SA-UK Seasons: Cementing Partnerships

Since the opening of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff in 2004, Cape Town Opera has been an integral and strategic South African partner to this national Welsh performing arts centre. In 2015, the partnership is augmented in a new and unique way via funding from the SA-UK Seasons 2014-2015.

As a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa and the British Council, the SA-UK Seasons has provided funding and support to various artists and arts organisations in the UK and South Africa to aid in cooperation and collaboration between the two nations. This funding has enabled artists and organisations to travel to the UK as part of the SA Season in the UK, as well as UK projects taking place in SA as part of the British Council’s Connect ZA. A third aspect of the Seasons is joint projects: those that are of a collaborative nature between South Africa and the UK are supported through a joint fund.

The Wales Millennium Centre and Cape Town Opera partnership is one project funded by the SA-UK Seasons. Other notable SA projects taking place in the UK include: The Plastic’s November tour of the UK; Durban Music School’s performance at the Dundee Jazz Festival; the South African Jazz Concerts, Workshops and Seminar featuring Bokani Dyer and Adam Glasser in collaboration with Gareth Lokrane; and The Brother Moves On’s tour of Europe, taking their mentee, Venda/Tshonga folk singer-songwriter Itai Hakim with them and collaborating with UK artist Shabaka Hutchings.

Cape Town Opera (CTO) has been touted as ‘Africa’s premiere opera company’ and it and its talented core of singers have won numerous prestigious awards, including the Best Chorus at the 2013 International Opera Awards.

The Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) is Wales’ national home for the performing arts in Cardiff Bay. It is one of the UK’s top cultural attractions and is home to eight resident partners. This Welsh landmark stages musicals, opera, ballet, circus and contemporary dances alongside the UK’s largest programme of free performances.

Over the past ten years, CTO and WMC have mounted 50 performances of operas, concerts and musicals including Porgy and Bess; Mandela Trilogy; Show Boat; Merry Widow of Malagawi and Bryn Terfel in Concert, in Cape Town, Cardiff and throughout the United Kingdom. This partnership is a key component of CTO’s sustainability as an arts organisation. It also provides WMC with diverse local and touring programming within the UK, and an unprecedented opportunity to feature the best of South African and Welsh vocal talent on international stages.

The SA-UK Seasons Partnership Grant supports four members of WMC’s and CTO’s staff to participate in administrative, educational and technical exchanges at each other’s companies.

In July 2015, South African bass soloist and music teacher Thato Machona spent ten days in Cardiff as part of WMC’s Refugee Week programming. Upon his return, Machona reported that, ‘I was inspired by the Wales Millennium Centre’s sense of and involvement in the community, as well as the public participation between the centre and local residents. It’s much more than a performance venue.’

Shortly thereafter, WMC Producer Maris Lyons travelled to Cape Town for the companies’ coproduction The Merry Widow of Malagawi, which premiered at Artscape Theatre Centre on 5 September.

WMC’s Creative Learning Assistant, Elan Isaac, is currently travelling in South Africa, partaking in the CTO’s Education and Outreach programmes. Her first journey was to the South African West Coast community of Vredenburg, engaging with CTO’s Amabali Ethu project (Xhosa for ‘Our Stories’). In Vredenburg, CTO works with 80 primary and high school learners from Masiphathisane Primary and Louwville High. They are assisted in writing and composing their own operas based on stories relevant to their lives and community. She also participated in the Magic Flute Schools Outreach Project at St Mary’s School in Retreat, Cape Town. Through the story of The Magic Flute, learners are taught to read music, play the recorder and sing and dance in a production performed at the end of the year. Isaac also advised CTO on best practices to implement hearing- and sight-impaired technology for Cape Town-based opera audiences, as WMC’s disability inclusion programmes are well established.

Further Outreach and Education programmes that the CTO embarked on in 2015 include the National Schools Tour for the South African Schools Choral Eisteddfod preparation and the West Coast Choral Outreach. The Schools Tour is an annual project whereby CTO singers embark on a month-long tour of South Africa, visiting towns in six different provinces. Learners are given workshops teaching them the basic aspects of good vocal production, including warm-ups, breathing, resonance, vowels and consonants.

‘I am so grateful to have this opportunity to experience the culture of the city and rural communities, and to work on a person-to-person basis with both professionals and children here in South Africa,’ comments Isaac. ‘It’s fascinating how CTO supports creative learning in innovative ways – I will take everything that I have learned back to Wales to implement it the way we work.’

CTO’s Technical Production Manager, Jaco Nothnagel, will work with the WMC technical department on their productions of Sweeney Todd and Mac and Mabel in Cardiff this November. Looking to the future, WMC will host CTO’s musical production of Mandela Trilogy on a 27-performance UK tour in August 2016. Nothnagel’s first-hand experiences with WMC’s production staff will be helpful as the companies begin technical and logistical planning for the tour.

Bongani Tembe, Commissioner-General of the SA-UK Seasons, congratulated both parties on an outstanding partnership that exemplifies the reciprocity of the SA-UK Seasons.

To find out more about projects funded by the SA-UK Seasons, visit www.southafrica-unitedkingdom.com

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