Perception---you have that power.

There is purpose in design. There is information in a setting. There is truth in your environment. Fake or real, it's there.

All images are copyrighted by Heidi Hoffer unless otherwise indicated. Your courtesy in using my photographs must include crediting me as the photographer. You must tell me when and where you've used them and send the link to me showing your use of them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grahamstown National Arts Festival

I had the honor of being the guardian for one of the two University of Pretoria productions performing in the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. This entailed helping to drive a 10 seat van with a trailer full of luggage on a journey of about 12 hours. Since there was no scenery, the costumes and the props rode in the van with us. There were so many different kinds of theatre going on at the Festival that it was difficult to choose which ones to watch. Eventually I learned to rely on The Cue – the daily newspaper. U.P’s production of As Night Falls was awarded an Ovation Award and featured on the front page of the Cue!
The long road to Grahamstown, South Africa featured potholes with giraffes's head sticking up out of them. This is a common occurrence, according to South Africans.
One of my Fulbright goals was to experience all of the different kind of theatre I could from Physical theatre to regular drama, with mime and puppet work in between and a little bit of dance, music and singing thrown in. There were more than 3,000 events to choose from in a period of 10 days. Some of these events were international in scope, like the Sky Like Sky production produced by recent Fulbrighter, Emily Mendelsohn with her actors from Rwanda.
Since everyone had to travel from their home institutions, productions had very limited scenery and so the only events that had anything of great scenery spectacle were the Rhodes theatre productions because they were in their own theatre. Lighting for most of the productions was flat and unimaginative because the venues had basic plighting plots and nearly zero time to add specials. I should say that they often had nearly half of a basic lighting plot. In fact most venues were lucky to have 2 or 3 booms or side lighting pipes with three or four instruments and four front lights and four back lights. Lighting designers did their level best with these limitations, and some made it work and some did not. It really depended upon how bendable the choreographers or directors were, to move their actors into the available light.
In this rehearsal photo of As Night Falls, you can see the basic lighting rig. The venues were not always meant to be theatres. This a venue was a school auditorium with a small proscenium stage. To use it for the festival the stage was ignored, a full black curtain was hung in front of its proscenium to become the background and rented bleachers were brough in and placed in the middle of the auditorium floor. Essentially the venue was redone to accomodate the Festival's needs.

In the end, much of the theatre I saw was physical in a way that increased the storytelling aspects of every production. It is subtle, but the University of Pretoria students could quickly point out troupes that had had no physical theatre training. It showed in their incomplete or clumsy movements. Perhaps this is one great reason why they won their award. Below are pictures! As you can see, their lighting designer Bailey Snyman and choregographer Nicky Haskins managed very well including clear use of warm and cool tones for different moments.

Nicky Haskins is an award-winning Choregorapher. Not only did she direct the University of Pretoria students in As Night Falls, she performed, along with Bailey Snyman and others, another strong piece at the festival called Anatomy of Weather. Behind her you can see the rented bleachers with their metal railings and plastic seats. All of the windows are hung with blackout curtains.

Many of the Festival's dance pieces used LED headlamps in their dances, and As Night Falls was no exception. They used the lamps to indicate a pathway for a journey, an owl, and emotional chaos in different scenes. In this scene the actors are lying on the ground, shining the lamps at each other's faces.
The actors also used LED camping lanterns and silver grey folding chairs.
The main focus in the dance was on the woman in white. She represented Helen Martins, South Africa's foremost Outsider Artist.


 A fair explanation of Helen Martins' unusual work and bizarre history can be found at http://africanhistory.about.com/od/biography/p/OwlHouse.htm   Nicky Haskins is not the only one to use Helen's unusual life as a source of inspiration. Athol Fugard's Road to Mecca does a wonderful job of capturing the Outsider spirit as well.
The actor playing Helen is physically very strong, and not only exhibited total trust and relaxation when being lifted and dragged about in a manner to relate the abuse Helen faced, but also managed a few good lifts of others as well.

The real Helen had her toes amputated as a result of poor footwear, and also hired a man of colour to help her make her camel garden and other glass-imbedded cement sculptures. She was shunned by society because of her relationship with this man and also shunned for her crazy artwork which she exhibited once a year by allowing the public into her studio/home. 

The company of dancers in As Night Falls wore black with attention to a 1960's coctail dress style or black trousers and shirts for the men. The period flavour grabbed your attention because it was both formal and funereal. In the picture above you can see an actor wearing a mask, a feathered headpiece, and gesturing her fingers in a feather-like spread.

In this scene the actors are taunting  Helen.
They capture her, and forcer her to wear this cage skirt which to me represented a final attempt at being normal.
A social scene - a party - shows Helen cannot manage with other people, and ends in two ugly rapes.
In the end, Helen takes her own life. In this scene, her employee/lover find her and is in anguish, dancing a fantastic solo.


The movement in this piece was really difficult to capture on film. I am adamant about not using flah and really tried to capture the darkness of the piece. I hope that through these photos you can see why As Night Falls received an Ovation Award.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post and photo's, thank you Professor!! x

    ReplyDelete