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Something for everyone at Vrystaat Arts Festival

The Vrystaat Arts Festival has an enormous artistic offering in 2019. From flagship Afrikaans, English and Sesotho theatre and music productions to experimental dance, craft, sound art, visual art and live art, visitors are spoilt for choice.

Vrystaat Arts Festival
It’s my City, 2016. Lead artist: Alex Rinsler. Local artists: Minè Kleynhans, Marius Jansen Van Vuuren & Tshiamo Art and Crafts Collective (Loki Maselwane, Itumeleng Moamogwa, Tshegofatso Marogoa). Photograph Leopold Frechow.

The Vrystaat Arts Festival is now one of the key arts festivals on the African continent and offers a significant range of national and international work in an astounding range of genres. In addition to a large contingent of South African artists, the Festival this year hosts creatives from as far afield as Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Caribbean, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal, Singapore, the UK, the US and Zambia (to name but a few).
      The Festival is the first South African cultural entity to follow Khoi-San protocol, recognising the First Peoples and traditional owners of the land in public platforms and the Festival programme. The Festival’s First Nations Welcoming Ceremony is fast becoming an anticipated event. To that extent, the Festival is also honoured to have South African First Nations poet Diana Ferris as the Vrystaat Literature Festival’s Sol Plaatje keynote speaker this year.
     The Vrystaat Arts Festival’s flagship theatre production this year is Kamphoer, the story of Susan Nell. Directed by Lara Foot, the play is based on a true story set in the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). Sandra Prinsloo skilfully embodies the enigmatic figure of Nell, who was brutally raped and left for dead in the concentration camp in Windburg.
     The Island, directed by Jerry Mofokeng-wa Makhetha, also debuts at the Festival. Written by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, this apartheid-era drama, inspired by a true story, is set in an unnamed prison based on South Africa’s notorious Robben Island. This production has an all-female cast with Jane Mamotse Mpholo and Michelle Joubert in the lead roles.
     The National Afrikaans Theatre initiative (NATi) also presents two of their flagship productions, Katvoet with Marius Weyers, Marion Holm, Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Albert Pretorius, Martelize Kolver and Geon Nel, and My Seuns with Sandra Prinsloo, Louw Venter, Sandi Schultz, Edwin van der Walt, Buhle Ngaba and Donovan Pietersen.
     The Festival is also extremely privileged to have one of Nigeria’s most celebrated dancers/choreographers, Qudus Onikeku, with his renowned work Spirit Child. Spirit Child is a solo piece with three musicians, inspired by Azaro, the main character in Ben Okri’s novel, The Famished Road.

Creative Feel South Africa art culture lifestyle magazine June 2019
Eunice Marimba Band, Vrywees, Vrystaat Arts Festival 2018 PHOTO FJ Potgieter

     Other dance productions include the NATi-funded experimental dance work Tehuis by Mark Anthony Dobson and the ever-popular flamenco dances Spanish Fire – Flaming Feet and La Femme!.
     Music lovers will find a number of offerings, including a short opera, Menotti’s The Maid and the Thief; 40 Fingers with Charl du Plessis; Classica, a chamber quartet from the US; Flying Fingers from Bloemfontein; and Most Magical Musical Moments with Niël Rademan and the soprano Lynelle Kenned.
     Amanda Strydom entertains with Stadig oor die klippers and South African rock icon Karen Zoid is in the mix with The Parlotones, Spoegwolf, Die Heuwels Fantasties, Jak de Priester, Anna Davel with a Shirley Bassey tribute, Jannie du Toit and Drie van die Bestes (Mathys Roets, Danie Niehaus, Kevin Leo). All the Way from Bloem, led by Jacobus Silver, also provides upcoming Free State artists with a platform to shine.
     The two key Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD) festival artists for 2019 are South African Marius Jansen van Vuuren and Australian Paul Gazzola. We Can Be Heroes looks to the sky as the site for innovative ephemeral art, and inspired by the southern star patterns, imagined worlds and local mythologies will charge the untapped potential of the Festival skyline.
     Other live art projects include The Vertical Journey – a tribute to the still unknown by Marcus Neustetter, which will launch a series of planetarium dome short films accompanied by live improvisations at the Naval Hill Planetarium; the interdisciplinary performance/sound artwork miss/seen by Sonya Rademeyer, Kagiso Kekana and Nosipho Mtaban; and Lo-Def Film Factory by Francois Knoetze, a pop-up experimental filmmaking and film screening booth.

Vrystaat Arts Festival Creative Feel South Africa art culture lifestyle magazine June 2019
Africaburn, Hoffman Square, Public Art Platform, Vrystaat Arts Festival 2018 photo FJ Potgieter

     Ukuzibuyisa: giving myself back to myself by Ukhona Ntsali Mlandu is a site-specific performance in response to the societal expectations on womxn’s lives; LATROP: The People Who Were Too Much by Scott Eric Williams and Dr Julia Drouhin involves kids workshops, zine making and radio antenna drawings; and Tok Tokkie by Lorin Sookool, Jarrett Erasmus, Ella Ziegler and Andrei van Wyk activates audiences in public and private spaces through games.
     The visual arts programme this year includes Footprints by Andrew Tshabangu, curated by Thembinkosi Goniwe, at the Stegmann Gallery; and dwell in possibility at the UFS Centenary Gallery, curated by Johann du Plessis, with well-known national artists such as Michael Taylor, Andile Dyalvane, Lien Botha, Mbongeni Buthelezi, Alta Botha, Iaan Waldeck, Bongi Bengu, Katherine Glenday and many others.
     Betwixt & Between, curated by Karen Brusch, is an exhibition in the Scaena foyer by artists from the Free State Art Collective in response to their liminal experiences of living in the Free State. At Oliewenhuis Art Museum Reservoir, the project titled #i by Jodi Bieber combines portrait photography, visual research, interviews, text, digital photographic collage and design; and Blood Relatives, also at Oliewenhuis, is a body of work created in 2005 by renowned photographer Cedric Nunn.
     Many different stories from all over the world can be experienced in the films at this year’s festival. Following requests after last year’s film programme – the controversial South African film The Wound, and the moving film Heartstone from Iceland are two must-see films on the programme. And don’t forget the transgender heroine of A fantastic woman from Chile. The romantic at heart should not miss Cold War from Poland.

Vrystaat Arts Festival Creative Feel South Africa art culture lifestyle magazine June 2019
Spirit Child, Qudus Onikeku PHOTO Fernando Velazquez

     This year, the Vrynge hosts many talented local, national and international artists. From Brighton (neXus) to New York and Italy (Before you fall asleep), the Caribbean (Caribbean Cool), and the Netherlands with Lot Vekemans working on her new play Blind, the Vrynge is a small world in one. There’s entertainment for the whole family with Francie en haar foon and Die groot avonture van Vernon en sy maats: Die heks fiasco. The Festival is also partnering with the Baxter Theatre and Lagos Fringe to bring you even more engaging experiences. Vrynge 2019 is one to look out for and one that continues to build bridges between artists and communities. Your opportunity to witness world-class art is here.
     With over 70 events involving a wide variety of topics and themes, there is something for every taste at the Vrystaat Literature Festival. Local, national, and international writers and poets will participate in talks, panel discussions, lectures, and workshops. Some of the topics of focus this year include faith and spirituality, sexuality, humour, thrillers, short stories, and memoirs. Highlights to look forward to include Amore Bekker, Carina Diedericks-Hugo, Erns Grundling, Daniel Hugo, Herman Lategan, Maretha Maartens, Jean Oosthuizen, Alexander Strachan, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Rudie van Rensburg, Jan van Tonder, Ingrid Winterbach and Bettina Wyngaard. International guests attending this year include Upile Chisala (Malawi), Samuel Osaze (Nigeria), Amory Kapufi and Jesse Nsofu (Zambia), Tinashe Tafirenyika and Philani Nyoni (Zimbabwe), Marco Calvani (Italy), Wytske Versteeg, Benno Barnard, Lot Vekemans, Mira Feticu, and Dorine Holman (the Netherlands), Annelies Verbeke, Saskia De Coster and Yves T’Sjoen (Belgium), and Kim Fu, Paige Cooper, Kayla Czaga and Klara du Plessis (Canada).

Vrystaat Arts Festival Creative Feel South Africa art culture lifestyle magazine June 2019     The biannual Pan-African Creative Exchange (PACE), with founding sponsor NATi and support from the Embassy of the Netherlands, hosts PACE+ this year, an interim programme and dramaturgical laboratory led by Executive Director Nike Jonah (UK/Nig), Funmi Adewole (co-ordinating facilitator – UK/Nig), Dutch facilitator Mike van Alfen, and guest provocateurs Saartjie Botha (SA) and Jacob Boehme (Aus). Participants from PACE 2018 include Ese Brume (France/Nig), Nada Sabet (Egypt), Leanetse Seekoe (SA), Wole Oguntokun (Nig), Johann Smith (SA), Shihaam Domingo (SA), Sizakele Mdi (SA), Segun Adefila (Nig), Omobolanle Stephen-Atitebi (Nig), Abdoulaye Diallo (Senegal), Wezile Mgibe (SA), Kenneth Uphopho (Nigeria) and Omar Sène (Senegal).
     The Festival will also present some of last year’s PACE showcases, including Brandbaar with Rehane Abrahams, Kenneth Uphopho’s Esther’s Revenge, Segun Adefila’s Adìe Bà Lókùn, Abdoyley Diallo’s Pollution and jazz musician Asanda Mqiki will perform in the main festival this year.
     This year, the Festival will again have free art in public spaces with the Public Art Platform and Vrywees. From the Festival’s first ‘Nose’, who is developing a festival scent for 2019, to shows by Durban’s Twist Theatre on Hoffman Square, eSwathini young theatre-makers presenting work in public space to dancers, fashion parades and poets creating work for site-specific performances, if you are out in Bloemfontein, you will experience art.
     Take a breath and dive into the rich programme of the 2019 Vrystaat Arts Festival. For more information, visit

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