New life breathed into this year’s Art Festival

SHOW-STOPPING performances, bustling trade, unforgettable characters and a general sense of bonhomie are but some of the hallmarks of the re-invigorated National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (which might soon be known as Makhanda).

Sven from Sweden entertaining crowds at the village green during the National Arts Festival in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) over the weekend Picture: SONJA RAASCH

The three days spent at the fest over the weekend allowed for ample opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of a festival which has become synonymous with the arts and culture in South Africa and which annually attracts visitors from the country and abroad.

It seems as if fears that the festival may not remain in Makhanda – the Herald reported in May this year that festival chief executive Tony Lankester had warned that it was becoming increasingly difficult to justify hosting the fest in a decaying City of the Saints, during a meeting with Cooperative Governance Minister Zweli Mkhize – have injected a new sense of purpose and vigour into the Eastern Cape settlement.

The city is clean and while the potholes in the streets continue to challenge motorists to some tricky maneuvers, no water or electricity problems were reported – at least of what I heard. Police visibility was high and with even the car guards sporting perky and colourful head gear, it seemed that Makhanda was out to impress.

The new village green, at the Victoria Girls’ High School grounds, is a great venue with ample parking space. The beer tent, which includes a pool table and giant jenga and an outdoors and indoors section, provides a sociable spot for a few minutes of catching up before either entering a food market complimented by Standard Bank’s stage for impromptu and scheduled performances or venturing into the tempting tents for retail therapy.

While some commented that the numbers of visitors to the tents seemed to be down on last year, official figures will only be known later this month.

Arts exhibitions feature the works of the well-known and those hoping to make a name for themselves and the opportunity for visitors to invest in some exquisite works. The art in the galleries are complimented by the work of various street artists and musicians, making the National Arts Festival once again the eclectic and unforgettable experience for which it has become renowned.

I had the opportunity to watch a few shows, including Big Boys III: Reloaded which features the extremely talented brothers, Brad and Ash Searle, and Alchemy of Rock, where they join with Ash’ wife, Vanessa Harris and the young, up-and-coming musician Liam  McDermott. The Big Boys series have become a firm favourite with visitors and the show was, once again, booked out as the schpiel on pending fatherhood and the accompanying responsibilities were portrayed through dance and comic interplay between the duo whose jovial relationship is reflected on stage. The Alchemy of Rock was also sold out and featured a range of songs of particularly the 70s and 80s, ranging from the Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams to Good Thing by Fine Young Cannibals. Sing-along stuff and a show which had the audience calling for more.

Ellipses, performed by the Cape Academy of Performing Arts, explores the theme of text and language between the three dots in an inspiring and remarkable manner with excellent lighting complimenting the movements of a number of talented young dancers on stage. Well worth watching if you enjoy interpretative dance.

“State fracture and pay back the curry”, featuring a highly-talented Daniel Mpilo Richards, provides commentary on various political events that have shaped the lives of South Africans recently with a great focus on the Guptas’ involvement. Richards is a tour de force and with the material written by Mike van Graan, Rob van Vuuren as director, and Siv Ngesi as producer, it’s a satirical triumph. If you’re a political animal – or just enjoy a good laugh – give it a go.

Aaron McIllroy’s one-man performance, ADHD, is exhausting to watch. It must be even more exhausting for this renowned comedian to perform. It is obviously a topic close to his heart and the impact and reality of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is explored in a comic but also contemplative and emotional way. It urges greater understanding and while you’ll enjoy the laugh, you’ll also leave with a sense of a need for greater understanding of particularly children with ADHD.

Stef the Hilarious Hypnotist, as usual, drew large crowds of people wanting to watch other ordinary festinos perform under the spell of this remarkable man who has become an icon of the fest. If you feel like relaxing and watching some extremely funny antics – or even join in the show – it’s a must-see.

The festival line up boasts a feast of entertainment ranging from drama to music, comedy and magic shows. Whatever your taste in the arts, you are sure to find something to delight the eyes, ears and senses. It’s a feast on homeground and this weekend marks the end of yet another successful event. Don’t miss out on the last couple of days.

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