VIRTUAL ARTS FESTIVAL

‘Find amazing everywhere’ in reimagined National Arts Festival

By Tiara Walters 25 June 2020

Culture highlight fully digitises the lineup for the first time in the event’s storied history.

Raising its online curtain today for “11 Days of Amazing”, the 2020 Virtual National Arts Festival (vNAF) is the annual showcase’s answer to the lockdown challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Normally the event heats up the otherwise sleepy town of Makhanda in the Eastern Cape with a red carpet of local arts luminaries and new talent each bone-chilling June and July. This year, festival-goers can access the complete bill through the historical festival’s virtual stage instead.

“These daily programmes will consist of prerecorded performances (theatre, music, dance), films, live broadcasts, visual art ‘walkabouts’, workshops, and more,” the organisers said on the festival website. They “have been carefully curated around a theme; the preamble to each day’s programme will provide the framework for that day’s offerings”.

Launch day kicks off with a head-spinning variety of genres through the festival’s dedicated website portal.

Not to be missed is a global coup for a local festival: the world premiere of the magisterial Steven Berkoff’s Nixon in Agony, an audio drama about a US president teetering on the edge of madness while facing impeachment. Other first-day highlights include:

  • Who Do We Come to H(a)unt, “an interactive art project that uses drawing to disrupt the culture of statues, monuments and memorials commemorating colonial and imperial rulers still standing in many cities”;
  • Afropolitan Comics: From South Africa to the Continent, an exhibition that puts local comics in conversation with peers from other African countries; and
  • Songs are Like the Grass: Madosini in Concert provides a “fascinating glimpse into the life and music of the 2020 National Arts Festival Featured Artist”.

For the festival’s reimagined face, a record batch of sci-tech angles puts a new particle spin on the arts institution we have come to know and love. These range from astronomical explorations to presenting WhatsApp as a novel invention of the standard performance model. Take particular note of:

  • Voyager, the “dance supergroup from the future” — “forget what you knew about the laws of physics, taking you on a journey to the stars”;
  • My Inner Wolf presents an online tool for mapping your interior worlds;
  • Lo-Def Film Factory: Open Time is an “experimental WhatsApp video workshop by young creatives from Cape Town made inside their homes and communities during lockdown”; and
  • Futurabilities looks to be a trippy ride between a “programmed bot reading to other chatbots who, in turn, answer and learn” from a geeked-out conversation about our relationship with technology.

And that’s just today (Thursday 25 June).

Peter Martens, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal cellist, performs Bach’s Six Solo Cello Suites on his 220-year-old Lockey Hill cello, starting today over six separate days. The orchestra will perform prerecorded works of Verdi, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Elgar, Schubert and Dvořák; while the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra will also put on a showcase recorded for the festival.

Other big-ticket items include Gloria Bosman, Mi Casa, Thandiswa Mazwai, young British multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier and Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Sisonke Xonti in the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, presented as part of this year’s vNAF.

vFringe dives into more experimental works that “bend the rules” of a world subverted by the pandemic. These cut across comedy, performance art, cabaret and magic.

Designed to support an arts industry ravaged by the shutdown, the festival’s web portal also features vFringe Live: this is a noticeboard for artists who are running events “on the go” on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Of this innovative addition, the organisers said: “Click through to the event from our website… buy your tickets once you get to the presenting site.”

Free-to-visit visual arts galleries will accommodate artists, enabling the public to interact directly with these creatives by purchasing or commissioning work from them.

Another interactive platform backing creative work is the “Virtual Green”. “Find your favourite festival slippers or hat” and “chat directly to crafters, creators and resellers” in their digital stalls “to make your deal.”

Arts enthusiasts can secure seats through a daily programme pass. A full festival pass unlocks the complete suite of content as it is unveiled each day.

Although some live-streamed events “will need to be watched on the day” at specific times,  “most content will be available for viewing at whatever time is most suitable” to viewers — within an 11-day period of the release. Individual event tickets are also available. DM/ML

Visit the Virtual National Arts Festival web portal and get your festival passes here.

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