of Miles Davis’ seminal 1957 album, Birth of the Cool. This, mixed with the sounds and styles of current South Africa, results in a merging of three generations of music – 1960s jazz, 1990s hip-hop and contemporary South African jazz fusion.

Sunday 1 July sees Ntuli on the piano in WAY OF DANCING. Two of Switzerland’s most interesting young vocalists, Lisette Spinnler and Julie Fahrer, in South Africa on a ProHelvetia residency, share their music with an excellent South African rhythm section, blending the sound of jazz from two continents. Their music collectively draws attention to the modern and progressive approaches to jazz that the new generation of music makers represents, weaving a tapestry of sound ever intriguing and beautiful. They are joined by Shane Cooper (bass) and Peter Auret (drums).

The Main Programme for 2018 by genre:

The Dance programme presents strong and exciting works this year. Mzokuthula Gasa, who makes his first appearance on the Main Programme, choreographs and directs AMAQHAWE, a piece that explores what would happen if those who died for our freedom woke up – what would they say?

Moving Into Dance Mophatong will celebrate its 40-year anniversary with UKUBONGA INHLONIPHO, a programme choreographed by Sylvia Glasser, Themba Mbuli and Sunnyboy Motau, and starring the leading talents of Muzi Shili, Teboho Letele and Oscar Buthelezi, amongst others. The three works on the bill honour the company’s achievements and pay respect to the work and artistry of MIDM founder, Sylvia Glasser.

The 2018 ballet is ROMEO AND JULIET performed by Cape Town City Ballet under artistic director Robin van Wyk. Set to the classic Prokofiev score, this traditional favourite will be performed in the Guy Butler Theatre.

Returning to the Main Programme after a sold-out 2016, Cape Dance Company presents INTERPLAY, a programme of works including SUN – THE RITE OF PASSAGE, a newly commissioned work from South African-born choreographer Mthuthuzeli November; i-DOLLS, a restaging of work devised in 2009 by Featured Artist Mamela Nyamza about young adulthood; HUSH, written by Kirsten Isenberg and exploring how the voiceless feel. Iconic choreographer Adele Blank who has been working with CDC for the past two decades, will restage SWEET ON BOB, an ode to jazz legend Bob James.

Indoni Dance will present IKHAYA from award-winning choreographer Sbonakaliso Ndaba, who explores the aftermath of losing her mother in this deeply personal and emotive piece. The cast includes Bulelani George, Lubabalo Pupu and Mthetheleli Dlakavu.

The South African State Theatre presents KIU (the Swahili word for ‘thirst’). An examination of drought in Africa and the importance of preserving water, this raw and sensitive piece is choreographed and directed by Mdu Nhlapo. It will be performed to hauntingly beautiful, live Afrocentric music.

Pro Helvetia brings exciting work with a Swiss-Mozambican connection to Grahamstown: Thomas Hauert’s HÀ MAIS foregrounds common motifs that Hauert and traditional dancers with whom he worked identified but juxtaposes the dance with short musical pieces by Igor Stravinsky.

Renowned Mozambican performer Panaibra Canda’s TIME AND SPACE: THE MARRABENTA SOLOS explores the idea of today’s African body: a post-colonial, plural body that has absorbed the ideals of nationalism, modernity, socialism and freedom of expression. The performance will be accompanied by guitarist Jorge Domingos, who explores Marrabenta music, a musical form born in the 1950s from a mix of local and European influences using a special Portuguese guitar.

National Arts Festival’s Artistic Committee Member for Dance, David April, said in an interview that the choreographers on the Programme have “integrated naturally with the curatorial theme, Voices and Silences, with them having to voice out their opinions wanting to be heard and their not wanting to be silenced.”
The picture below is a scene from IKHAYA by Indoni Dance


Loss, memorialisation and women are prevalent on the Performance Art programme. Bridging the gap between performance and visual art, formidable artist Steven Cohen will perform his work, put your heart under your feet… and walk/ To Elu, an intense meditation on loss, grief and absence, following the death of Elu, Cohen’s partner and artistic collaborator. Shocking, sad, beautiful and uncomfortable all at once, it is an unforgettable piece.

The Mothertongue Project’s WALK is a performance piece created in response to Maya Krishna Rao’s The Walk, crafted after the 2012 rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandeyby six men on a Delhi bus. WALK is a South African response focused on the gang-rape and murder of Anene Booysen, a South African teenager. WALK is a way to honour these women and to talk honestly about rape culture. The cast includes Koleka Putuma, Rehane Abrahams, Sara Matchett, Siphumeze Khundayi, Nolufefe Ntshuntshe, Genna Gardini and Lukhanyiso Skosana.

Gabrielle Goliath has presented ELEGY performances in various parts of the world, and will be presenting the Eastern Cape premiere of the work at the National Arts Festival. A long-term commemorative performance project staged in various locations and contexts, each performance calls together a group of female vocal performers who collectively enact a ritual of mourning. Durational and physically taxing, the performance sustains a kind of sung cry – evoking the presence of an absent individual.

An international team of artists working in our current epoch have collaborated to create BETWEEN HORIZONS. Inviting audiences to consider how our lives are shaped by circumstance, privilege, and transformation, the piece is choreographed and performed by Kieron Jina (South Africa) and Marc Philipp Gabriel (Germany).

GATHERING STRANDS is a retrospective exhibition of works by LIONEL DAVIS, artist, educator, anti-apartheid activist, political prisoner and former District Six resident. Best known for his linocuts of life in District Six, Davis held a retrospective at the National Gallery in Cape Town in July. The exhibition celebrates four decades of Davis’s activism and creative production.

UBUNTU – I am because you are: A search for Ubuntu with permission to dream was curated by Usha Seejarim and draws on works from Standard Bank’s corporate collection. It’s a bold and thought-provoking exhibition of works by leading South African artists, including Dumile Feni, Diane Victor, and William Kentridge. There are also the poignant paintings of the late Thamsanqa (Thami) Mnyele, young creatives such as Hasan and Husain Essop, along with other great artists. The Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection is one of the most comprehensive repositories of South African art in the world comprising over 1200 works by more than 250 South African artists.

DU30: 3 DECADES OF DANCE UMBRELLA presented by Dance Forum commemorates 30 years of the Dance Umbrella with a collection of photographs by John Hogg and Suzy Bernstein, tracing the story of dance in South Africa.

WARRIORS, COMRADES AND VOLKSTAAT KOMMANDOS is a retrospective of work by South African photojournalist TJ Lemon. DOGHOUSE from Danish company Makropol invites a limited number of people to wear VR headsets and attend a virtual dinner party.

James Webb reimagines his installation THERE IS LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT in situ, reflecting on both the symbolic space that is Grahamstown and as a message to the people visiting. This installation was commissioned to be part of both the Festival Main programme and the new Creativate Digital Arts Festival that runs over the first four days of the Festival.

Speaking as both the, Artistic Committee Member for Visual Art and the co-curator (with Lara Bye) of the Performance Art programme, Ernestine White-Mifetu said in an interview “This programme touches upon all these different aspects of the lived experiences of a human being that makes it really relevant and hopefully we will be able to attract a really diverse audience.”

This year’s Main theatre programme is deeply representative of the current South African theatre context, Artistic Committee member for Theatre Lara Bye said recently in an interview. Many of the works on offer cross and blur genres, and make interesting use of non-traditional theatrical spaces.

JUNGFRAU is the latest directorial work from 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Jade Bowers. Based on the novel by Caine Prize-winning South African writer Mary Watson, the book has been adapted for the stage by Ameera Patel, who also takes a lead role.

UJ Arts & Culture’s rendition of Reza de Wet’s iconic AFRICAN GOTHIC (translation of Diepegrond) is the culmination of a process that has involved more than 300 students and lecturers from different departments at the UJ Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA). It is directed by Alby Michaels.

Phillip Rademeyer directs MONSIEUR IBRAHIM EN DIE BLOMME VAN DIE KORAN, a heart warming Afrikaans retelling of the book by Eric Emmanuel-Schmitt in which a Turkish Muslim living in Paris takes a Jewish boy under his wing, Performed by Dawid Minnaar.

Canadian Alon Nashman returns to Grahamstown with ALPHONSE. The script by Wajdi Mouawad spins an enchanting coming of age story. The BBC has called it an “unmissable show of genius for all ages”. Another Family Fare show on the Main programme is THE LITTLE PRINCE, directed by Mwenya Kabwe and Clara Vaughan. The work explores the classic French tale of a grown up meeting his inner child.

Comedy fans will be thrilled with the special return of THE MOST AMAZING SHOW, featuring the goofy Corne and Twakkie characters played by Louw Venter and Rob van Vuuren respectively.

Enjoying their Main programme debut at the Festival this year are Klara van Wyk, Buhle Ngaba and Penelope Youngleson. These powerful talents, who have garnered plenty of attention on the Fringe and Arena in recent years, will present the fresh and innovative LA CHAIR DE MA CHAIR (Flesh of My Flesh), which observes two South African clowns…in limbo. One black, one white, living in a future South Africa.

From Cape Town comes Mhlanguli George’s THEATRE IN THE BACKYARD with a double bill of IS HE MAD? and WAIT…LINDA. George’s signature theatre concept brings community and commercial audiences together in an intimate experience of arts and culture in the backyard of a local dwelling, closing the gap between mainstream and community theatre. Destined for a venue in Fingo Village, IS HE MAD? tells the tale of a man who cannot accept the death of his wife, while WAIT…LINDA is a dance piece that juxtaposes traditional and contemporary ideas.

Swiss author and director Boris Nikitin rewrites one of the most famous theatre pieces, HAMLET, into a mix of experimental documentary play and music theatre. The enigmatic performer and electronic musician Julia*n Meding takes the part of a contemporary Hamlet who revolts against reality. Supported by a baroque-quartet, Meding is a tour de force on stage as the piece challenges form with an array of multimedia elements. This approach will see the production being staged as part of the Creativate Digital Arts Festival as well as the Festival’s Main programme.

STAGED, UJ Arts & Culture’s theatre development platform, is an extension of the successful UJ Can You? programme, which identifies and develops hidden talent from among the university’s 50 000 students. The UJ STAGED showcase on the Festival programme similarly seeks to nurture new plays and professional talent by creating a national platform to highlight selected works to local and international producers and presenters.The STAGED productions for 2018 include Wynne Bredenkamp’s AT THE EDGE OF THE LIGHT (South Africa), Joakim Daun’s THE INCIDENT (Sweden/Zimbabwe/South Africa), Greg MacArthur’s A CITY (Canada/South Africa), and TRACKS by Maude Sandham and Nicola Pilkington.

The music selection for this year’s Festival is a vital tribute to collaboration, curiosity and experimentation.

Together with the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, the National Arts Festival presents AFROPOETS, a one-night only (6 July) phenomenon, featuring the fresh sounds of Urban Village – folk music layered with electric, funk and traditional influences – collaborating with the legendary ‘King of the Zulu Guitar’, Madala Kunene. They will be joined by The Brother Moves On, a South African performance art ensemble who critics have hailed as “the most important band in this country”, and the new face of Afro-Folk, Bongeziwe Mabandla, who is effortlessly able to entwine isiXhosa lyrics with traditional music and folk stylings to create something uniquely captivating.

International singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega will be performing just two shows – wrapping up the Festival on 7 & 8 July. Grahamstown is her only destination in South Africa on this tour. According to Biography Magazine, Vega is “widely regarded as one of the most brilliant songwriters of her generation.” Her debut record, Marlene on the Wall, was included in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Recordings of the 1980’s”, while her follow up, Solitude Standing, was nominated for three Grammys, including Record of the Year, and went platinum.

CHORAL CONNECTIONS celebrates the ways in which singing and choral music brings together people from all backgrounds, cultures, religions and societies. Performed by The Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge, the director Richard Pinel was previously the organist at Windsor Castle and enjoys an international reputation as an organ recitalist.

The ever-popular GALA CONCERT takes place on 1 July this year and will be performed by the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. Conducted by Richard Cock, the concert will feature pianist Charl du Plessis as well as 2018 Standard Bank Young Artist for Music Guy Buttery. The ECPO and Richard Cock will also present the CHILDREN’S CONCERT at noon on 1 July.

Also in partnership with the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, platinum-selling, proudly amaXhosa artist AMANDA BLACK will perform one concert on 7 July. It’s a homecoming for the multi award winning singer who is from the Eastern Cape, having been born in Mthatha and raised in Butterworth and Port Elizabeth before she moved to Johannesburg in 2016 to pursue her music career.

AFRICAN EXPLORATIONS: CHAMBER MUSIC BY SA COMPOSERS from Liesl Stoltz features a collection of chamber music works for flute, cello and piano. Stoltz teams up with well-known musicians Edward McClean (cello) and José Dias (piano) to present works by Adrian More, Jan-Hendrik Harley, Paul Hamner, Andile Khumalo, Bongani Ndodana Breen, Alexander Johnson and Hendrik Hofmeyr.

IF I LOVED YOU brings Federico Freschi, Christopher Duigan and David Salleras (Barcelona) together on stage for a programme of beautiful melodies from the world of popular song, classic musicals and the world’s concert stages. Included are selections from Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Camelot and Carousel, songs in Spanish including the showstopper Granada, inspirational moments and celebrated classical art-song by Faure, Tchaikovsky and others. In INDIGO, Salleras and Duigan perform their own compositions as well as a selection of work from Spanish composer/saxophonist Pedro Itturalde.

Zanta Hofmeyr (violin), Susan Mouton (cello) and Malcolm Nay (piano) are THE WITS TRIO PLAYS SCHUBERT. Schubert died young, at 31, his works for trio are characterised by their exquisitely beautiful melodies filled with joy and sorrow.

MAHUBE is one of the most exciting regional music collaborations and celebrations of Southern African music of the past 20 years. From the crisscross rhythms of Malawi and Zimbabwe down to the choral splendour of the south, Steve Dyer and Bokani Dyer have assembled an ensemble of 10 award-winning musicians to form a new Mahube, two decades after the original line-up of some of Southern Africa’s most creative and respected musicians played in Grahamstown.
Artistic Committee Member for Music, Samson Diamond emphasised in an interview that it will be an important musical year for the Eastern Cape at the Festival. A fitting focus for audiences as the country marks the centenary year of the birth of Mandela in his home Province.

This year at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival the focus is especially on young people who are finding new and exciting ways to use our vast heritage to create new exciting work. These are young people who are taking on the great legacies of older musicians and giving them a youthful voicing. Guided by the theme of Legacy: The Remix, the programme will see the likes of 2004 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Jazz, Tutu Puoane presenting her Joni Mitchell Project.

Renowned trumpeter and composer, Marcus Wyatt will lead The Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra to recreate the musical legacy of the historic South African band, the Blue Notes at the DSG Hall on Sunday 1 July. This year marks 50 years since the late Winston Mankunku recorded his classic album, Yakhal’inkomo, writer Percy Mabandu will lead an all-star band to celebrate the musical occasion.

At the DSG Hall on Saturday 30 June, the current Standard Bank Young Artist of the year for Jazz, Thandi Ntuli and her experimental project, Rebirth of Cool will perform their cross-genre music that brings old school classics from hip-hop, R&B into a youthful jazz context. Madala Kunene, commonly referred to as Bafo, the King of the Zulu Guitar will ascend the stage at DSG Hall too to celebrate his march into the future empowered by a deep history of music making. [See the Standard Bank Jazz Festival Programme for more.

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival programme will be released separately.