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Tourism News
Far from the football crowd
27 June 2010

The Grahamstown National Arts Festival proves there's cultural life beyond the country's stadiums.

It's the biggest arts festival in the country, if not the continent, and it is here. Yep, even the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown has been hit by the soccer buzz. It's a week into the festival and organisers are hoping their gamble to extend it to 15 days in order to attract international tourists attending Port Elizabeth fixtures is paying off.
The artists aren't quite as soccer mad, though there are some shows which deliberately incorporate the country's obsession into their work (like Mpho Osei-Tutu's one-man play Convincing Corlos, which imagines that a South African named Sechaba persuaded the national team's coach to come back.
There is also a makarapa exhibition at the Seffler's Monument on the hill and incidental references like the dance performance Transformation 2010 ending with the dancers playing with soccer balls. However, it's festival posters that dominate the Grahamstown streets, not Fifa ones.
One of the best bits of marketing is for Lara Bye's poignant theatre piece London Road. They've created street signs that point the way to the show at the Princess Alice Hall, where the Cape Town Edge productions have a cosy little home.
Festival CEO Tony Lankester said town has been quiet, but this weekend will probably be busy.
Normally the festival starts on a Thursday and there is usually a spike in attendance over the weekend. This year the festival started on a Sunday so it felt like they started off in a slump. Last year's Saturday was the single biggest grossing day in the festival's history.

That said, there have been some sold-out performances this past week and ticket sales appear to have held fairly steady.
"(Ivilu Zondi's) Cinema has sold out at least one performance, Tree Boy, which is still coming up, has sold out a couple. A lot of them are in smaller venues, granted," Lankester said.
The power went out on Wednesday afternoon for about 45 minutes, though Lankester joked that it certainly felt longer. Five performances had to be cancelled but the municipality fixed the problem fairly quickly.
"Some performances just managed to carry on. The crowds were okay. It wasn't great, there was lots of swearing, but everyone handled it well," he said.
Several Port Elizabeth hotels have asked for booking kits and festival organisers have offered to bus people in from PE, but it's too soon to tell whether that's going to affect ticket sales.
"There seem to be more international media here than before though. Were it not for the World Cup... My sense is there's a greater international interest, which is one of the reasons we extended the festival," said Lankester.
A Belgian radio station is broadcasting from the monument and Lankester's background in radio offers an interesting insight into a big feature of this year's festival, the use of language.
Last year Die Burger newspaper complained about the lack of Afrikaans productions and this year there are several, such as Skrapnel (which was excellent and works because of its sensitive and multi-layered use of Afrikaans), Dinsdae by Morrie, Shirley Valentyn, and Kruispad, as well as plays that have been translated from Afrikaans, like Normality.
Then there's an increased use of Xhosa and Zulu, and even the use of Pedi, which you wouldn't have seen a few years ago.
Lara Foot's production Karoo Moose (a big favourite this year) showcases the way South Africans mix and use several languages at the same time, while Inxeba Lomphilisi (The Wound of a Healer) explores various strategies to make the Xhosa play accessible to non-speakers.
While working for SABC Radio in the mid-1990s Lankester noticed the beginnings of a pride in local radio stations among urban people.
"People living in the cities wanted to hang on to their roots and saw listening to uKhosi FM or Umhlobo as a sort of badge of integrity a sign of 'I am sticking to my roots'."
"We're now seeing that reflected in a lot of the productions. There's a pride in our language. You see that in Karoo Moose, it's how people speak on the streets." The Eastern Cape government has made a concerted effort to fund local performances through the festival.  "Also the National Arts Council has put more money into indigenous stuff, and that's money that goes straight to the productions," said Lankester.
While the festival originally started 36 years ago to promote and preserve the English language, the position has changed to showcase South African culture "which celebrates all languages".
On the film side, the local films are few but good and, strangely enough, all feature cityscapes.
Many auteurs often introduce cities as characters in their films, but it's not something South African directors really pursue.
However, this year disproves that theory Craig Freimond gets people to look up in Jozi, showing the infuriating yet reluctantly mesmerisecl relationship Joburgers have with their city District 9 shows us a totally different Joburg (though that march with all the red T-shirts was definitely done at a Cosatu rally on Ghandi Square so that was familiar), while City Breath is a festival of video poetry and performance that takes you on a trip around South Africa.
Director Savo Tufegdzic premiers his new version of United Colours of Yeoville. It's a remake of a mid-1990s documentary about life on Rockey Street.
Tufegdzic says it's always been a dream to re-visited the idea because "Yeoville was always part of my life, in my blood, so had to look at it. I had to end a chapter, before a new chapter begins.
"Not that I'm moving out, but I'm starting a new romance," said Tufegdzic.
Revel Fox's Long Street and the award-winning Silver Fez showcase Cape Town on the streets and Claire Angelique (Standard Bank Young Artist for Film) shows Durban as both beautiful and hellish in My Black Little Heart.
Though 15 days long, there's still a halfway mark and the festival's emphasis is about to change.
The puppets really start taking over when Janni Young - Standard Bank Young Artist for Drama - comes to town with Ouroboros, which uses puppetry projection and movement to paint images across time and space.

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