Creative excellence rewarded at National Arts Festival

Some of the most exciting productions on the Fringe programme at this year’s National Arts Festival, which ran from 2 to 12 July in Grahamstown, have been recognised for their creativity, experimentation and innovation with the awarding of Gold and Silver Standard Bank Ovation Awards.

A panel of judges selected three Gold Ovation Award winners this year:

  • the exceptional jazz vocalist Asanda Mqiki,
  • the theatre production El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi, an epic tale written by Gwydion Beynon and performed by James Cairns; and
  • Greig Coetzee’s spectacular Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny, directed by Roslyn Wood-Morris and performed by Craig Morris. Seven other productions were awarded Silver awards.

“The Standard Bank Fringe Ovation Awards have earned a reputation as a credible reward for productions that raise the bar on excellence,” Festival Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed said on Sunday.

During the 11 days of this year’s festival, a total of 42 Ovation Awards were announced. “This is the highest number of awards since the inception of the Standard Bank Fringe Ovation Awards in 2010 – and is indicative of the high quality of productions on the Fringe,” Mahomed added.

The awards provide “a valuable incentive for artists on the Festival’s Fringe programme to strive for excellence, experiment with innovation and to challenge and shift the boundaries of creativity,” said Mahomed. “Audiences and visiting producers from other festivals enthusiastically look out for winning productions.”

After reviewing a show, a panel of experts – who remain anonymous until the end of the festival – “robustly discuss” whether a show is deserving of a Standard Bank Ovation Award. Criteria considered include production values, the quality of performances, writing and direction, the conceptualisation, innovation and originality of a work, and the overall impact of the production.

“When a production is given an Award, it signals an optimism that the judges share about the potential that the production can enjoy growth and success beyond the Festival,” Mahomed said. “For artists, the stamp of approval opens doors to newer audiences, extended tours and, in some cases, even to funding.”

The awarding of Silver and Gold awards is at the discretion of the panel.

The winners of the Silver Ovation Awards are:

  •  A Man And a Dog, a poignant coming-of-age story about a young Zulu boy written and featuring Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, directed by Penelope Youngelson.
  • The saucy and sold-out We Didn’t Come to Hell for Croissants: 7 Deadly New Stories for Consenting Adults. Featuring Jemma Kahn and Roberto Pombo, directed by Lindiwe Matshikiza.
  • Morwa the Rising Sun, a solo piece written and featuring Tefo Paya, explores the challenges faced by young men in Africa.
  • In Phala O Phala’s production of Kafka’s Ape, Tony Bonani Miyambo tells the tale of Red Peter, the ape who evolved into a human in five years.
  • The darkly comedic physical theatre piece, Father, Father, Father!, directed by Toni Morkel.
  • The hauntingly beautiful dance piece Barbed Wire Wallpaper, choreographed and directed by Nondumiso Lwazi Msimanga.
  • Hatchetman, the folk-rock trio from Cape Town.

Standard Bank Ovation Encore Awards, which recognise merit and potential in works that can be developed, were presented to …If The World Was Listening, a contemporary dance piece from KZN Dance Productions; acoustic-soul group Blaqseed; and Mongiwekhaya Mthombeni’s Qhawe, which uses puppets to tell the story of a lost child who finds his way home.

Judges noted that this year is the first time a stand-up comedy act had not received a Silver or Gold Ovation Award. They said South African comedians should perhaps push themselves out of their comfort zones to present fresher, edgier and more boundary-breaking work.

The 2015 Standard Bank Standing Ovation Award was presented to the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in recognition of their support of the artistic exchange between South African and Dutch artists for the past 20 years.

“The Embassy has supported various genres at the Festival across the Main, Fringe, Arena, Student Theatre and Development initiatives,” Mahomed said. “They have supported more than 300  Dutch artists in over 50 Dutch productions that have been presented at the Festival in the past two decades. The award is presented to the Embassy in acknowledgement of their contributions and also in recognition of the solidarity that Dutch artists gave to the anti-apartheid movement.”

Said Jenny Pheiffer, Head of Brand and Group Sponsorships Standard Bank: “The last 11 days have been a showcase of the best artistic talent that this country has to offer and we are delighted to support the Ovation Awards in acknowledging the artists who contributed to the National Arts Festival this year. We hope that this award will inspire winners to strive for excellence and soar to greater heights.”

The winner of the Adelaide Tambo Award for Celebrating Human Rights Through the Arts was also announced on Sunday. This award aims to recognise artists who engage in the arts as a platform to advocate social change and entrench a culture of human rights.

Irene Stephanou’s Searching for Somebody was selected as the receipient in the Fringe category, while the Market Theatre Laboratory’s Noord! was recognised in the Student Theatre category.

Stephanou was “a fearless voice at the Festival during State of Emergency in 1980s South Africa”, the judges said. Her one-person satires and solo plays commented humorously on South African social life. Stephanou is also well known for her contributions to arts education, documenting South African theatre history, and her activism for social justice.

Stephanou returned to the Festival this year with Searching for Somebody, the story of life with multiple sclerosis, reclaimining her space as a bold social commentator in a year when the Festival celebrates the genre of satire as its Featured Artist. George Bizos described her as a woman who “even Aristophanes would be proud of”.

Serving as custodians and advisers for the Adelaide Tambo Award this year were Albie Sachs, Elinor Sisulu and Mandie van der Spuy.

The AHa Award was presented to Lexi Meier’s Sipping Lapping Slap. The judges commended this dance piece for its “surprisingly cutting-edge approaches that challenged audiences to reflect on the work”.

The PANSA New Writer’s Award, which aims to to stimulate new writing on the Fringe, was given to writer and performer Jannes Erasmus for Smaarties.

The work by a new generation of theatre professionals was honoured by the Student Theatre Awards. A panel of advisors comprising Jaqueline Dommisse, Peter Terry, Warona Seane and Gez Casey of Live Theatre : UK adjudicated the 17 student productions presented at the National Arts Festival this year.

The winners of the 2015 Student Awards are:

  • Most Promising Director: Mariska Denysschen for Medea (Tshwane University of Technology);
  • Most Promising Writers: Katya Mendelson, Ameera Conrad, Thando Mangcu for Don’t Shoot the Harbinger (University of Cape Town);
  • Overall Best Production: Void (Rhodes University);
  • Special Merit Certificates were given to Garth Tavares for his direction of Edges (Waterfront Theatre College), and to Frankie van Straten for her design of Void (Rhodes University).

The National Arts Festival’s Short Sharp Stories aims to encourage, support, and showcase established and emerging South African writing talent. Curated by Joanne Hichens, the winning stories – chosen by a panel of independent judges – have been published in an anthology, The Incredible Journey (Burnet Media). This year’s winner is Andrew Salomon for his story, Train 124.

THE JUDGES FOR 2015

The Standard Bank Ovation Award Panel:  Christina Kennedy, Adrienne Sichel, Jaqueline Dommisse, Warona Seane, Lynette Marais, Tracey Saunders, Steven Kretzman, Phyllis Klotz, Smal Ndaba, Harry Owen, Mishka Hoosen, Rudi Sadler, Sheena Stannard, Julian Caddy, Anneke Jansen, Ismail Mahomed. For music and comedy: Tony Lankester, Michelle Constant and Gareth Wilson.

Adelaide Tambo Human Rights Award (Fringe category): Ismail Mahomed, Adrienne Sichel and Christina Kennedy.

Student Theatre Festival, including the Adelaide Tambo Award (Student Theatre category): Jaqueline Domisse, Peter Terry, Warona Seane and Gez Casey (Live Theatre : UK)

Custodians and advisers for the Adelaide Tambo Human Rights Awards: Albie Sachs, Elinor Sisulu and Mandie van der Spuy.

PANSA Award for Scriptwriting: PANSA representatives Kurt Egelhof and Michael Britten as well as members of the Ovations panel.

ALL THE STANDARD BANK FRINGE OVATION AWARD WINNERS 2015

  • Waterline (Physical Theatre);
  • Sipping Lapping Slap (Dance;
  • The System (Physical Theatre);
  • Kahn (Contemporary Music);
  • Woza Albert! (Drama);
  • The Girls (Drama);
  • Mo Mothebe (from Stand-up 4 Comedy);
  • Hatchetman (Contemporary Music);
  • Max-Hoba (Contemporary Music);
  • Umle (Contemporary Music);
  • Ashes (Drama);
  • The Old and the Beautiful (Cabaret);
  • B!*ch Stole my Doek (Comedy);
  • Barbe Bleu: A Story About Madness (Physical Theatre);
  • Tin Bucket Drum (Drama);
  • Father, Father, Father! (Physical Theatre);
  • Asanda Mqiki (Contemporary Music);
  • Inqindi (Physical Theatre);
  • Mixed Motion (Dance);
  • Have you seen Zandile? (Drama);
  • Waltz (Physical Theatre);
  • Stuart Taylor BeSpoke (Comedy);
  • El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi (Theatre);
  • Stuart Lightbody: Devilish (Illusion;
  • A Man And a Dog (Theatre);
  • Searching for Somebody (Theatre);
  • In the Wings (Theatre);
  • Qhawe (Physical Theatre);
  • Blue (Dance);
  • The Incredible Journey (Family Fare);
  • Ottoman Slap : An Itinerant Tale Through Music and Dance (Music);
  • We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants : 7 Deadly New Stories (Poetry);
  • Morwa The Rising Sun (Drama); Raiders: The Musical (Comedy);
  • Kafka’s Ape (Theatre);
  • Detritus for One (Physical Theatre);
  • Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny (Theatre);
  • Unmute (Physical Theatre);
  • Barbed Wire Wallpaper (Dance);
  • Making Mandela (Theatre);
  • 1606  (Poetry);
  • …If the World Was Listening (Dance)

For more information on the festival go to www.nationalartsfestival.co.za, like the Facebook page: nationalartsfestival or follow the festival on Twitter: @artsfestival

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