While the Main programme is the holy grail and the Fringe is where you take a leap of faith, the Arena at the National Arts Festival occupies a liminal space where new voices are amplified, writes Tracey Saunders

There is no absence of noise currently. Voices are often raised and come at us from every corner: screens, large and small; online and on air. In the overwhelming cacophony, filtering is difficult and the voices that are quieter and on the margins are often drowned out.

The Arena at the National Arts Festival is a platform that amplifies voices and filters out the noise. Having proved their mettle on the Fringe, artists are selected for their individual capacity to excite. By its very nature it’s a mixed bag, the pick ‘n mix of the programme that guarantees a sugar rush with a difference. While the Main programme is the holy grail and the Fringe is where you take a leap of faith, the Arena occupies a liminal space, not here, not there but a magical place where discoveries are made.  

Vangi Gantsho surmised that if ‘Shakespeare and Gibson Kente had a love child, raised by John Kani’ it would be Jefferson J Bobs Tshabalala. His popular and exciting Game Shows have earned him a cult following where it is not Tshabalala’s voice alone that is heard, but random voices from the audience – some sensible and sane, others hilarious. No one, not even J Bobs himself, can predict what will happen on stage.

It’s that element of chance and discovery that the Arena offers you. Younger artists exploring forgotten voices from previous centuries as well as predicting the AI voices that will be part of the future. Not every voice is aural and dance and multi-disciplinary works will afford lovers of movement an opportunity to engage with a broader scope of cultural experiences. 

Arena, derived from the Latin ‘sand-strewn place of combat’, invites you to wrestle with your thoughts and emotions and those of artists, unafraid to leap in to the ring and grapple with truth and meaning.  

Three of the shows to look forward to on the 2018 Arena programme

  • J BOBS LIVE – LOCATION LEKEYSHINI LOKASIE – A unique game show that examines, celebrates, critiques and reflects poignantly on the vast lived experiences of the many South African Townships. Featuring Jefferson Tshababalala, Phillip Dikotla, Rethabile Mothobi and Nontobeko Mkhatswha. 
  • PIECES OF AN AFRICAN DRUM – An intense theatrical piece that questions cultural and ancestral connections, gold mining, and Zimbabweans in South Africa – presented by Jo-Kinda, written by Xolisa Ngubelanga and performed by Xolani Ngesi and Fiks Mahola 
  • ReRouted Dance Theatre’s CLOTHES MAKETH THE (WO)MAN, featuring Tegan Peacock, Ashleigh Joubert and JC Zondi, questions whether fashion is a means of self expression, a shield or a prison in a thought-provoking dance theatre piece.