Rhodes fell in Cape Town, so needless to say being back in Grahamstown this year for my sixth Festival has been a very strange, polarising, yet enriching experience. Last year I skipped it without flinching: I felt I had outgrown the town and the Festival. Now don’t get me wrong: I count myself lucky to have studied my undergrad degree at Rhodes University.
Every step in my career has been fostered (in one way or another) by name dropping “Rhodes”. Most of my personal and professional relationships were cultivated here, and continue to grow every year, with this Festival acting as the perfect space for a reunion, a catch up over a drink, and engaging with what some of what our alumni have been doing.
So why now does it now feel weird discussing Rhodes, the only university in South Africa that proudly wears the stained appellation of one of the most notoriously loathed figures of colonisation? After all, I could count the many successful moments at this year’s Festival that have Rhodes to thank. It’s pointless mentioning the university’s contribution to the Festival; these two entities are joined at the hip. Rather, I’d like to remind the masses (including myself) that beyond correcting sins of the past, there have been many Rhodents this year who have looked to the future for answers. They have helped push many boundaries in this year’s programme, dealing with issues around gender, race, sexuality and politics.
I don’t really want to discuss stalwarts like Andrew Buckland and his beautifully crafted Tobacco, and the Harmful Effects Thereof, because they’re a given. I’d rather shed some light on some of the smaller names that sometimes go undetected at Festival. For example, the Ovation Award winning Inqindi, which is choreographed by Rhodes scholar Nomcebisi Moyikwa for First Physical Theatre Company, was a triumph in its unapologetic yet thought-provoking dance exploration of the black woman as a figure of absence.
What about performance artist Gavin Krastin’s On Seeing Red and Other Fantasies? He had audiences gripping and clutching their wines in a visual spectacle that made sure people engaged with sexuality and politics of the body. His partner, Alan Parker, creatively jolted our dance memories while mime artist Richard Antrobus engaged in conversation with audiences through a glass box at different venues around Grahamstown, interrogating ideas around white privilege and white guilt. We had Horses Head production Similar Too showcasing a new style of dystopian theatre that looked at virtual spaces used to correct queerness in the future. Siya Makhuzeni also stood out this year, with her fusing of different vocal styles to create an exhilarating milieu of traditional jazz and urban contemporary music.
We cannot talk about innovation and pushing the conversation of art without mentioning visual and performance artist Francois Knoetze’s Cape Mongo, which dominated conversation with his use of mixed media and recycled material to make social commentary. Comedian, actor and musician Sne Dladla is also a Rhodes alumnus worthy of a mention with five shows at this year’s Festival.
Then there are pieces like Father Father, Chomi, The Year of Bicycle, Making Mandela, and many others, which all featured Rhodes alumni. All of these works make me proud, at least, for the future of the arts regardless of what tainted legacy we have come from.
Cue contributing editor
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