Durban Presence at Grahamstown's National Arts Festival

Creativity becomes the focus in Grahamstown next Thursday (June 30) with the start of annual National Arts Festival.  The usual sleepy university town becomes awash with bright colours and crafts, performances and happenings, fine arts, glorious sounds, delicious food and fascinating people who come to feast and binge on everything arty.

The National Arts Festival (NAF) is widely considered to be the premier national arts festival in South Africa boasting a strong and varied programme of the best of performing and visual arts across all genres. This year the over-all focus of the festival is “Creative Disruption”:  for the first time in its 43 year history, the festival put out a call for proposals with a theme.

This year, KwaZulu-Natal is well represented, and in particular Durban. Hats off to Arts and Living Cultures, eThekwini Municipality who is supporting 12 Durban theatre groups enabling them to attend and perform at this year’s Festival which runs for 11 days.

The City’s support is enabling 120 theatre makers from 12 different productions across various genres to have a presence on the Fringe of this year’s NAF. The productions which the city are supporting are: Trafficked (Trulife Productions) combining physical theatre, poetry and media projections to tell the story of a girl tricked into a human trafficking syndicate; Game Over (Umvini Performing Art Project) looking at love!; Us against Them (Aphiwe Namba) a politically driven protest piece; The Chameleon (Magenta Pro) which looks at the quest for peace; Phumlani Mtiti Trio (Eco-Art) a contemporary instrumental trio fusing indigenous, western classical and SA jazz cultures; Daffi Falls (Umsindo Theatre Projects) about the life and times of Muammar Gaddafi as told by a journalist obsessed; Refugees (Wushini Arts and Heritage) about displaced people in a refugee camp; Kubili (Musa Hlatswayo / Mhayise Productions) a double bill of dance; Ants Job (Dikianga Arts) looking at the dishonourable state of living for Somali women;  Inyathuko (Mnqobi LM Arts Co) a complicated love story; Women in Tears (Edgy Drama Mix Productions) which reflects on the killing of mine workers by police inspired by the Marikana Massacre, and Nomalizo, The Brave (Madanisa Creative Productions) a love story written and directed by Bonginkosi Shangase.

“We are always delighted in being able to help facilitate taking productions to the National Arts Festival. It is important for the city to have a presence at one of the country’s foremost arts festivals and to allow our theatre makers to experience a national platform – especially emerging theatre voices to be able to add their story to the national dialogue,” said Themba Mchunu: Manager – Arts and Living Cultures, eThekwini Municipality.

Earlier in the year, the city put out a public call to groups and individuals who have already registered and have been approved to perform on the fringe at Grahamstown. There were no criteria restricting the genre of productions to be supported: be it dance, musical theatre, drama, comedy, physical theatre, etc. Selected productionsreceived city support towards their transport, accommodation and marketing costs.

Carrying Durban’s flag at the NAF will also be Neil Coppen whose new piece, Newfoundland (Buiteland) is on the main programme. The latest offering by Durban’s multiple award winning theatre maker, Newfoundland looks at the relationship between an Afrikaans anaesthetist based in Pietermaritzburg, and an isiZulu speaking choreographer with a calling to become a Sangoma.

Durban music guru and practicing labour lawyer Richard Haslop has four interesting music themed talks which looks at music through his immense knowledge and quirky eyes.  

Also on the programme are Durban’s own Guy Buttery, and singer Noma Khumalo from Pietermaritzburg. Making people laugh will by Lisa Bobbert and Aaron McIlroy with their Comedy Masterclass and Marriage for Dummies and Ben Voss and John van de Ruit with their Mamba Republic. Rajesh Gopie’s classic Out of Bounds has been re-imagined as a two hander.

The KZN Department of Arts & Culture (Zululand District) is also supporting some productions this year including It Could Have Been Worse, a play about geneder violence within marriage directed by Nkululeko Ngidi and featuring Nomthandazo Buthelezi, Nkululeko Ngidi, Nombuso Luvuno and Mndeni Ntshangase; and The Path of Destination about albinism and forgiveness, directed by Mfanafuthi Shabangu with a cast featuring Lungile Dumisa, Gugulethu Shabangu, Simphiwe Nxumalo and Mzwandile Masuku

The Rainbow Theatre Company presents an interesting physical theatre piece entitled Safe Spaces with direction and choreography by Thobeka Bhengu. The work comprises a collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex stories of hope, love and it addresses the injustices directed towards LGBTI people in South Africa.  

Umphithi Theatre Project Management from Pietermaritzburg presents Guilty or Not Guilty?  Performed by the company, directed by Gcina Mdluli and choreographed by Themba Mkhoma, this physical theatre piece unravels the mysteries of family complexities using a brutal murder as the starting point. 

Mixed Motion 2, is a dance work by SASAD KZN Dance Company, directed by Jenny Walter-Girout and choreographed by Gabriel Masango, Leagan Peffer, Julia Hosmer, Kristi-Leigh Gresse, Yolanda Bourman, Leigh Meyer and Lizana Watson. The piece is described as an exhilarating, integrative collaboration, celebration dance. These breakthrough choreographers explore the synergies of ballet, Spanish, jazz, contemporary, hip hop and tap which they have fused into a molten core of talent and technique. 

Twenty two year old Idols SA winner, Noma Khumalo from Pietermaritzburg will perform as selection of contemporary songs that made her the darling of Season 12 of the popular talent show.

A collective of KZN poets and stand-up comedians will be accompanied by accapella in Mzansi Brewed Poetry and Comedy Cafe’.  Directed by Zama Msibi and Lethiwe Shabalala, the artists include Sbo da Poet, Minenhle Mthembu, Syabonga Mpungose and Mondli Mzizi.

The National Arts Festival 2017 runs from 29 June - 9 July. For more information about the National Arts Festival visit: