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Thursday, July 7, 2011


A spectacular move from "Batsumi"

National Arts Festival, Grahamstown: Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday morning dawned bright and clear with no indication of the hideous weather that was to follow that evening.

First show of the day was Batsumi presented by Moving into Dance Mophatong in association with the National Arts Festival. Choreographed by Thabo Rapoo, the 2009 Standard Bank Young Artist Winner for Dance, Batsumi is his lyrical new work that celebrates the age-old traditions of the hunter-gatherers, taking us back to the stages of trance that men go through before and after hunting and highlighting the challenges they must face to provide for their families.

There is live accompaniment from Thabo Rapoo on percussion with Neo Thekiso and Bethuel Rametsi (violins), Bongane Kunene (cello) and Isaac Molelekoa (keyboard). The music plays a major role in this work – and impressively so. The mix of classical string instruments with African percussive sounds and choral work alongside calls of the bush worked beautifully and at one stage, a single long note on the cello offered shades of a didgeridoo.

The production opens with an engaging sequence where an apelike figure explores his territory, delighting in what he finds, tastes and eats. Dancers Faith Maseko, Sonia Radebe, Thandi Tshabalala, Thembi Setiabi, Muzi Shili, Fana Tshabalala and Sunnyboy Mandla Motau impress with their commitment and discipline, particularly the male dancers, and there are some extremely moving scenes.

Veronica Sham’s costumes are very attractive and the lighting is excellent. My only gripe is that the sequences could do with shortening by several minutes as they tend to become repetitive.

My other problem was not to do with the production but the audience. It clearly states on the tickets that there will be no admittance after the show has started. Throughout my stay at the festival I was to find that this rule is far too often ignored and people made noisy entrances – ok, it’s quite difficult to be quiet on scaffolding – but quite honestly, if latecomers are to be let in, I believe they should be made to stand at the side.

The next production I saw was Pieter Toerien’s The History Boys directed by Alan Swerdlow. This was one of the highlights of the festival for me – beautifully written by Alan Bennett and considered one of the finest plays and impressively performed by a well-chosen cast. The review can be seen at

That night the heavens opened with thunder and lightning accompanying the deluge, to be followed by hail. I honestly thought the roof of this venerable aged farmhouse was going to collapse under the force of the rain and hail. We all know Festival weather can be unpredictable but this was going to extremes!