Arts and Culture 2007-2015


"Two Un/Related Stories" and "Emancipation"

First appeared
Saturday, 15 November 2008


Two art exhibitions running in Johannesburg during November explicitly comment on (and, both deliberately and by chance, subtly hint at) the ways in which South Africans of different stripes interact with each other yet manage simultaneously to lead utterly separate lives.

At the Everard Read Gallery in Rosebank, Zwelethu Mthethwa and Louis Jansen van Vuuren’s “Two Un/Related Stories” is a collaboration that spans continents, cultures, races and artistic media. The premise sounds simple enough: SA-based Mthethwa sends France-based Jansen van Vuuren a series of photographs, which Jansen van Vuuren then reformulates into mixed media images.


Standard Bank Young Artist Awards for 2009

First appeared
Saturday, 15 November 2008


Tuesday 4th November 2008 will be remembered by most global citizens as the day Barack Obama was voted in as president of the United States. For a small group of South Africans, however, the day will have additional resonance.

As Americans went to the polls in their millions, the results of a different vote were announced at a ceremony in Johannesburg: the Standard Bank Young Artist awards in the categories of dance, drama, visual art, music and jazz.


Review: Out of Bounds

First appeared
Saturday, 08 November 2008

Despite the work of playwrights such as Ronnie Govender (The Lahnee’s Pleasure; At The Edge) and the success of Geraldine Naidoo and Matthew Ribnick’s The Chilli Boy, it’s probably fair to say that there is a paucity of widely-known theatre productions about the experiences of Indian people in South Africa. Indeed, one could go so far as to argue that this lack of recognition indicates the status of Indian South Africans as a “forgotten minority” in what is perceived as the “popular culture” of this country and in international assessments of our society.

Rajesh Gopie’s Out of Bounds is a play that has already gone some way towards rectifying this problem – and the show, directed by Tina Johnson, has returned home for a three-week run in Johannesburg after touring in the UK, Europe and America.


Moving into Dance: "Threads" and "Ek se ... Hola!"

First appeared
Sunday, 02 November 2008


2008 has been a celebratory year for Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MIDM), which – since it was founded by Sylvia ‘Magogo’ Glasser in 1978 – has survived and, indeed, prospered against all the odds: first as a non-racial training organisation and dance company under apartheid, and then continuing its good work despite the dearth of arts funding in post-apartheid South Africa. The company has performed to great acclaim at numerous events in this, its thirtieth year; it was recently recognised with an Arts and Culture Trust Award for Cultural Development; and it will soon be moving to specially-built premises in Newtown.

The official anniversary, at the end of October, was marked by the much-anticipated launch of Threads, a collaboration between Glasser and Lebo Mashile that promised to be “a verbal dance or a physical poem”, aspiring “to seamlessly merge dance and poetry”; and by Gregory Maqoma’s Ek sê ... Hola!


David Newton - "Politically Incorrect"

First appeared
Sunday, 02 November 2008


Every time comedians like David Newton walk on stage, Antonio Gramsci turns a little in his grave.

Gramsci, the Italian philosopher and political theorist, was a Marxist who used the word “subaltern” to describe members of the exploited lower classes; the term was subsequently adopted by critics such as Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak to describe all those who are oppressed, marginalised or shunned by mainstream (typically Western) society because of race, culture, gender, religion and other grounds.

What do Gramsci et al have to do with Newton’s stand-up comedy? The answer is that Newton has a special relationship with subalterns: he considers them particularly worthy of mockery. In fact, he argues, by making fun of them, he is actually challenging their status as outsiders; political correctness, according to Newton, is a form of discrimination – it excludes certain individuals and groups of people from the common life of laughter.


Review: The Jungle Book

First appeared
Sunday, 26 October 2008

Rudyard Kipling was simultaneously one of the British Empire’s most vocal critics and one of its most convincing apologists.

Of all the Englishmen who lived in the Indian subcontinent under the Raj, Kipling (who also spent time in and wrote about South Africa) probably understood India best; and, before “indigenous” Indian writing in English became recognised as a vital strand in global literary culture, it was Kipling who vividly presented the people and landscapes of India to the rest of the world. Yet he remains a controversial figure, accused by many postcolonial critics of jingoism, militarism and bigotry.


Review: Beauty and the Beast

First appeared
Saturday, 18 October 2008

If you’re one of those people for whom the words “Beauty and the Beast” conjure up a schmaltzy ballad by Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion – or perhaps, with the 1991 Disney film in mind, an ageing Angela Lansbury setting aside her septuagenarian sleuthing in Murder, She Wrote to provide the voice for a singing teapot – then you’re likely to dismiss a stage version of the musical.


Review: Coupe

First appeared
Sunday, 28 September 2008


During times of political uncertainty or potentially momentous (and potentially unsettling) change, we rarely look to our artists for comment. This seems a pity, as it reflects the unexalted stature of the arts in our country, and indeed worldwide – but in at least one way it is appropriate. Ars longa est, as they say: “art is long”. Yet a week in politics is a lifetime. Indeed, most works of art – on stage, between book covers, in galleries – that do engage directly with ephemeral political events have a comparatively short life span. What art can do, however, is address those human dilemmas and emotions that outlast all our most important current affairs.

Such a work of art is Coupé, a piece of theatre set in an instantly recognisable South African reality but tackling what might, hesitantly, be called “universal” concerns. After being enthusiastically received when it was first performed some two years ago, Coupé has been reprised and re-worked by director Sue Pam-Grant and her cast, and will run at the Market Theatre until the 26th of October.


Umoja - The Spirit of Togetherness

First appeared
Saturday, 06 September 2008

I first saw Africa Umoja – the Spirit of Togetherness back in 2002 when, as one of thousands of home-sick ‘Saffers’ living in London, I relished the taste of a production that seemed to be so quintessentially South African. Umoja offers audiences a whistle-stop tour from the days of the kraal (animal skins, beadwork and all) to the rhythms of kwaito, taking in a range of iconic sights and sounds along the way. There is the sangoma, the Venda snake dance and Zulu stick-fighting; there is the music that grew from early encounters between black migrant workers and the ‘white’ metropolis; there is jive, jazz, marabi, gumboot dancing, mbaqanga, gospel, the marimba and ikwassa kwassa. The scenes unfold in locales with resonant names – the Durban YMCA, Sophiatown, the mines, Soweto and the ubiquitous shebeen.


Alex Smith: Drinking from the Dragon's Well (Umuzi)

First appeared
Friday, 05 September 2008


The Beijing Olympics may be over, but interest in China is unlikely to wane any time soon. In South Africa, one minor manifestation of this global trend is the development of a sub-sub-genre in local literature. Admittedly, two books do not a pattern make; but following Robert Berold’s Meanwhile Don’t Push and Squeeze, about a South African writer who goes to teach English in China, we now have Alex Smith’s Drinking from the Dragon’s Well, about – you guessed it – a South African writer who goes to teach English in China.


La Traviata - The Ballet

First appeared
Sunday, 24 August 2008

If, like me, you barely know your pas de basque from your pas de cheval or your entrechats from your échappés sautés, a trip to the ballet can be a little intimidating. Will you notice the minute details of poise and movement that (to the better informed) so clearly elevate the principal dancers above the corps de ballet? Will you follow – and believe – the twists and turns of the storyline? Will you have the stamina to keep applauding through all those curtain calls?

Fortunately, however, the pageantry, spectacle and high drama of top-quality ballet can be enjoyed by cognoscenti and philistines alike; and this is precisely what the South African Ballet Theatre (SABT) provides in La Traviata – The Ballet, which runs at the Civic Theatre until 7th September.


Lord of the Dance returns to SA

First appeared
Saturday, 16 August 2008

Back in the 1990s, when the world was young and the cast of Friends still had big hair, there was an episode of the hit sitcom in which Chandler explained that Michael Flatley “scares the bejesus out of him” because Flatley’s legs “flail about as if independent from his body!”

Admittedly, Friends is not the ultimate barometer of popular culture, but the allusion does indicate the impact that Flatley’s Lord of the Dance had when it first appeared on the international scene. Having debuted in Dublin in 1996, the show was a hit in the USA and rapidly became Irish dancing’s global flagship – superseding the Riverdance company that Flatley had helped to form but left after ‘creative disagreements’ with his co-creators.


Review: "A Touch of Madness"

First appeared
Saturday, 09 August 2008

Herman Charles Bosman won’t go away. He may be less popular with certain politically correct educationists who can’t detect the irony in his use of the ‘k-word’, but he remains one of the greatest writers South Africa has produced.

Those who acknowledge his literary talent do so mostly by invoking his Groot Marico stories. Indeed, precisely because they were prescribed for so long on high school and university curricula – and because of Patrick Mynhardt’s vivid stage impersonation of Oom Schalk Lourens, the bumbling narrator of so many of those stories – the Bosman we have inherited is the Bosman of Mafeking Road and A Bekkersdal Marathon, of the ‘stoep’ and the ‘voorkamer’, of the pipe and the peach brandy.


"Mr Festival's Many Faces"

First appeared
Sunday, 10 August 2008

I’m running a few minutes late for my meeting with little-known South African theatre personality, Ron van Wuren – and with each passing minute, I know, the number of people milling around the theatre foyer-cum-coffee shop is growing. But I’m not worried. Although he’s shorter than most, Ron stands out in the crowd; and when I arrive, I recognise him straight away. It’s been about ten years since he made his first (and only) appearance on stage, but fortunately Ron bares a striking resemblance to a far more prominent figure of the local stage and screen: Rob van Vuuren.

For those who weren’t at last month’s National Arts Festival, this coincidence requires some explanation. Van Vuuren was involved in no fewer than 13 productions in Grahamstown, one of which was the intriguingly titled Rob van Vuuren is Ron van Wuren. Audiences who knew about the former flocked to find out about the latter – was he a new alter-ego, like Twakkie from cult slapstick phenomenon The Most Amazing Show?


Review: "Ten Bush"

First appeared
Saturday, 26 July 2008

Ten Bush, a new play by Mcendisi Shabangu and Craig Higginson, opens with a nervous declaration from a clearly disturbed woman (Martha, played by Tinah Mnumzana): “Every day, I try not to look backwards ...”

The effect of obsessing about the past – whether trying to avoid it or remaining bound by it – is the central theme in this work. What does it mean to “look backwards”? In one sense, it seems to refer to the psychological enslavement brought about by superstitious fears. Martha is visited by the ghost of Chief Malaza who, according to a centuries-old legend, betrayed nine Swazi chiefs at war with the Sotho. The village of Tenbosch (in present-day Mpumalanga) was, according to this narrative, founded on their graves; and, consequently, the inhabitants of the fictionalised Ten Bush have been cursed in each ensuing generation.

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