What to expect at National Arts Festival 2015

In an interview with Mail & Guardian, Peter Rorvik, the secretary general of the creative civil society organisation, Arterial Network, said it is a fundamental role of the artist to make us think. This year the National Arts Festival moves towards a programme that prompts artists to engage in material that unwraps the moral fibre of South Africa and that mirrors the good and ugly side of society. Simply put, the festival this year is not catering for a passive audience.

The festival puts satire and freedom of expression at the core of the programme. The Oxford dictionary defines satire as the “use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues”. In The Satire as a Social Mirror, satire is defined as being helpful in “discussing serious social matters and asking questions that need to be asked”. Artists are challenged to hold a mirror up to the issues that affect Africans.

“The arts need to challenge and provoke,” said Ismail Mahomed, the Festival’s Artistic Director in a press statement. “South Africa’s satirists, cartoonists, commentators and court jesters need, now more than ever, to be given the opportunity to be the public voice, the conscience, of the nation.”


With the spotlight on satire, esteemed satirist Pieter Dirk-Uys, who is popularly known for his character/alter ego Evita Bezhuidenhout, will be honoured by the festival for his contribution to genre. His productions, The Echo of a Noise, Never Too Naked and A Part Hate A Part Love, will be shown during the festival and he’ll also premiere his new play, African Times.

Uys has been in the field of theatre for close to 50 years and has written more than 20 plays. Three of his films: Farce About Uys; Adapt or Dye; and Skating on Thin Uys, will also get some time on the silver screen as part of the film festival. The overall film programme will explore “limits of expression and liberty”.

Pieter Dirk-Uys

Uys’s work has for years addressed the transformation, or lack of, in South Africa through satire. With productions such as Evita for President and Elections & Erections, the 69-year-old performer and social activist’s work is inspired by politicians. Social commentary tangled in comedy is what Uys does best.

His daring work has earned him the prestigious Truth and Reconciliation Award in 2001 and in 2012 he received both the FW de Klerk Goodwill Award and the German-Africa Award.

Satirist Conrad Koch of Late Night News with Loyiso Gola, will also take to the stage with his puppet Chester Missing in Missing, the personal story of Koch. Other comedians include Gola and Iain EWOK Robinson.


More female artists are featured in the 2015 programme in efforts to make the female voices louder on the theatre stage. The featured female artists include: Thoko Ndlozi, Maralin Vanreenen, Mamela Nyamza, Bronwen Forbay, Faniswa Yisa, Patricia Boyer, and Nelisiwe Xaba. On March 6 M&G reported on how the “hypervisibility” of a handful of black artists and curators obscures the fact that true transformation is more elusive.

Lerato Bereng is one of the curators making moves and leaving their mark on the local art scene. Bereng, who works at the Stevenson Gallery, curated Simon Gush’s show, Red and Standard Bank Young Artist Kemang Wa Lehulere’s showcase, Dreamer Imaginist: History will Break Your Heart. Wa Lehulere is among the group of young fresh talent that will showcase their work at the festival through the Standard Bank Young Artist awards initiative, a festival regular.


The Standard Bank Young Artist programme features new works by six artists in different art fields. Naledi Theatre Award nominee; director, actor and writer Christiaan Olwagen (Theatre), will present Doll’s House; artist Athi-Patra Ruga (Performance Art), will present The Elder of Azania; baritone Musa Ngqungwana (Music) and pianist Nduduzo Makhathini (Jazz) will both be in concert; choreographer and Vuyani Dance Theatre Artistic Director Luyanda Sidiya (Dance) presents Siva (7).

Christiaan Olwagen 


Some productions on the programme will take audiences down memory lane with classical plays such as Brazilian satire Miss Margarida’s Way and Born in the RSA. Born in the RSA is a play by theatre legend Barney Simon and 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Simon’s death. The play is directed by Thoko Ntshinga and stars Faniswa Yisa and Emily Child. 

Afrikaans screenwriter and director Jans Rautenbach’s 1960s and 70s films will be also be screened. His films fit in well with the theme of freedom of expression because his work is regarded as critical commentary on the apartheid government.


The dance shows featured on the programme are set to cover “tough topics” such as arts funding, demographics and political correctness. Zimbabwean dance company Tumbuka, which recently performed at Dance Umbrella, will present the Portrait of Myself as my Father. The piece explores fatherhood and celebrates identity. Choreographer, Nora Chipaumire creates “an idealised masculine presence” and interrogates the “Zimbabwean self” as manifested through time.” MIDM (Moving into Dance Mophatong) will showcase Man-Longing, which raises awareness around the dark world of human trafficking through dance and poetry.


Another regular for the festival is The Fringe, which features 56 comedy productions, 41 physical theatre, 11 poetry and storytelling, 34 dance productions and 57 visual art exhibitions. There will also be a series of debates and discussion under the THINK!FEST programme, which will host thought leaders and trendsetters who will wrestle with issues “around satire and freedom of expression, secrecy and surveillance, non-racialism, and a range of other socially relevant themes”.

For more info visit www.nationalartsfestival.co.za

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