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See you in Makhanda: The countdown to the 2023 National Arts Festival begins

By Creative Feel

It’s that time of the year again! The National Arts Festival (NAF) has announced its 2023 programme, which is now live and open for online bookings.

Makhanda’s annual celebration of the arts will be taking place from 22 June to 2 July 2023 where artists, art lovers, students and families can escape into the theatres, galleries, cosy restaurants and reimagined spaces of the small town during the chilly mid-year break.

National Arts Festival 2023 line-up Makhanda
Nyaniso Lindi, Waya Waya… Imoto Yocingo

Speaking at an event in Johannesburg, hosted by long-term partner Standard Bank, to announce the programme, Artistic Director Rucera Seethal explained that this year’s programme was designed with audience experiences in mind. This includes staging shows only in venues with a backup power supply and spreading the programme highlights across the full eleven days so that visitors staying for only two or three days would be able to enjoy a diversity of NAF shows.

The stellar dance line-up includes renowned dancer/choreographer Gregory Maqoma, JOMBA! 2023 Legacy Artist Mamela Nyamza and a 50th celebration triple bill from Jazzart, the oldest contemporary dance company in the Cape. Theatre highlights include award-winning shows like Hold Still by scriptwriter Nadia Davids and the premiere of Droomwerk by Pieter Odendaal.

The Boston Youth Orchestra will be coming from the USA to perform both a Symphony Concert and a Children’s Concert at the Festival. Another international artist to look out for is Sonja Hughes with her piece I am from Reykjavik – part protest, part sculpture, part ceremony, the artist is exploring what it is to be “a post-racial, global citizen”.

National Arts Festival 2023 line-up Makhanda
The Boston Youth Orchestra is coming to the National Arts Festival PHOTO Hilary Scott

Relationships between mothers and daughters are followed across five generations of Kenyan writer and performer Wanjiku Mwawuganga’s family in the autobiographical theatre piece, ROOTS. An artist whose works are heavily influenced by history, Mwawuganga sought to find herself and her own take on motherhood through the history of the women who raised her and ultimately considers the effects of colonialism on women and how trauma is passed down from generation to generation.

The life and music of beloved traditional Xhosa music legend Madosini will be commemorated at the Festival in a dedicated listening space that will be activated throughout the eleven days. Aptly located in the Eastern Cape, the NAF will also present Lulama Masimini’s research-based piece, Umkhondo, an exploration of the Xhosa ritual of “ukubuyisa” within the theatre as a vessel for healing and reconnection to home.

Described by The African Theatre Magazine as “witty, punchy, and hard-hitting in a humorous way, yet searing in the way it handles the heavy subject matter of gender-based violence,” Market Lab and POPArt’s Text Me When You Arrive follows three women (writers and performers Aaliyah Matintela, Thulisile Nduvane and Sibahle Mangena) as they navigate their way through the “rules” set by rape culture, patriarchy and social media in daily life on a seemingly impossible mission to not get raped and killed in South Africa. 

National Arts Festival 2023 line-up Makhanda
Text Me When You Arrive

What started out as a rummaging through rubbish bins of Joza in Makhanda has evolved into an exhibition of large-scale works made up largely of rubbish and found items in Waya Waya… Imoto Yocingo by award-winning artist Nyaniso Lindi. The title is isiXhosa slang that directly translates into “a hustle and bustle”, or “a state of chaos”. Waya Waya uses what we discard in our daily lives to touch on issues of identity, migration, consumerism, power and greed.

Choreographer/director, Nelisiwe Xaba, and video artist/director, Mocke J van Veuren, integrate digital technology and physical performance in Fake News. Working with Rhodes University students in residency in Makhanda before the festival, they blur the lines between body and screen, reality and mediated image.

After taking home a Standard Bank Ovation Award for the charming 2020 online work Ouma Lilly & Haar Klong, Jeremeo Le Cordeur returns to the NAF Arena stage with Dude, Where’s My Bakkie? After discovering his bakkie was stolen, Dean September (Le Cordeur) recollects the many moments attached to the Nissan 1400, gifted on the character’s 21st birthday. Surviving a broken heart and a nasty road rage encounter, the audience enjoys music from the 90s on the way to meeting various characters and experiencing the Cape from a fresh perspective.

After recently appearing on the global TV show Got Talent All-Stars, a show curated from the Got Talent TV show acts from around the world, Brendon Peel and Li Lau will be back from their international travels to perform Double Bluff: An Extreme Magic Show. Peel will also present Magic of Sideshow and Impossible on the NAF Fringe. The Fringe is where audiences will also find punk fusion band Undead Generation who hail from nearby Gqeberha.

National Arts Festival 2023 line-up Makhanda
Brendon Peel and Li Lau are back at the Festival PHOTO Mark Wessels

Staying local with Rivals! Adapt or die, students from the Best Foot Forward project excavate what lies behind the intense rivalry between two adjacent townships, Fingo Village and Tantyi township, in old Grahamstown. The animosity between Mfengu and Xhosa ran so strong it lasted over 150 years and remained well into the twentieth century.

For those who love a little cheeky fun, solo drag-cabaret-burlesque extravaganza Ripe ‘n Ready will delight Fringe audiences. Fresh, funny and flirty, the star of the show, Pichi Keane, comes to Makhanda, hot from Hong Kong.

Seasoned NAF performer and Naledi Award winner Craig Morris will be directing Tessa Jubber and Ter Hollmann as a couple who fall out of love in Fool’s Errand. Pianist duo Francois Botha and Yohan Chun bring Best of Both Concerts to the Festival, filled with reminiscent, familiar tunes by great composers such as Debussy, Elgar, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky that have stood the test of time.

Husband-and-wife pianist duo Francois Botha and Yohan Chun will perform Best of Both Concerts at the National Arts Festival

The Fringe continues to be a space for innovation and is also an important platform for new work. Student drama is firmly back on the programme with University of Venda, Limpopo University, Tshwane University, Wits, AFDA Johannesburg, University of Zululand, Sonwa Sakuba Institute for the Performing Arts, Jika Performing Arts College, TUT (eMalahleni Campus), Oakfields College of Dance, Prestige School of Dance, Sonwa Sakuba Institute for the Performing Arts, University of the Western Cape, Rhodes University, Kingswood College, CPUT Performing Arts Society, Curro Heritage House, Walter Sisulu University and the Phoenix College of Johannesburg all heading for Makhanda this year.

Shows on the NAF Fringe are reviewed by an anonymous panel of reviewers who then meet and collectively award Standard Bank Ovation Awards. The prestigious award is a mark of excellence, one which audiences in Makhanda take note of as they navigate their programme choices. Winning a Standard Bank Ovation Award also helps artists open doors with theatres and festivals locally and internationally.

The Standard Bank Ovation Awards and the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards are two of the platforms that the NAF’s long-term partner, Standard Bank, supports at the Festival, starting artists on their inspiring journeys and recognising those that rise above. This year’s Standard Bank Young Artists are Koleka Putuma (Poetry), Lady Skollie – making her NAF debut as the Standard Bank Young Artist winner for Visual Arts, Theatre Duo (Billy Langa and Mahlatsi Mokgonyana)who are the Standard Bank Young Artist winners for Theatre, Linda Sikhakhane – the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz who previously graced the NAF Fringe and Curated stages, Thamsanqa Majela (Dance) and Msaki (Music) who has been performing at the Festival since 2014.

National Arts Festival 2023 line-up Makhanda
The 2022 Standard Bank Young Artists PHOTO Themba Mokase

Speaking at the Johannesburg launch of the programme, Desiree Pooe, Head of Sponsorships at Standard Bank, explained the motivation for their 39 year old partnership with the NAF, “We are delighted at the return to the fully in-person format of the National Arts Festival. This platform is a magnificent showcase and celebration of the artistic excellence drawing talent from South Africa and elsewhere in the continent and the world. We at Standard Bank are proud to still be participating in the National Arts Festival, 39 years later. We are honoured that our investment in the arts caused a thousand dreams to be realised over nearly four decades. We are proud that exceptional talent continues to be recognised and rewarded.”

Seethal also paid tribute to the contribution of multiple industry partners who have collaborated with the Festival to produce shows over the years and at this year’s Festival, “It is clear that, while still fragile, we are a collaborative arts ecosystem. Both the sector and the Festival have risen above multiple challenges over the decades to sustain the creative heartbeat of South Africa. Even as we face fresh trials, we look for new opportunities to form a dialogue with our audiences through the multi-layered perspective of our artists. It is one that not only preserves our sanity and heals our wounds but also has the transformative power to inspire new ideas and action.”

Tickets for the shows at the 2023 National Arts Festival can be found online at the NAF website, along with the festival programme. Find the NAF on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for updates.

Standard Bank cardholders qualify for a discount of up to 25% when using a valid Standard Bank debit, cheque or credit card to purchase tickets for the National Arts Festival. The discount is applicable to online purchases or at the Festival Box Office.  This offer is subject to availability. Terms and conditions apply.

In case you missed it

Here are our top picks from the main programme: What to see on this year’s Curated Programme.

What to see on this year’s Fringe programme.

The line-up and info for the National Jazz Festival Makhanda.

Everything you need to know before you go.

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