National Arts Festival to offer a ‘curious, furious and poetic’ dance line up
April 13, 2017

Bringing together different aesthetics, contexts and languages, the dance programme at this year’s National Arts Festival interrogates and celebrates questions of identity, culture, spirituality and sensuality.

From brand-new works by well-known choreographers and dancers, to reinterpretations of classic works, the 2017 programme represents a “curious, furious and poetic game of different aesthetics, contexts and languages, oscillating between perception and attribution, between history and that which is current and urgent,” says Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, convenor of the Artistic Committee’s dance panel.

The National Arts Festival will be held from 29 June to 9 July in Grahamstown. The core programme has been collaboratively produced by Executive Producer Ashraf Johaardien and a 20-member Artistic Committee, with Maqoma, dance lecturer Lliane Loots and arts writer Tracey Saunders on the dance sub-committee.

“Social orders are at the core of the 2017 National Arts Festival’s Main dance programme,” says Maqoma of the line-up that explores and reflects a globally shifting balance of power through the eyes of artists working independently or collectively within the South African context. 

At the top of the bill is 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance Thandazile Radebe, who explores her fascination with the idea that, as human beings, we are required to have names. In SABELA, she excavates the tensions between names and numbers, bodies and biometrics, space and passwords. "Through our names we want to find out how it feels to be infinitely more complex than we are,” she says. “Through our names we want to be free from ourselves and transcend through each other until we are one." 

Vincent Mantsoe’s solo work KONKORITI has been described by dance critic Adrienne Sichel as “cathartic”, “deeply poetic, uncannily intuitive” (The Ar(t)chive, September 2016). Named after a song about pride and arrogance that his grandmother used to sing to him, KonKoriti explores physical power and selfishness. Mantsoe is strongly inspired by spirituality and deep cultural influences as he wrestles with the preservation of tradition in the contemporary. A former Standard Bank Young Artist, Mantsoe now lives in France. KonKoriti toured France and Germany last year to sold-out houses and critical acclaim. 

In a powerful collaboration created through a residency at Dance Space in Johannesburg, Unmute Dance Company (Cape Town) and Tumbuka Dance Company (Harare), have united to present BREAKING BORDERS. Moved by the acts of xenophobia in South Africa, the artists have have been working together with the intention of breaking the borders between their countries, to connect and look to the future together. The work starts with the question, “Who am I as an African person?” 

DADA MASILO’s GISELLE will make its South African debut in Grahamstown, thanks to a partnership between the University of Johannesburg and the National Arts Festival. Masilo, a former Standard Bank Young Artist, says she has aimed “to create a work that is not about forgiveness, but about deceit, betrayal, anger and heartbreak. The Willis ancestors literally call Giselle to join them. They are not a group of sweet, sad girls, but rather something more terrifying ...They have been had. They are heartbroken. And they want revenge. Giselle does not forgive.” Masilo’s work reinterprets all the cues with riveting results. 

A limited number of tickets for Dada Masilo’s Giselle are available for early booking ahead of the box office opening in May. Tickets are available on the Festival website,  

Another interesting take on a classic is Mark Hawkins's delightful reimagining of Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in celebration of the Johannesburg Youth Ballet’s 40th anniversary. Set to Mendelssohn’s score, the ballet moves from the contemporary world of taxis, car guards and unemployed actors to a fantasy world of psychedelic neon-coloured fairies dancing through bubble wrap forests at the behest of the King and Queen of the fairies. This production celebrates exciting emerging talent and offers perfect family entertainment. 

A limited number of tickets for A Midsummer Night’s Dream are available for early booking ahead of the box office opening in May. Tickets can be purchased on the Festival website, 

The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative presents WITH NOTHING BUT SILENCE THEY TURNED THEIR BODIES TO FACE THE NOISE. This “dance-theatre” piece, choreographed by former Standard Bank Young Artists PJ Sabbagha and Fana Tshabalala, brings into sharp focus the ever-present realities of environmental degradation and climate change, tackling the volatility of the imploding present. 

The Oakfields College Faculty of Dance and Musical Theatre returns to Grahamstown with an exciting programme of contemporary dance works. 4 [SUBS: CORRECT] is an experimental platform for acclaimed choreographers Ignatius van Heerden, Gladys Agulhas, Bailey Snyman and Sunnyboy Motau to collaborate with Oakfields College dance students, using Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons as the point of departure. 

From Phakama Dance Theatre in Kwa-Zulu Natal comes …ON THE LINE. This work, which is part of the Arena programme this year, engages with self-discovery, lost dreams, new avenues, fear of the unknown and the empathy found in collective suffering: “Sometimes you find yourself forced into uncomfortable situations alongside strangers in the line of misery and pain and they inspire you to be a better person by simply sharing their life experience with you.” The Main and Arena dance programmes will be complemented by an exciting and edgy Fringe programme of works from South Africa and beyond. 



Together with Executive Producer Ashraf Johaardien, the National Festival’s Artistic Committee was tasked with selecting the work for the Main Programme in 2017. The Dance genre’s sub-committee comprised choreographer and dance lecturer at UKZN School of the Arts, Lliane Loots; arts critic and writer Tracey Saunders; and Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, a dancer, choreographer, director, and scriptwriter who was the convenor of the dance sub-committee for 2017. 

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The National Arts Festival is grateful to the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture and the Office of the Premier, and Standard Bank of South Africa. Media partners include MNET and City Press. 


Now in its 43rd year, the National Arts Festival is the largest and longest-running celebration of the arts on the African content. It is held annually in the small university city of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, 130km from Port Elizabeth. 

The programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, as well as a children’s arts festival. 


Sascha Polkey 
Rabbit in the Hat 

083 414 0552 
021 300 0052 

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