[IN THE NEWS] Dance, choreography, new theatrical expression and innovation on stage form the backbone of the mini-Flemish season at the South African National Arts Festival, which runs from 2 to 12 July. The season is supported by the Government of Flanders and the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren, a government-initiated cultural institution

Flanders is the Dutch-speaking autonomous region in the north of Belgium, with Brussels as it is capital. It is home to 6-million inhabitants, or about 60% of the population of Belgium.

The Representation of the Government of Flanders in South Africa has announced its support and sponsorship of the African premiere of two internationally acclaimed Flemish productions that will take place on the National Arts Festival’s final weekend.

The Dog Days are Over‘, a political work for eight performers by Jan Martens, and ‘Another Great Year for Fishing‘ by Tom Struyf make up the mini-Flemish season that will showcase the calibre of Flanders’ talent.

‘The contemporary performing arts scene in Flanders is a dynamic landscape of high-quality artists creating and presenting all forms of theatre and dance at state of the art facilities. Tom and Jan represent some of the best talent from our region and their performances are major conversation starters for debate on creativity, politics, expression and emotion,’ says Dr Geraldine Reymenants, general representative of the Government of Flanders in South Africa.

Dog days

The Dog Days Are Over‘ by choreographer Jan Martens is set to take to stage in Grahamstown on July 9 and 10. The production is a digression from Martens’ previous works – ‘I Can Ride a Horse Whilst Juggling So Marry Me’ and ‘Dialogue’ – in that, rather than focusing on the imperfect body he gives utter freedom to eight dancers to give themselves completely over to the physical act of jumping.

The show centres on the idea that when a person is asked to jump, they lose focus on the façade they project and the real person behind the mask is exposed.

In the performance, Martens forces his audience to reflect on contemporary dance, culture policy, the difference between art and entertainment, as well as why they want to witness an intensity that is not revealed in daily life.

‘The show attempts to put its audience in a trance, yet simultaneously create the aesthetic distance necessary to question why they are in the theatre right at that moment,’ says Martens.

‘We are very delighted to take part in the National Arts Festival! It is going to be the first time we are presented in Africa, so we are very excited. The programme is huge and we are very much looking forward to meet the South African audience, as well as have the time to meet the local artists and watch their shows. We are curious how this work will be received, and if the audience reactions will differ a lot from the European reactions or not.’ – Jan Martens.

Gone fishing

Tom Struyf (actor) and Nelle Hens (dancer) collaborate on the piece ‘Another Great Year for Fishing‘, which will be performed on July 11 and 12. In this piece they have created a new theatrical language that incorporates acting with contemporary dance to convey a new message to its audience. Much like his previous works ‘The Tatiana Aarons Experience’ and ‘Act to Forget’, Struyf’s show focuses on the complex relationship between reality and fiction, truth and falsehood, in the human mind.

‘We’re really looking forward to play “Another Great Year for Fishing” in Grahamstown, which is a great honour and an exciting challenge and opportunity for us. And we’re very curious how our artistic views and content of the performance will communicate and intertwine with the people and their daily South-African reality.’ – Tom Struyf

During the show, Struyf and Hens are looking for the fire exit. With the help of a wide range of spin doctors, psychiatrists, journalists, and philosophers they try to unravel what happens in the backrooms of the rat race.

‘The actors need to find out who is running the show. This existential questioning pushes the idea that in the world we live in, it is impossible to be normal because of the constant changes,’ says Struyf. ‘The audience is drawn into a performance that compels them to reflect on their surroundings and the impact it has on their life, as well as how this ever-progressing and changing society requires the continuous adoption and lust of power.’

Flanders culture

South African audiences will witness the aptitude of two of Flanders’ most-acclaimed choreographers and directors.

‘The governments of Flanders and South Africa have been in close international cooperation for over 20 years, and this relationship has been mutually beneficial. We collaborate on a myriad of issues, including education, science and technology, youth policy, human rights, and arts and culture,’ Reymenants says.

‘The National Arts Festival’s Flemish season showcases our rich cultural and artistic talent and approach to creative pursuits and excellence. One of the most important stages in Africa for this expression is South Africa’s National Arts Festival, where performers and entertainers from around the world gather to display their works. We encourage all audiences to come experience a Flemish approach at the National Arts Festival.’