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Friday, July 14, 2023



(Above: National Playwright Award winner Sibongakonke's “Ibuhlungu le Ndawo”
 - image Mark Wessels)


11 Days Later. Report from the NAF

The 2023 National Arts Festival felt good. Our visitors and artists told us the same. The number of tickets sold was up by 50%, conversations sparked and new memories were made but what mattered the most is that visitors experienced a Festival that provoked and delighted, moved and inspired - and that's what it's all about. Eleven days later, we're slowly digesting the Festival that was 2023, the reviews and wraps of our journalists and reviewers are helping us through.

PS - read until the end for the 2024 Festival dates 

(Right: Mamela Nyamza premiered her new production “Hatched Ensemble” to a mesmerised audience on June 26 & 27 - Image Mark Wessels)

Dance took centre stage during the earlier part of the Festival with three renowned South African choreographers on Makhanda stages. Both Mamela Nyamza's spellbinding new work Hatched Ensemble and Neliwe Xaba and Mocke J van Veuren's Fake News gave the floor to the next generation of dancers and performers who entertained and raised audiences. 

Gregory Maqoma's two searing, and sold-out, performances marked his last dance at the Festival (he retires from performance this year) with the deeply personal and powerful Exit/Exist. The three works captured the minds and pens of journalists including Sivenathi Gosa's, who wrote about Nyamza's work for The Dispatch, Cue, who wrote about Fake News, and The Critter's Mike Loewe, who grappled with the impact of being in a theatre where something truly extraordinary happened during Maqoma's performance.

The very first script written by the 2022 National Playwright, Sibongakonke Mama, was a triumphant success for its premiere at NAF as Ibuhlungu le Ndawo (see above). The competition sponsored by Heineken Beverages (formerly Distell) assists one new playwright in completing and producing a play that is staged at the National Arts Festival.

The Standard Bank Young Artists defied convention with a spread of introspective works that explored healing and stretched our imagination. Msaki's definitive sold-out concerts, both in the Cathedral and at the Guy Butler saw the artist return to a formative space in a time of deeply personal and artistic transformation. She also chose the Festival to showcase her visual art in an exhibition titled Del'ukufa.

Thamsanqa Majela, 2022 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, also presented a new work at the Festival. The mystical, African sci-fi exploration Don't Let the Sun Set on Me Here... was a highlight for Creative Feel's Dave Mann in his reflections on his 10th National Arts Festival.

Lady Skollie's Groot Gat was appropriately located in the depths of the Monument, a reminder of the forgotten layers of history and ancestry that her work unearths. Lesego Chepape excavated the story for Mail & Guardian. The exhibition will take place at the Standard Bank Gallery in October 2023 - more news of that soon.

The first Standard Bank Young Artist for Poetry, Koleka Putuma, caught the imagination of Niren Tolsi who wrote about her exhibition Theatre of Beauty Imvuselelo in an article that sums up the work of Putuma, Lady Skollie and Msaki as a reclaiming and healing of the violence and horror of our history.

2022 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Linda Sikhakhane performed his two-part work Iladi at the National Jazz Festival to rapturous applause.

Weaving a dazzling script by 2020 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, Jefferson Tshabalala, into a compelling play that dances between physical theatre and satire, the 2022 Standard Bank Young Artists for Theatre, Billy Langa and Mahlatse Mokgonyana's Khongolose Khommanding Khommisars is a front row seat into the deeply embedded corruption at play in South African politics. The Critter reviewed it at NAF and Jozi will have a chance to catch it as it moves to The Market Theatre from July 26 - August 6. 

(Left: A scene from The Cirk's exquisite physical theatre/circus show “Castaways”. Image Mark Wessels)

Too Many To Mention 

There were many other triumphs throughout the Festival including theatre pieces Hold Still, What Falling Feels Like, Text me When You Arrive and Gold Standard Bank Ovation winners The King of Broken Things and Namaste Bae, Blessings and Kombucha. So many gems, and impossible to list them all here, but it is heartening to see that many National Arts Festival Fringe shows are heading on to tour nationally and internationally. Sophie Joans has taken Île to London and goes on to the Edinburgh Fringe, where she is joined by Conrad Koch/Chester Missing and Ambrose Uren who will be staging his comedy African-ish

Watch the National Arts Festival's social media for more news on where to see works that are travelling on from #NAF2023. 

(Right: Kesivan Naidoo performed with the Kesivan Naidoo Big Band at the National Jazz Festival this year. Image Jonathon Rees)


Inspiring a New Generation 

There was robust attendance of both the National Arts Festival's Schools Programme and the National Jazz Festival's Youth Jazz Festival with over 500 high school learners enjoying close contact with the arts, artists and musicians; an enriching and diverse opportunity to engage and explore. These learners are the artists, producers, sponsors and brand managers of tomorrow and we are glad to be meeting them early!  Online ticket buying statistics show that 49% of Festival-goers are under 35.

(A Youth Jazz Festival participant at the National Jazz Festival. Pic supplied)


A 50 Year Milestone

The 2024 National Arts Festival will take place from June 20-30 and will mark the 50th year of the Festival. In his Mail & Guardian column titled Legacy: A gift and a challenge, Market Theatre Artistic Director, Greg Homann, reflects on the weight of responsibility that a 50-year legacy brings and the choices that must be made as arts institutions, and the industry, move through the times and reinvent themselves. Our team has been imagining the next chapter of the National Arts Festival, and how to hold this space; looking back on the role the NAF has played in the arts over the past half-century and asking questions about what it could be in the 50 years to come. We look forward to building an engaging Festival with space for celebration as well as contemplation. We look forward to having you in it.


(Above: Jazzart reached a 50 year milestone at #NAF2023, performing a trio of works at the Festival. Image Mark Wessels)


Thank you

We would like to thank everyone who came to the Festival, sharing their thoughts and ideas as well as the moments that changed them. Thank you to everyone who was cheering us on from home and wishing they were here. Thank you to our hard-working team and their patient families, the town of Makhanda and the ongoing and generous support of the Festival's partners: the Eastern Cape Government, Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and Standard Bank. We would also like to acknowledge HEINEKEN Beverages, 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 as well as the Social Employment Fund administered by the Industrial Development Corporation.

We hope to see everyone in Makhanda in 2024!

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