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The Vrystaat Arts Festival has an enormous offering in 2019. It takes place on the Bloemfontein campus of the University of the Free State from 1 to 7 July.
From flagship Afrikaans, English and Sesotho theatre and music productions to experimental dance, craft, sound art, visual art and live art, there is something for everyone.
The Festival is now one of the key arts festivals on the African continent and offers a significant range of national and international work in an astounding range of genres. In addition to a large contingent of South Africans artists, the festival this year hosts creatives from afar away as Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Caribbean, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal, Singapore, the UK, the US and Zambia (to name but a few).
First Nation Protocol
The Vrystaat Arts Festival is the first South African cultural entity to follow Khoi-San protocol, recognizing the First Peoples and traditional owners of the land in public platforms and the festival program. The First Nations Welcoming ceremony of the festival is fast becoming an event unique in South-Africa. To that extent we are also honoured to have South African First Nations poet Diana Ferris as the Vrystaat Literature Festival’s Sol Plaatje keynote this year.
Performance and Music
The flagship theatre production is Kamphoer, the story of Susan Nell. Played by Sandra Prinsloo, and directed by Lara Foot, the play is based on a true story set in the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902). Prinsloo skilfully embodies the enigmatic figure of Nell, who was brutally raped and left for dead in the concentration camp in Windburg.
The Island, directed by Jerry Mofokeng wa Makhetha, also debuts at the festival. Written by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, this apartheid-era drama, inspired by a true story, is set in an unnamed prison based on South Africa’s notorious Robben Island. This production has an all-female cast with Jane Mamotse Mpholo and Michelle Joubert in the lead roles.
The National Afrikaans Theatre initiative (NATi) also presents two of their flagship productions Katvoet with Marius Weyers, Marion Holm, Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Albert Pretorius, Martelize Kolver and Geon Nel, and My Seuns with Sandra Prinsloo, Louw Venter, Sandi Schultz, Edwin van der Walt, Buhle Ngaba and Donovan Pietersen.
The Vrystaat Arts Festival is also extremely privileged to have one of Nigeria’s most celebrated dancers/choreographers Qudus Onikeku with his renowned work Spirit Child. Spirit Child is a solo piece with three musicians, inspired by Azaro, the main character in Ben Okri’s novel, The Famished Road.
Other dance productions include the NATi funded experimental dance work Tehuis by Mark Anthony Dobson and the ever-popular flamenco dances Spanish Fire – Flaming Feet and La Femme! Also keep an eye out for the popular Reza de Wet youth theatre festival with performances from all over the country.
Music lovers will find a number of offerings including a short opera, Menotti’s The Maid and the Thief, 40 Fingers with Charl du Plessis, Classica, ’n chamber quartet from the US, Flying Fingers from Bloemfontein and Most Magical Musical Moments with Niël Rademan and the soprano Lynelle Kenned.
Amanda Strydom entertains with Stadig oor die klippers and South African rock icon Karen Zoid is in the mix with The Parlotones, Spoegwolf, Heuwels Fantasties, Andile Qongqo, Asanda Mqiki, Jak de Priester, Anna Davel with a Shirley Bassey- tribute, Jannie du Toit and Drie van die Bestes (Mathys Roets, Danie Niehaus, Kevin Leo). All the Way from Bloem, led by Jacobus Silver also provides upcoming Free State artists a platform to shine.
The Programme for Innovation in Artfrom Development (PIAD) is an interdisciplinary and experimental art programme in partnership with the University of the Free State and funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation in New York. The two key PIAD festival artists for 2019 is South African Marius Jansen van Vuuren and Australian Paul Gazzola. Their project We Can Be Heroes looks to the sky as the site for innovative ephemeral art, and inspired by the Southern star patterns, imagined worlds and local mythologies, will charge the untapped potential of the festival skyline.
Other live art projects include The Vertical Journey – a tribute to the still unknown by Marcus Neustetter, which will launch a series of planetarium dome short films accompanied by live improvisations at the Naval Hill Planetarium; the interdisciplinary performance/sound art work miss/seen by Sonya Rademeyer, Kagiso Kekana and Nosipho Mtaban; and Lo-Def Film Factory by Francois Knoetze, a pop-up experimental filmmaking and film screening booth.
Ukuzibuyisa: giving myself back to myself by Ukhona Ntsali Mland is a site-specific performance in response to the societal expectations on womxn’s lives; LATROP : The People Who Were Too Much, by Scott Eric Williams & Dr Julia Drouhin involves kids workshops, Zine making and radio antenna drawings; and Tok Tokkie by Lorin Sookool, Jarrett Erasmus, Ella Ziegler & Andrei van Wyk activates audiences in public and private spaces through surveillance games.
The visual arts programme this year includes Footprints by Andrew Tshabangu curated by Thembinkosi Goniwe at the Stegmann Gallery and dwell in possibility at the UFS Centenary Gallery, curated by Johann du Plessis, with well-known national artists such as Michael Taylor, Andile Dyalvane, Lien Botha, Mbongeni Buthelezi, Alta Botha, Iaan Weldeck, Bongi Bengu, Katherine Glenday and many others.
Betwixt & Between in the Scaena foyer curated by Karen Brusch is an exhibition by artists from the Free State Art Collective in response to their liminal experiences of living in the Free State. At Oliewenhuis Art Museum Reservoir, the project titled #i by Jodi Bieber combines portrait photography, visual research, interviews, text, digital photographic collage and design, and Blood Relatives, also at Oliewenhuis, is a body of work created in 2005, by renowned photographer, Cedric Nunn.
Many different stories from all over the world may be experienced in the films at this year’s festival. Following requests after last year’s film programme two films with a gay subtext are included this year – the controversial South African film The Wound and the moving Heartstone from Iceland. And don’t forget the transgender heroine of A fantastic woman from Chile. The romantic at heart, especially if they love music as well, should not miss Cold War from Poland. And with regard to First Nations, Australia’s Sweet Country is a riveting experience. An opera is included again – Donizetti’s comical Don Pasquale with soprano Eva Mei and conductor Gérard Korsten who performed in Bloemfontein last year.
As a platform for emerging artists and professionals interested in testing new work, this year Vrynge hosts many talented local, national and international creatives. From Brighton (neXus) to New York and Italy (Before you fall asleep), the Caribbean (Caribbean Cool), and the Netherlands with Lot Vekemans working on her new play Blind, the Vrynge is a small world in one. There’s entertainment for the whole family with Francie en haar foon and Die groot avonture van Vernon en sy maats: Die heks fiasco. The Vrystaat Arts Festival is also partnering with the Baxter Theatre and Lagos Fringe to bring even more engaging experiences. Vrynge 2019 is one to look out for and one that continues to build bridges between artists and communities. Your opportunity to witness world class art is here.
Vrystaat Literature Festival
With over 70 events involving a wide variety of topics and themes, there is something for every taste. Local, national, and international writers and poets participate in talks, panel discussions, lectures, and workshops. Some of the topics of focus this year include faith and spirituality, sexuality, humour, thrillers, short stories, and memoirs. Highlights to look forward to include Amore Bekker, Carina Diedericks-Hugo, Erns Grundling, Daniel Hugo, Herman Lategan, Maretha Maartens, Jean Oosthuizen, Alexander Strachan, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Rudie van Rensburg, Jan van Tonder, Ingrid Winterbach, en Bettina Wyngaard.
International guests attending this year include Upile Chisala (Malawi), Samuel Osaze (Nigeria), Amory Kapufi and Jesse Nsofu (Zambia), Tinashe Tafirenyika and Philani Nyoni (Zimbabwe), Marco Calvani (Italy), Wytske Versteeg, Benno Barnard, Lot Vekemans, Mira Feticu, and Dorine Holman (the Netherlands), Annelies Verbeke, Saskia de Coster and Yves T’Sjoen (Belgium), and Kim Fu, Paige Cooper, Kayla Czaga and Klara du Plessis (Canada).
Pan-African Creative Exchange
The biannual Pan-African Creative Exchange (PACE), with founding sponsor NATi, and support from the Embassy of the Netherlands this year hosts PACE+, an interim programme and dramaturgical laboratory led by Executive Director Nike Jonah (UK/Nig), Funmi Adewole (Co-ordinating facilitator – UK/Nig), Dutch facilitator Mike van Alfen, and guest provocateurs Saartjie Botha (SA) and Jacob Boehme (Aus).
Participants from PACE 2018 include Ese Brume (France/Nig), Nada Sabet (Egypt), Leanetse Seekoe (SA), Wole Oguntokun (Nig), Johann Smith (SA), Shihaam Domingo (SA), Sizakele Mdi (SA), Segun Adefila (Nig), Omobolanle Stephen-Atitebi (Nig), Abdoulaye Diallo (Senegal), Wezile Mgibe (SA), Kenneth Uphopho (Nigeria) and Omar Sène (Senegal).
The festival is also presenting as full shows some of last year’s PACE showcases including Brandbaar with Rehane Abrahams (SA), Kenneth Uphopho’s Esther’s Revenge (Nig), Segun Adefila’s Adìe Bà Lókùn (Nig) and Abdoyley Diallo’s Pollution (Senegal). See http://bravo.launchzone.co.za/en/home/
PAP and Vrywees
This year the festival will again have free art in public spaces with Public Art Platform and Vrywees. From the festival’s first ‘nose’, aromatherapist Annaline Viljoen, who is developing a festival scent for 2019, to shows by Durban’s Twist Theatre on Hoffman Square, eSwathini youth theatre in public space to dancers, fashion parades to poets creating work for site-specific performances. If you are out in the public you will experience art.
So take a breath and dive into the rich programme of the 2019 Vrystaat Arts Festival. Enjoy all it has to offer and make sure to make new friends from both here and abroad.
The Vrystaat Arts Festival Programme is available here: http://bit.ly/VSKProgram2019