Not been to the Festival for the past few years? Then you’re likely to notice a relatively new addition – the Arena. The Arena is a showcase of innovative work from the best of last year’s Fringe artists who have not yet made it onto the Main programme. The distinction between Main and Fringe events is often a clear one, with many deserving acts being lost in the background of Festival. However, the introduction of the Arena has changed that that, as it bridges the gap between Main and Fringe shows, and gives worthy performances an opportunity to receive support and to be brought into the limelight.
“We had many great applications and fantastic acts that just couldn’t fit on the Main programme, and so we decided that we needed a pathway to showcase and develop these thrilling, innovative acts,” said Ishmail Mahomed, director of the National Arts Festival.
This year’s Arena’s programme boasts a rich collection of local dramatic productions, with renowned South African writers working in collaboration to produce new, exciting pieces, such as The Three Little Pigs, the Reservoir-Dogs-esque collaboration between Tara Notcutt, James Cairn, Albert Pretorius and Rob van Vuuren. Also on stage are director Sylvaine Strike-Nakar’s ReVerse and Janna Ramos-Violante’s Callum’s Will.
The Arena is filled with thought-provoking and moving performances, and audiences can expect to be wowed by returning talent, eager to reveal their latest creations. “I feel a little anxious, but in a good way,” said Notcutt. “It’s all about putting your big-girl shoes on and stepping up from the Fringe, and the support that the Arena gives us
is just amazing.” The Arena also affords festival-goers a rare opportunity to watch performances from festivals half a world away.
From Perth, the Festival brings Jeffery Jay Fowler’s bittersweet love story, Hope is the Saddest, featuring a collision of love stories and a good few laughs. For those whose interests are not piqued by drama, music and dance also appear in the forms of the Sibikwa Indigenous Orchestra’s Ekugaleni (directed by SAMA award winner Tlale Makhene), Durban’s Flatfoot Dance Company’s double offering of choreographer Lliane Loot’s most recent works, and choreographer Nicola Elliot’s Fragile.
Contrary to its name, the Arena is not one single venue, but is divided between various venues, to suit each production’s technical aspects. Venues include the Monument (with a large display of different works at the Arena Art Exhibition), the Hangar, the B2 Arena, Centenary Hall, and PJ’s.
By Matthew de Klerk
Cue student reporter