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Arena Programme Brings Cutting Edge Work to National Arts Festival

The National Arts Festival’s Arena is a special section of the programme reserved for works that have previously won a Standard Bank Ovation Award, a Cape Town Fringe Fresh Award, or a recognised international Fringe award.

     Says the Artistic Committee Member for the Arena programme, Tracey Saunders, “While the Main programme is the holy grail and the Fringe is where you take a leap of faith, the Arena occupies a liminal space, not here, not there but a magical place where discoveries are made. Having proved their mettle on the Fringe the works on the Arena have been selected for their individual capacity to excite. By its very nature it’s a mixed bag, the pick ‘n mix of the programme which guarantees a sugar rush with a difference.” See more from Tracey Saunders on the National Arts Festival Youtube Channel.

National Arts Festival
The Xhosa Chronicles

This is the selection for the 2018 National Arts Festival Arena:


Sam Pennington
The stormy waters of the Western Cape are full of precious things jettisoned by those desperate to stay afloat. Discarded, left to drift away, carried off by the tides, until they either wash ashore or sink under the weight of the water. Directed by Sam Pennington (Falling off the Horn) and featuring Ryan Napier (Death of a Clown), Flotsam follows the story of a man fighting to calm the maelstrom in his own mind. Risking everything, he jumps overboard and drifts – unmoored – on strange currents which drag him away from reality.

J.Bobs Live – Location Lekeyshini Lokasie
Kiri Pink Nob
Vangi Gantsho surmised that if “Shakespeare and Gibson Kente had a love child, raised by John Kani, it would be Jefferson ‘J. Bobs’ Tshabalala”. His popular and exciting Game Shows have earned him a cult following where it is not Tshabalala’s voice alone that is heard but random voices from the audience, some sensible and sane, others hilarious. No one, not even J. Bobs himself can predict what it will be. Location Lekeyshini Lokasie is a unique game show that examines, celebrates, critiques and reflects poignantly on the vast lived experiences of the many South African townships. Featuring Jefferson Tshababalala, Phillip Dikotla, Rethabile Mothobi and Nontobeko Mkhatswha.

The Xhosa Chronicles
Isikhumbuzo Applied History Unit
Interrogating the negative colonial attitudes and stereotypes about African incapacity, this play reimagines a time of pride and independence and contributes new narratives about the roles played by women and children in times of war. At the same time, through a peek into history, the performance is a tool to uncover the past of the amaXhosa as a nation – an exploration that also seeks to find ways for healing and reconciliation. The cast includes Sisonke Yafele, Ntomboxolo Donyeli, Nombasa Ngoqo, Anele Heshu and Phemello Hellemann.

Pieces of an African Drum
Jo Kinda – The Persevering People
Following the experience of two Zimbabweans who have made it across the border, the play explores what part of themselves the two men are willing to part with to merge with South African society. Their clan names and totems ‘mutupo’ are not known in this new land. To survive they join a gang of illegal miners on the hills of Johannesburg’s mine dumps and soon the question emerges, which is more important: the bones of an ancestor or gold? Written by Xolisa Ngubelanga and directed by Simpiwe Kaya, Pieces of an African Drum features Xolani Ngesi and Fiks Mahola.

Strauss & Co
Caleb Jones in Feather on the Breath


A Feather on the Breath of God
The Forest Weaver
A Feather on the Breath of God is named after a comment written by the 11th century theologian Bernard of Clairvaux upon hearing Hildegard of Bingen’s lyrical anthems for the first time. This recital uncovers nine female classical composers who are little known and little performed, including the 11th century mystic and poet Hildegard of Bingen; Kassia, the first woman-of-colour composer; Amy Beach; and British composer Rebecca Clarke. The songs will be sung by SAMRO scholarship and Standard Bank Encore Ovation Award recipient, Emma Farquharson. Accompanying her are pianist Nina van Schoor and cellist Caleb Vaughn-Jones.

#Stream Tour
Samthing Soweto
Anyone who has been to a Samthing Soweto show will know that there is something infectious about Samkelo ‘Samthing Soweto’ Mdolomba’s performances. The multi award-winning South African musician’s unique RNB and jazz vocals make him a force to be reckoned with in the South African music space. #Stream Tour is all about tributes and long-time fan requests, the Akanamali hit maker is set to give us a show unlike any we have seen before. With Mduduzi Mathebula on bass, Bafana Mlangeni on keys and Ntsikelelo Matshatshe on guitar.

Songs of Hope
Lovechild Music
Port Elizabeth born and raised Vuyiseka Maguga is LoveChild and she returns to her home province after a national tour to present Songs of Hope in Grahamstown. The vocalist and instrumentalist, will perform music inspired by everyday incidents, struggles and people. Songs of Hope also includes Bongani Tulwana, Samuel Whitebooi and Tafadzwa Isaac.


Clothes Maketh (wo)man
ReRouted Dance Theatre

National Arts Festival
Clothes Maketh the Woman – Photo by Lynn Chemaly

Is fashion truly a means of self expression or is it just a shield? In contemporary society the ‘rules’ around clothes are often not about fashion, taste or even necessity. They demarcate difference, enforcing and reiterating societal ideas about what it is to be a man or a woman. The implications of our clothing choices can be a liberating outlet for personal expression and self confidence but can also be a prison, constricting our physical bodies and ultimately our true selves into certain parameters of acceptability with very few finding the courage to challenge this. Tegan Peacock, Ashleigh Joubert, and JC Zondi feature in this thought-provoking dance work, a co-production by ReRouted Dance Theatre and the Floating Outfit Project presented with the support of the National Arts Council of South Africa.


The Arena Exhibition
The Festival Gallery, at 38 Somerset Street in Grahamstown plays host to sculpture, ceramics, drawings, paintings, fabric art, and photographs in all fashions and forms as a showcase gallery – with details of where one can view the artists’ full exhibitions. This is the perfect springboard for art-lovers to see what is on offer at the 40-odd art galleries that spring up over Festival.

Arena, derived from the Latin “sand-strewn place of combat”, invites audiences to wrestle with their thoughts and emotions and those of artists, unafraid to leap in to the ring and grapple with truth and meaning.

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