National Arts Festival Shines Brilliantly To Overcome Crippling Challenges
By Raine St.Claire
The National Arts Festival (NAF) holds a prominent place in the cultural calendar of South Africa, serving as a rendezvous for artists and visitors to engage, celebrate, and appreciate a diverse range of artistic disciplines. This festival actively promotes versatility, innovation, and artistic exploration. By generously sponsoring the festival, Standard Bank continues to support the NAF in upholding the spirit of the National Arts Festival, enabling them to create extraordinary works that reflect the evolving artistic landscape in South Africa and worldwide.
The Home of Celebrating Arts
Since 1974, Makhanda has been the cherished home of the National Arts Festival, offering unique experiences that go beyond entertainment. As the largest annual celebration of the arts in Africa, the festival connects artists and audiences, creating transformative cultural experiences.
It holds deep historical significance, attracting diverse individuals who gather at the Monument to commemorate the arts. Despite global challenges, including the pandemic, the Festival has adapted by embracing new technologies and transitioning to hybrid editions. With 2023 came new challenges, but the festival dazzled in upholding its proud heritage. With resolute commitment, it enthusiastically embraced the chance to exhibit unrivalled excellence across a diverse array of artistic disciplines.
From captivating drama and enchanting dance to intellectually stimulating physical theatre, laughter inducing comedy, soul-stirring music, and mesmerising jazz, as well as immersive exhibitions and experiences, the festival persisted in generously sharing the limelight, captivating the global audience with its remarkable artistic prowess.
The NAF Fringe provides an unfiltered platform for artists of all genres to showcase their work. It includes fresh and revised performances, collaborations, and experiments. It also offers a debut space for schools and universities. Fringe artists invest countless hours and funds to bring their shows to the NAF stage.
Winning a Standard Bank Ovation Award validates their dedication and often leads to further recognition and touring opportunities. The Fringe, responsible for 59% of ticket sales, provides a solid foundation for artists and each year, these laureates are warmly welcomed back to promote new works alongside beloved classics.
Young Artist Award Winner
The 2023 National Arts Festival (NAF) marked a moment of profound significance for the versatile artist, Asanda Lusaseni Mvana, widely known as Msaki. Last year, she was bestowed with the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music, making this year’s Festival in Makhanda a fitting opportunity for her to unveil a new masterpiece.
Having earned her fine arts degree from Rhodes University, Msaki’s musical prowess was already renowned, but her virtuosity extended beyond vocals. It came as no surprise, therefore, that her contribution to the Festival encompassed not only her melodic talents but also her virtuosity in the realm of visual art. Entitled “Del’ukufa” (Dare to Die), Msaki’s exhibition delves into profound themes of violence, healing, and identity. With her thought-provoking display, she seeks to ignite conversations and evoke contemplation around the intricate interconnections inherent within these narratives.
2023 Award Winners
The NAF and Standard Bank jointly proclaimed the recipients of the esteemed Standard Bank ovation Gold, Silver and Bronze accolades.
Namaste Bae: Blessings and Kombucha by Rob van Vuuren
Namaste Bae is the creation of the incredibly talented South African comedian and actor Rob van Vuuren. This comedic masterpiece has garnered worldwide acclaim, enchanting audiences with its healing humour and uplifting experience. The experience is one filled with laughter that uplifts the spirit and brings joy to the soul.
The King of Broken Things by Theatresmiths
A triumphant winner of 3 International Awards at the esteemed Golden Dolphin International Puppet Festival and the recipient of the 2020 Gold Ovation Award at the Virtual National Arts Festival, The King of Broken Things invites you on an enchanting journey into the realm of mending broken and discarded objects, even including hearts. This extraordinary show unveils a bittersweet tale, narrated through the unfiltered perspective of a remarkably wise child.
Delving into ancient Japanese traditions, mythology, and dreams, rekindling our awareness of the ubiquitous magic we often overlook, It serves as a timely reminder to contemplate the world and the profound impact of our actions, thoughts, and words. As mere mortals, we would be wise to cherish the enchanting words of imagination, dreams, and belief. Regardless of age, this narrative has the power to mend every heart. Critics have hailed the production as “sheer theatrical magic” (Barry Meehan, ArtSmart), praising the ending as “a surprise that is pure genius, pure magic” (Billy Suter).
Described as “profound and poignant” by the Natal Witness. It profoundly touched the heart of Faeron Wheeler from Broadway World, who said, “Have you ever seen a piece of theatre that crawls into your heart and you’re happy for it to just stay there?
Red Balloon – National Children’s Theatre
In a captivating blend of playfulness, mime, and clowning, Red Balloon takes the stage as a dialogue-free, heartwarming journey of a grumpy old man and a vibrant red balloon as they discover the power of companionship. With imagination and acceptance, they uncover friendship’s presence in every corner of life.
Ripe ‘n Ready – Pichi Keane
Pichi Keane, an internationally acclaimed singing sensation made her impressive Fringe debut. Bursting onto the scene from Hong Kong, Pichi is a queen with a voice as big as her heart determined to spread infectious laughter and delight. Ripe and Ready is a fresh, funny, and flirtatious, solo drag-cabaretburlesque extravaganza that offers mischievous and playful fun.
The Great Big Enormous Turnip – Theatresmiths
Based on an ancient Russian folk tale, The Great Big Enormous Turnip introduces a cantankerous old man and an irritable old woman who can’t stand each other. This captivating performance is an enchanting journey through the depths of the dark woods. Blending the artistry of mime, mask work, Commedia dell’Arte, and a touch of twisted imagination, this enthralling experience transports you into a world of mystery and wonder. With the accompaniment of talented performers, including Cara Roberts, Bryan Hiles, and even unsuspecting members of the audience, this exhilarating 40-minute escapade is a whirlwind adventure through the mesmerising forest and the inquisitive depths of the human mind.
Bronze Ovation Awards were given to notable productions from educational institutions, including Stirling High School’s “Missing,” Rhodes University Drama Department’s “Pen(t)s Down HaHa!,” and Sonwa Sakuba Institute for the Performing Arts’ “Dear Tata: What Makes Man.” MacBob Productions from Durban achieved multiple Ovations, with Bronze awards for “A Vegan Killed My Marriage” and Baked Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Productions like “Ashes to Ashes,” “The Stories We See,” and “Wilderness” captivated audiences and earned Bronze recognition. Kwantu, a local choir from Makhanda, received another Bronze Ovation Award, and Land of Nonesi was acknowledged with Bronze for their unique Eastern Cape contribution
The pioneering Jazzart Dance Theatre, the oldest company in the Cape, celebrated its legacy with “50 Years of Jazzart.” Through a triple bill of new works exploring reflection, release, and rebirth, they showcased their enduring influence. Established in 1973, Jazzart revolutionised South African contemporary dance, integrating African rhythms and movements while breaking free from Western influences. Amidst apartheid, they defied racial segregation and fostered artistic brilliance, becoming a prominent force in the dance world. Next year, the National Arts Festival turns 50.
Established in 1974, the festival assumed a vital position in championing and commemorating South African ingenuity. Over the course of nearly five decades, it has served as a platform for showcasing artistic creativity, inspiring artists to delve into pressing societal matters and engage with the nation’s abundant cultural heritage. It has united artists from various fields, nurturing conversations, partnerships, and artistic development. Simultaneously, it has served as an international marketplace for producers seeking to discover artistic creations for export.
Victorious Against All Odds
The festival marked a triumphant return for countless art enthusiasts and artists, as it became their first post-Covid experience of the National Arts Festival in three years. Set amidst the backdrop of a drought crisis in Grahamstown, the festival faced the additional hurdle of enticing visitors during a time when exorbitant flight prices and limited accommodation options posed a threat to its viability. Even the once-affordable accommodation at Rhodes University now matched the rates of an average guest house.
To compound matters, the festival had to navigate through the challenges of load-shedding, further complicating its efforts. Yet, amidst this formidable list of obstacles, the festival embraced the task of rekindling the audiences’ interest in live theatre in the post-Covid era. Against all odds, this year’s festival emerged victorious; it was a delightful revelation, with theatres brimming with noticeably younger audiences compared to previous years.