Eighth wonder

Far in the distance, across the Eerste river you can see the purple hue of the Hottentots Holland mountains. One assumes this range got its name because once it was the borderline between two cultures: the coloniser and the yet-to-be colonised.

On the travel site go2africa.com we learn that the mountains were used as a “refuge by the Hottentot people after stealing cows or retreating from a land squabble with the settlers. The Dutch realised that these little brown men loved the rocky mountains as much as [the Dutch] loved Holland.
In recognition of this they named the area the Hottentots Holland.”

There are divergent views of history in the Western Cape. On the one hand tourists confront the reality of apartheid on Robben Island and in the District Six Museum, recent recipient of the Prince Klaus Award of The Netherlands for “promoting interaction between culture and development”. On the other hand there are the genteel winelands where 295 cellars produce 833-million litres of wine a year and an endless supply of ideas and ingredients for upmarket cookery books and deli-farmstalls. Indeed Commander Simon van der Stel’s stolen fruit bowl has become a pricey focaccia basket.

In this setting Spier estate holds its annual Summer Arts Festival, now in its eighth year. On December 12 the festival was launched with one hell of a gala event. Cabinet members and leaders of the opposition rubbed shoulders with the arts community in Spier’s fine outdoor amphitheatre adorned with British sculptor Sir Bernard Sindall’s nine gold-plated muses. These busty items were junked by London’s Barbican Centre in the mid-Nineties and bought by Spier owner Dick Enthoven in 1998.

Last Friday’s gala kicked off at the new 500-seater Moyo restaurant with a buffet of skewered delights and spicy North African tagines. None of the already well-fed went hungry, from Justice Albie Sachs to Minister of Education Kader Asmal, Speaker of Parliament Frene Ginwala and opposition members Patricia de Lille and Tony Leon. The guest list was supplied by Democratic Alliance parliamentarian Sandra Botha, mother of festival director Dominique Enthoven who is the wife of Spier group CEO, Adrian Enthoven, son of estate owner Dick.

Citizens of Jo’burg are by now accustomed to the methods of Moyo. Its intervention at the Market Theatre in Newtown has been controversial to say the least. Its Cape establishment now provides the winelands with a vast New Age harem of Africanised tents, cushions and bars, so there may be those who see the masking of Cape Dutch façades as detracting from the historical vernacular that exists. In its publicity information Spier claims that it has “the largest collection of Dutch gables on a single site”.

For Moyo, coppersmith Helmut Nikel and his team have provided trademark fixtures woven from copper and brass. There is something of an outsider art approach in water features made out of old bath tubs. Amid this cacophony of styles and colours theatre director Brett Bailey has concocted dinner-time entertainment with his troupe Third World Bunfight that amounts to some line dancing and drumming in a hodgepodge of African dress.

Amid the shrubbery one finds a cluster of tall wigwams that in coming weeks will function as a craft centre for potters and Nikel’s metal works. This is in the shadow of an ominous-looking slave bell.

Spier prides itself in being a progressive place of work and play and so it has instituted a number of projects that hope to make a difference in the lives of its surrounding community. These include the establishment of Lynedoch Eco-Village centred about a “learning precinct” including a primary school that opened last year. Ultimately Spier hopes to establish Lynedoch Hamlet, “a small rural socially mixed town comprising several hundred families”. Projects like this are driven by Enthoven who, Spier claims, favours “green technology” investments.

Back to the gala event — a musical evening under the baton of Richard Cock with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra supported by the Cape Town Vocal Ensemble and Choral Training Programme. It was a glorious combination of more than 60 voices and the unmatched talents of Sibongile Khumalo and New Zealander Deborah Wai Kapohe.

Kapohe is noted as her country’s most promising soprano and has performed in Australia, China and the United Kingdom. She is equally at home with opera and popular music and has recorded in both forms.

Cock’s musical selection was, arguably, the weakest link. One gets the impression that the maestro feels it is incumbent upon him to educate the masses in serious music and so his programmes can be dubbed classics for dummies.

The gala programme began with Gioachino Rossini’s boring old William Tell Overture and graduated to Leo Delibes’s boring old Flower Song and a boring medley of showtunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber. One had fond thoughts of apartheid heyday galas at Pretoria’s State Theatre, and of Springbok Radio, when Cock announced that Khumalo would sing a selection of African pop tunes arranged by Gerry Bosman for Mara Louw.

The high point of proceedings was the appearance onstage, before the show, of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Zackie Achmat of the Treatment Action Campaign. Achmat appealed to the masses (or rather, the elite) to make donations of R50 a month to save the lives of people living with HIV. He also warned present politicians against using the sorry state of the nation’s health when rallying for votes in next year’s elections.

Which goes to show that even in the Cape winelands on a sedate Friday night, artistry, multi-culturalism and vital issues of politics can make a contribution. Even if it is only to wholesome debate.

The details

Spier’s festival special includes one night’s accommodation for two in the luxurious Village, two full English buffet breakfasts, dinner at the Jonkershuis Restaurant (excluding beverages), two show tickets and free bottle of wine for only R638 a person sharing. Tel: (021) 8091177/78/9

What’s on

Southern Songbirds

December 19 and 20

Mike Campbell and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra present vocalists Lindiwe Maxolo, Joanne Cupido and international diva Deborah Wai Kapohe.

Queen in Concert

December 26 to 29

Opera star Zanne Stapelberg and Joseph Clark and Luciano Zuppa join the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra for this retrospective.

Dimpho Di Kopane in Concert

February 27

Formerly the Broomhill Opera, they have performed internationally to wide acclaim. Expect arias and songs from Carmen and The Mysteries.

The Rocky Horror Show

February 4 to 7, 18, 20, 26, 28

Dimpho Di Kopane presents this cult classic. Party to Sweet Transvestite and Dammit Janet.

Ibali looTsotsi The Beggar’s Opera

February 12, 13, 14 19, 21, 25

A bawdy romantic comedy, thick with greed and corruption. Forty young South Africans co-directed by Mark Dornford-May and British conductor Charles Hazelwood.

William Kentridge Film Festival

March 6 and 7

The first ever 35mm projection of the nine short films as a single work of 60 minutes. A string quartet will perform compositions by Phillip Miller.

Vusi Mahlasela

March 12

This true South African troubadour will be accompanied by the Proud People’s Band.

Judith Sephuma

March 13 and 14

This talented vocalist will sing highlights from her album Cry, A Smile, A Dance and new material.

The End is Naai

March 17 to 21

Spier will host the world premiere of Pieter-Dirk Uys’s new work The End is Naai. A 10 year retrospective.

Nedbank Big Band Finale

March 26 and 27

Performed by father and son musical team, Ian and Richard Smith.

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse is the arts editor of the Mail & Guardian, a position he has held since 1999. He has edited two anthologies: Positions (Steidl, Jacana Media 2010) about artists engaging with politics in South Africa today, and The Invisible Ghetto (GMP, 1994) a compilation of creative writing about gender. His essays have appeared in collected works about arts and culture here and abroad. He has worked in the theatre for over a decade as an actor, writer and senior publicist at the Market Theatre. Read more from Matthew Krouse

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