national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, April 16, 2023



(All photographs supplied)


Brave New Works, Legacies Reimagined.

The excitement is mounting in Makhanda as the organisers prepare for their 49th annual National Arts Festival, happening from June 22 to July 2, 2023.

There has never been a more important time to create a space for artists to stage new works, experiment, explore and imagine.

The National Arts Festival offers one of the few spaces in the country for both curated and independently-produced work from every genre, language and point of origin. “It's why the experience of NAF is never the same and why you always come away profoundly moved by the range, depth, insight and empathy of artists,” says the NAF team.

“This year we're offering a tightly packed and inspirational programme that brings artists full circle through works reinvented - as well as ground-breaking new shows. There will be plenty of fresh, exciting work alongside all your NAF favourites, shows for the family and free experiences to enjoy.”

 Here’s a taste of what to expect.

(Left: Enjoying the Sundowner Sunsets at NAF 2022 – image Mark Wessels)

 Deeply personal and powerful

The Festival has become a homecoming of sorts for artists as they mark the passage of their careers and particular works. 

Gregory Maqoma (2002 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance) revisits NAF this year with his extraordinary piece Exit/Exist; a work that explores his Xhosa ancestry. The Seattle Times describes the work, which has travelled internationally, as, “a collective trance that leads into greater historical understanding”. Maqoma recalls that the work, which taps into the “body archive” emerged from “days and nights of movement practice in traditional Xhosa dances, dancing in the mountains of Eastern Cape”. The work is performed to a lush score by Simphiwe Dana (who also hails from the Eastern Cape) with the ensemble Complete, whose performance credentials include touring with Hugh Masekela.

(Left: Gregory Maqoma in “Exit/Exist”)

Another dancer/choreographer who brings a work motivated by her highly acclaimed 2007 solo work HATCHED, is Mamela Nyamza (2011 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance) with the premiere of HATCHED ENSEMBLE. The piece conveys deeply personal and challenging issues of tradition and artists' evolving contexts within creative industries. HATCHED ENSEMBLE is performed by ten dancers trained in ballet, an opera singer and an African traditional instrumentalist.


(Right: Mamela Nyamza brings “HATCHED ENSEMBLE” to the Festival, this image is from HATCHED at the 2018 National Arts Festival, credit Jan Potgieter)


Commemoration and celebration

More powerful dance performances at NAF includes a Jazzart triple bill to mark their 50th anniversary: Requiem (a South African Response), which will have its South African premiere at NAF, as well as Survive (winner of the 2022 Toyota Woordfees award for Best Dance Production) and In Body as One. The performances celebrate the company’s five decades of dance and their significant contribution to the arts, culture, heritage, youth engagement, job creation and audience development within South Africa.


(Left: Jazzart will celebrate 50 years in South African Dance with a National Arts Festival triple bill, image credit Averil Barry Hughes)


Stories of family, healing and history

Threads of the personal continue when Nadia Davids’ critically acclaimed new work, Hold Still, takes to the stage telling the story of a family shaped by different generational traumas who must confront their own histories to get through a single, life-changing night. The multi-themed play focuses on the complexities of an inter-racial, intra-cultural family living in the shadow of catastrophic political histories, and what we’ll do to protect those we love. Directed by Jay Pather, the cast includes Andrew Buckland (Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, 1986) and Mwenya Kabwe, who was awarded a 2023 Fleur du Cap for Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Play. The work also garnered a Fleur du Cap for Best New South African Script.


(Right: Lyle October (foreground) with Andrew Buckland and Mwenya Kabwe in “Hold Still” – image Mark Wessels)


Droomwerk, written and produced by the poet Pieter Odendaal, in collaboration with Woordfees, was awarded the ATKV Woordveertjie for best new Afrikaans script (2021), despite never having been performed. The work will now make its stage debut at NAF. Based on Odendaal's exploration of his heritage as a white Afrikaans-speaking male with slave ancestry, the work explores the ancestral roots of mental health in order to bring healing to family trees devastated by colonialism and apartheid. Directed and designed by Kanya Viljoen, with Lwanda Sindaphi as associate director.


(Left: Pieter Odendaal 's new script “Droomwerk” will premier at the National Arts Festival)


Standard Bank Young Artists bring their best

The 2022 Standard Bank Young Artists will be presenting exhilarating works at this year’s Festival. Koleka Putuma (Poetry) was the Distell National Playwright in 2019 and returns to NAF as a Standard Bank Young Artist just four years later. Lady Skollie will be making her NAF debut as the Visual Arts Standard Bank Young Artist winner and Theatre Duo (Billy Langa and Mahlatsi Mokgonyana), who are the 2022 Standard Bank Young Artists for Theatre, have spent much time on the stages of Fringe and curated programme over the years. Linda Sikhakhane is the 2022 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz after multiple appearances on the Jazz Festival stages. No stranger to the NAF, after having brought shows like Pop to the Festival, Thamsanqa Majela returns, holding the title of Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, and Msaki will come full circle with her Standard Bank Young Artist for Music performance at the National Arts Festival, where she first performed on the Fringe in 2014.

 More will be released about these shows soon.


(Above: The 2022 Standard Bank Young Artists)


Sibongakonke Mama brings a new voice 

This year’s Distell National Playwright winner Sibongakonke Mama will present her debut script Ibuhlungu le Ndawo, a story about the notions of home, its meaning, and its creative analogy. The piece comments on collective memory and our societal wound. The work is directed by Mandla Mbothwe and features Chuma Sopotela, Indalo Stofile, Nasfa Ncanywa and Siya Makuzeni. 

(Left: Sibongakonke Mama is the Distell National Playwright)


Technology, context, comedy and circus

Conceived by Swiss duo Tammara Leites and Simon Senn, dSimon introduces audiences to an Artificial Intelligence (AI) with the personality of the artist (Simon Senn). The AI is created by integrating Simon’s personal data. But soon the AI begins to behave strangely and Tammara and Simon relate their surprising encounter with this digital, now-autonomous, Frankenstein monster-like entity. 

Simon Senn’s performative conference Be Arielle will also be presented at the Festival. The work demonstrates how the virtual and real world are not always in opposition, revealing the unexpected entanglements between technology, representation, gender, and law. 

(Right: Tammara Leites & Simon Senn perform “dSimon”)

 Swartwater, a theatre piece by Nama Khoi Productions reimagines the loss that was experienced by the Nama indigenous people through colonisation and the discovery of diamonds. A Nama family is forced to move from Swartwater, which opens new wounds of other losses.

Comedy is strong this year with established and emerging comedians forming a line-up that includes Mojak Lehoko, Stuart Taylor, Chester Missing, Khanyisa Bunu, Kate Pinchuck and Tseliso Masolane. Tsepiso Nzayo brings his first one man show to NAF; Single and Sober is a story told in a mix of isiXhosa and English, that follows his journey through quitting alcohol.  

Three of Cape Town's bright new lights on the stand-up comedy scene bring One of Each to NAF. Catch Thulasizwe Sithole, Callum Hitchcock (who debuted at NAF in 2022 with his one-man show, We Can Come Back From This to positive reviews) and Zach Esau, a talented, young actor and comedian.

This year, Daniel Buckland and The Cirk present Castaways, an ensemble of physical theatre and circus work in which a ragtag collection of characters from different worlds are thrust together on a tiny raft and forced to reckon with themselves and each other in their desperate dance for survival. The Cirk’s production of Urban Circus delighted audiences at NAF 2022 with dazzling displays of acrobatics, storytelling and stage craft.

(Left: Mojak Lehoko will be on the comedy line-up)


Vibrant, vital works revisit the Fringe

Also returning are two Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award winners; Emsini, a fierce strike at the cultural challenges in post-apartheid South Africa, and Île by Sophie Joans. Joans has also been invited to perform on the Arena Programme (a platform curated from Standard Bank Ovation winning works) to present Dog Rose, a theatre piece with her characteristic humour and self-reflection, about a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship.

 NAF favourites MacBob Productions from KwaZulu-Natal, return to the Fringe with a clutch of works including A Vegan Killed My Marriage, Bulletproof and Go Big! They are joined on the Fringe by a raft of works from musical drama producers Wela Kepela, who will present The Story of Eva Cassidy, Amy Winehouse: The Diva and her Demons, NEXT!!, Mad About the Boys, Damsel in Distress, Julie Andrews - Uncut and Elton Adams. 

(Right: Aaron McIlroy & Lisa Bobbert perform in Go Big!)

Rob van Vuuren, brings the ‘healing vibes’ with his satirical kombucha-swigging character gone viral Namaste Bae and last year’s Fringe sensation Whistleblowers is back after travelling nationally and to the Netherlands. Fringe Festival veteran Justin Wilkinson of the Butler's series will celebrate 25 years of coming to the NAF this year.

Younger audiences can expect to be enthralled by a range of productions aimed at families. Thabo the Space Dude from Ticket to the Moon Youth Theatre Company is an epic, action-packed play about central character Thabo’s adventures on his last days on Earth before the family’s move to Mars. Balloonacy by NCT combines the imaginative power of play with elements of mime, clowning and more, as a grumpy, lonely old man and a red balloon explore the power of friendship.

All powered up

(Left: The Village Green by Mark Wessels, National Arts Festival 2022)

The National Arts Festival’s hometown of Makhanda has also begun to stir post-Covid, and the popular Village Green at Victoria Girls’ High School provides a market hub for visitors to the Festival to explore local wares, buy souvenirs and enjoy the food trucks and bar while gathering with friends in the sunshine.

After the unexpected escalation of load-shedding during last year’s Festival, the NAF team has been working on practical solutions to limit the disruption caused by power outages. This year the National Arts Festival is ensuring that all their venues have a back-up power supply, which will ensure a full schedule of uninterrupted shows. In addition, a more robust flight schedule to Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) has been reintroduced but Festival goers are advised to start their travel planning soonest.


Bookings open May 1

The National Arts Festival will release the full scheduled programme and open bookings on on May 1, 2023.


Making it possible

The National Arts Festival is made possible through the generous support of their partners, the Eastern Cape Government, Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and Standard Bank. The NAF would also like to acknowledge Distell, the National Arts Council, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, Eastern Cape Development Corporation, Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Makana Municipality and Business and Arts South Africa.