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A visit to the Woordfees

Roshan Sewpersad

What impressed me most about this year's Woordfees was the obvious effort put into its organisation. The diversity of events on offer turned it into a smorgasbord of Afrikaans culture. However, one must requestion the wisdom and agenda of organisers who provide a platform for characters such as Dan Roodt.

The lowlight last Saturday was having to subject my gaze to the arrogant members of Roodt's entourage, in particular the tannie who looked down her nose most of the time (except when turning her adoring gaze towards her guru) and claimed the festival as her own. Thankfully, the glorious South African weather and fantastic company more than made up for her.

As an infrequent visitor to Stellenbosch I am always struck by how German the town feels. Despite the diverse, but largely separated population, one is struck by the remarkable unity of architecture, the remarkable uniform faces and fashions. And save for some indigenous plants between the eikebome and the bland curios on Andringa Street, there are few physical references to the continent.

In fact, Stellenbosch, in some aspects, looks like a vast movie set - cars everywhere, neon signs beckoning one into fastfood outlets, ultra-new coffee shops, retail, beer. Where are the odd people? Where are the cracks in the facade? Or should I just accept that this it how it feels on the other side of the boerewors curtain, in those intriguing, mythic Afrikaans realms?

References to Africa abounded in the performances I attended, however.

The first, Prinsloo Versus, a much-lauded student production, explored the life and work of important tagtiger Koos Prinsloo; the formation of his identity and worldview, his development as a literary force, and his unravelling.

Versus strikes one immediately with the aptness of the sparse set that impresses with its utility. Many characters in itself, the set contextualises the piece. The focus here is on textuality, sexuality and other postmodern themes reflected in the work of the enfant terrible.

A key recurring theme is the writer's yearning for (im)mortality - the need to leave an indelible mark on history's palimpsest, but escaping the suffocating confines of a narrow literary world.

The acting was generally of a very good standard. The lead actor stole the show with his raw performance. The movement also impressed; the implied violence, the beautifully choreographed sex scenes, and the acrobatic antics of actors doubling as props. To be truly appreciated, however, Prinsloo Versus does require some familiarity with Prinsloo and his work.

Go and see it anyway if you get the chance. It is one of the best plays I've seen this year.

The Pretty Ladies are a cult phenomenon and one of only a few Afrikaans-language community theatre groups. A group of coloured women farmworkers, this group is based at the Klein Libertas Theatre, a delightful little oasis on the outskirts of Stellenbosch.

Where is the love ... watse liefde? played to a packed house, and as the title suggests, examines the meaning of love and the scarcity of filial love - ubuntu. The performance does this in a series of darkly comic vignettes interspersed with playful and faux-naive plaasliedjies. The opening vignette - a Punch and Judy-style puppet show featuring puppets made from household cleaning implements such as toilet brushes, scourers and fly swatters - must be seen to be truly appreciated!

And while these ladies may appear innocent, their stories pull no punches in depicting the realities of family violence, alcohol abuse, abandonment, the still-taboo interracial romance, bestiality, life in an informal settlement, and the gaps between the various communities that co-exist in Stellenbosch.

The Pretty Ladies come in all shapes and sizes and are a delight to watch. One is left feeling energised. One can step out into the tree-lined avenues confident that Stellenbosch does have oddities!

My final assignment of the day, Swewe en Swerwe, a recital by the Dutch soprano Julia Bronkhorst, was the perfect ending to a most interesting day.

Ms Bronkhorst, accompanied by Bennie van Eeden on piano and Marietjie Pauw on flute, gave a rare performance of Afrikaans poetry set to music by Dutch and South African composers.

I was especially curious to hear how the Dutch interpreted these African poems and then, of course, how they were reinterpreted by Ms Bronkhorst.

The poems included some of the important works by poets such as NP van Wyk Louw, EugŤne Marais, ID du Plessis, Boerneef and Elisabeth Eybers; this was a full programme.

The composers range from the early to late 1900s and include names such as W Wijdeveld, R Mengelberg, A Van Wyk and H Hofmeyr.

Ms Bronkhorst gave charming introductions to the works, in Dutch, that had the tannie from earlier crossing and uncrossing her legs in ecstasy and insisting "alleen maar in Nederlands".

In the cool of the Konserwatorium, the audience was held spellbound by the diverse musical treatments and Ms Bronkhorst's skilful performance. She also delighted with a dramatic encore - a Dutch rendition of an aria from Offenbach's Orpheus.

The Woordfees looks set on the right track. A development component would definitely add flavour to future festivals.



LitNet: 31 March 2005

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