One night only – mental illness in the spotlight

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Madness: Songs of Hope and DespairOne performance only, of Dr Sean Baumann’s cantata Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair, at the Baxter on 4 December.

Respected psychiatrist Dr Sean Baumann’s highly anticipated cantata Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair, will bring mental illness and psychotic experiences into the spotlight, at the Baxter Theatre, for one performance only, on Sunday, 4 December at 6pm.

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Baumann’s libretto is brought to life through music composed by Galina Juritz with Dizu Plaatjies, conducted by Chad Hendricks and directed by Lara Foot. Fiona Moodie integrates her own artworks with that of work by patients of Valkenberg Hospital, with video design by Koeka Stander and lighting design by Patrick Curtis.

Madness: Songs of Hope and DespairThe project arose from a concern that the plight of the seriously mentally ill is either ignored or profoundly misunderstood, and that this contributes significantly to the suffering of those deemed insane. Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair uses a combination of music (both live and recorded), song and imagery in an attempt to portray the complexities and also the wonder of these strange and ultimately unknowable worlds.

The nine-member vocal ensemble comprise sopranos Linda Nteleza, Palesa Portia Malieloa, altos Nolubabalo Babalwa Mdayi, Fikile Mthetwa, tenors Monwabisi Lindi, Vuyisa Jack and Siphesihle Mdena and bassists Lungile Halam and Ebenezer Sawuli Madoda.

The small orchestra is made up of musicians Matthijs van Dijk and Galina Juritz (violins), Sarah Evans (viola), Luke Otto (cello), Graham H Strickland (upright bass), Gene Kierman (French horn) and Zeke Le Grange on saxophone.

Madness: Songs of Hope and DespairDr Sean Baumann is a senior specialist psychiatrist in the department of psychiatry and mental health at UCT and a consultant at Valkenberg Hospital, having worked at the hospital in the domain of psychosis for over 20 years. He comments, “Scientific accounts of madness or psychotic experiences tend to be inadequate and impoverished by a limited objective perspective. Literary and other artistic portrayals of psychosis too often lack authenticity, treating madness as a metaphor for personal and social ills.”

To this end, the experiences described and the first-person accounts reflected in the libretto are authentic, derived from clinical encounters with patients and others involved in their lives.

The aim is an attempt to both enter the world of psychosis and to present the phenomena of madness in a respectful manner that seeks to be as truthful as possible given the mysteries of the mind in turmoil. The central theme is the tension, and the shifts between harmony and noise, coherence and incoherence, pattern formation and loss: the tone is intended to be vigorous and hopeful in regard to the mysterious ways of coping with extreme and altered states of mind.

The story involves a brilliant young student who moves from rural Eastern Cape to the city to study architecture. With his mother struggling to provide for him, he perseveres, falls in love and flourishes but shortly after graduating, something changes. He loses all perception and descends into a harrowing state of psychosis, tormented by voices telling him he is mad.

The subject of mental health and its place in today’s society has always intrigued director Lara Foot. Earlier this year her play The Inconvenience of Wings, about a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder, premiered to critical acclaim and sold out performances at the National Arts Festival and at the Baxter. For her research on the development of the play, she worked closely with Baumann to get a better understanding of the prejudices that impact the work done in the area of mental health. Foot is a multi-awarding-winning writer, director and producer and she is the CEO and artistic director of the Baxter Theatre Centre.

Composer Galina Juritz is also an accomplished violinist with extensive experience in a diverse range of musical genres. She has worked as a session player, a composer for ensembles, short films, theatre and television and as a performer with classical and contemporary ensembles. She has worked with top local artists such as Freshlyground, Rudimentals, Brydon Bolton, Taxi Violence and Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz winner, Shane Cooper. She was also principal violinist in Neo Muyanga’s Memory of How it Feels at the Baxter and The Flower of Shembe at Artscape.

Twenty-five-year-old conductor and choir master Chad Hendricks is also a trumpet player. Earlier this year he won the prestigious third annual national Len Van Zyl Conducting Competition, which enabled him to complete an internship with The Philadelphia Orchestra (US). It also afforded him the opportunity to participate in the conducting Masters programme (for a semester) at the Bienen School of Music, Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois (US), under the tuition of maestro Victor Yampolsky. He is currently the resident conductor of the Cape Town Ghoema Orchestra and the assistant conductor of the Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

Fiona Moodie is an artist and award-winning book illustrator whose work has been exhibited locally and abroad. In 2007 she was awarded the Exclusive Books IBBY award for Illustration for Fynbos Fairies and in 2010 she received the M.E.R. prize for best children’s book of the year (with Linda Rode) for In die Nimmer Immer Bos. Last year Fiona was honoured with the UNICEF South Africa award for best author, the Media 24 award for best children’s book of 2014 and the Exclusive Books IBBY Prize for Noko and the Kool Kats. For many years she has had a particular interest in Outsider Art.

Traditional music artist and cultural historian Dizu Plaatjies is no stranger to local audiences. Some of his own compositions have been incorporated in the opera Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair. Well-known for his group Amampondo, Dizu has travelled world-wide, sharing his cultural exchange ideas with great success. After Amampondo’s international tour Dizu returned to South Africa and began lecturing African dance and music at UCT, a position which he still holds today.

Videography for the cantata is created by Koeka Stander who’s most important solo works have included Manina, Ejoli, Gedag Dig Aan, which were presented as a Triptych at the SA National Gallery and Bo Alles at the Encounters documentary film festival. Most recently her short film Bo Alles went viral on Facebook receiving well over 22 000 views and shares.

Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair will be staged at the Baxter Theatre for one performance only on Sunday, 4 December at 6pm. There is an age restriction of 14 years. Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Cape Mental Health and Friends of Valkenberg.

Tickets cost R150 and booking is through Computicket on 0861 915 8000, online at www.computicket.com or at any Shoprite Checkers outlet. For discounted corporate, schools or block-bookings, charities or fundraisers, contact Sharon on 021 680 3962, e-mail sharon.ward@uct.ac.za or Carmen on 021 680 3993, e-mail carmen.kearns@uct.ac.za.

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