Jazz at Niki’s Oasis with Venus

Just a heads up for those of you who love jazz …

Venus

VENUS at Niki’s Oasis Jazz Restaurant on the 18th May 2018.

In association with Concerts SA, Niki’s Oasis presents VENUS on the 18th of May 2018.

Veliswa Mehana “Venus” is a Jazz and Soul Vocalist and Composer born on the 21st January 1994 in Gugulethu, Cape Town. Venus’ love story with music began in her schooling years where she sang in school choirs and played various instruments including the Djembe Drum, the Recorder and the Marimba. She received classical voice training through the Royal School of Music attaining a distinction as well as multiple accolades. In 2014 she composed her 1st song titled “The Good Samaritan” which was entered into the FNB Dance Umbrella as well as the SANAA Africa Festival (2016). She has collaborated with a number of artists as well as recording on an album titled “The Pula Citizen” by Motswako artist Nomadic, with her featured track Ke ba Reeditse being the best-selling track off the album on iTunes.

This weekend catch her at Niki’s Oasis Jazz restaurant.

Niki’s Oasis Jazz Restaurant is the original Home of Jazz in Jozi! A Home away from home where sumptuous soul food is served.

Events Listing:

Date                : Friday 18 May 2018

Venue              : Niki’s Oasis Jazz Restaurant

Address            : 138 Bree Street, Newtown, Johannesburg.

Gauteng, Johannesburg, Gauteng South Africa

Entry Fee          : R100

Doors Open     : 8.30 pm

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Neo Native

I love the work of Bokani Dyer.  This is a press release received from his publicist:

“Multi-award-winning composer and pianist Bokani Dyer is set to launch his fourth studio album, Neo Native, an intimate, inviting listening experience and a reimagination of the sound of the standard piano trio.

Bokani_Dyer_

Dyer’s trio have made up his performance outfit for the past two years. They are Sphelelo Mazibuko (drums) and Romy Brauteseth (bass), and together with Dyer, they have forged a sound in which all members are at home in the music allowing the freedom for new interpretations at every performance. It is evident from the music on Neo Native that the three musicians share strong chemistry.

Bokani_Dyer_Trio_at_the_Orbit_(1)_photo_by_Siphiwe_Mhlambi

The 14-track album features new material as well as reimagined works from previous albums Emancipate the Story (2011) and World Music (2015).

“Neo Native is an idea about identity. How one chooses to identify and a question of what a person feels connected to as native. In the human experience beyond geography, where does the feeling of home reside?” says Dyer.

Dyer has been a leading voice in the new wave of young contemporary jazz musicians in South Africa in recent times. In 2009, he won a scholarship for further study in the SAMRO Overseas Scholarship Competition, in 2011, he was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz, and in 2013, he returned and managed to clinch first place in the SAMRO Overseas Scholarship Competition.

His past albums have been well received locally and internationally:

“Compositions, playing and the consistency of Dyer’s voice and vision make Emancipate the Story one of my top albums of the year,” wrote Gwen Ansell in the Business Day.

And:

“His own vision of this ideal is based on musical egalitarianism, or, as noted on his own website, ‘a celebration of all music with no borders.’ And while that may seem too lofty a goal, he does a remarkable job seeing it through here. Nothing is off limits as Dyer uses his pen and piano to craft a musical Esperanto of sorts,” wrote Dan Bilawsky in All about Jazz

You can attend an album launch at a music venue in the following cities in May:

3 May  –    The Orbit Jazz Club, Joburg

4 May  –    The Chairman, Durban

5 May  –     Nassau Centre, Groote Schuur High School, Cape Town

6 May  –     Guga sthebe cultural centre, Langa, Cape Town

The album Neo Native will be available online from 16 May and in stores around South Africa from early May.”

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Show me the bunny

I never saw the 1987 movie version of the psychological thriller, Fatal Attraction. A friend who did says the story line of the one act play by the film script writer, James Dearden, is similar bar the ending and that it lack the fullness of the movie.  In the interests of the other three people who didn’t see the movie but who will see the play, I deliberately refrain from pointing out what the ending is.

Fatal attraction 1

The stage version of the script brings us a morality play rather than a psychological thriller, and must have been a nightmare for director, Paula Bangels, to coordinate a mind-boggling succession of short scenes taking place in bars, bedrooms, offices, and the Gallagher apartment and rural home.  Curiously the audience makes the transitions easily, so it seemed Bangels succeeded exceptionally well – especially making a weak script about as compelling as it can be.  Part of the success of the work must be attributed to a very clever and wonderfully minimalistic slatted box set by Marjolein Ettema, with changing faces behind the action.

The premise of the play is that Dan Gallagher (Ashley Dowds), a happily married lawyer in New York, has a one weekend fling with Alex Forrest (Jazzara Jaslyn), an attractive woman he meets in a bar, while his wife, Beth (Jenny Stead), and daughter (not a physical presence) are in the countryside visiting his mother-in-law (Jo da Silva). He intends to end the fling but it turns out that Alex is not lightly discarded.  Alex is mentally unstable, even psychotic, and she proceeds to stalk him, terrorising him and his family.  However the audience is left in the dark as to why Dan doesn’t take the advice of Jimmy (Alex Tops), his friend and colleague, and go to the police once his wife knows about the fling.

The acting is superb despite the fact that no one scene lasts long enough to make any real emotional impact. There is no backstory to Alex’s bizarre behaviour although her wonderful presence is awe-inspiring, and her portrayal of a seriously disturbed psychopath is excellent. Dan’s wife, Beth, is one of those roles that doesn’t really have much meat in the script, and the end result is that the poor Jenny Stead is left trying to bring some flavour to a really bland role. Ashley Dowds does an excellent job of conveying Dan’s escalating panic at first and his remorseful self-loathing later.

Fatal attraction 2

The script is hazy about the horrendous acts Alex Forrest inflicts on the family and the famous “boiled bunny” is glossed over to the point that one knows something awful happened to the bunny, but not what. The term “bunny boiler” has now, formally or informally, entered the English language to indicate a crazy stalker after a brief affair has ended. I really think that cutting this revolting act down to a mere hint might have been directorially convenient, but caused a loss of impact of just how totally deranged Alex really is.  It is, perhaps, a symbol of how little we, the audience, care about the fate of Dan, his family, and Alex.

Lighting was by Faheem Bardien, music by David Cantens. The play is 90 minutes long with no interval.

To sum up, the script is flawed and no amount of clever direction and skilled acting can really turn it into the famed psychological thriller that the 1987 movie is.  (I really must get to see it).  However, it is a pleasant enough outing not to be a waste of money and time. However, it is not a “must see” either.

Fatal Attraction plays at the Pieter Toerien Theatre in Montecasino until 6 May 2018.

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Timeless Truths

John Shand, playwright, author, poet and notable theatre critic says of Antony and Cleopatra that it is “Shakespeare’s most opulent play in terms of both scale and language.  Yet its challenging, operatic scope is also a graveyard for actors and directors.”  What hope then for young Neka da Costa, director of this 2018 Season of the IEB schools set work for Grades 10, 11 and 12?  What hope for her team of nine young thespians working with a mobile set and props in impromptu spaces?  Well, every hope, actually.  The production is stunning.

For a start Da Costa and her team have cut the work (and ten years action) from three hours to seventy five minutes – and done it seamlessly, so that one doesn’t notice what has been left out.  The production focuses on the erotic love relationship between two passionate individuals, the soldier/politician, Mark Antony (Ben Kgosimore), and the woman who captures his interest and heart, the beautiful and exotic Queen of the Nile, Cleopatra (Sanelisiwe Yekani).

Antony and Cleopatra.jpg

Set in the era of the second Roman triumvirate, (after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BC – another of Shakespeare’s plays), Mark Antony is one of triumvirs, together with Octavius Caesar (Cassius Davids) and Lepidus (Kevin Koopman).  Mark Antony heads off east to Egypt where he dallies, neglecting Rome and his wife, first Fulvia then Octavia (Megan van Wyk).  Besotted with the jealous, vain and hysterically wilful Cleopatra (yes, Sanelisiwe Yekani gets to play an incredibly complex character and her performance dominates the action) he allows his brilliance as a military strategist to be subverted and he finds himself betrayed in politics and unsuccessful in war. The unhappy pair, like the other great Shakespearean lovers, Romeo and Juliet, both commit suicide.

The main characters include Sextus Pompey, a rebel against the triumvirate and the son of the late Pompey played by Carlos Williams.  Only the title characters escape having to enact more than one character.  Sibusiso Mkhize plays Enobarbus, one of Mark Antony’s party.  Megan van Wyk doubles as Iras, one of Cleopatra’s servants.  Campbell Meas plays the role of Charmian, another of Cleopatra’s servants and then some small parts.  Both the articulation and projection of the voices is perfect. The cast clearly adapt this to suit the size and acoustics of their venue.

The costuming and set is by Sarah Roberts and is cleverly minimalistic. I saw her costumes for last year’s production of Coriolanus and this year follows suit. Lighting for the theatre production is by Jane Gosnell.  Usually the actors have to work without this luxury, much as the first actors of the play (circa 1607) would have had to do.

Antony and Cleopatra’s pace and energy never flags for a minute and it is visually splendid, reaching its pinnacle in the sea battle which Mark Antony loses.  The Shakespearean language is maintained throughout. The production is presently travelling to schools nationwide and continues until the end of May 2018. The presentation is directed towards enhancing knowledge of students studying the set work for their matric examination, but it feels like entertainment (Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read). At the conclusion of every show students are invited to participate in a Q and A.

I wonder if the questions that are asked include pointed questions/comments about the present political leaders, either of those close to home, or those on the world stage and the dangers of provoking the wrath of opponents who have unbridled authority. While this is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies (the historical elements having been tampered with for dramatic reasons), it has the immediacy of today’s news. Da Costa and her team have lost none of the impact of the work’s relevance in society through every age.

Shakespeare fans in the public can see this production at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown on 20 and 21 April, 2018 at 14:30.

When: February to May 2018. Performance schedule now available for schools
Where: IEB schools across South Africa and Swaziland. Cost: R100 per learner
Time: Approximately 75 minutes, followed by Q/A session of 30 minutes
Produced by National Children’s Theatre and Renos Nicos Spanoudes
For enquiries and bookings: Phone 011 484 1584 or e-mail bookings@nctt.org.za / rene@nctt.org.za

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A moonbeam in your hand

A visit to the theatre to see The Sound of Music takes me back to 1965 and being an excited seven year old taken to see the Julie Andrews film classic of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest hit (first written for the stage in 1959).  The Sound of Music has been described as “the world’s favourite musical” and it is a sure money spinner which is why it is produced as often as it is.

Sound of Music 1

I have seen several live productions over the years including the 2014 one which this reprises, but this 2017/2018 all South African production which has just completed an overseas tour is by Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Group, brought to us by David Ian Production and Pieter Toerien Productions is top notch – easily the best I have ever seen.

For people familiar with the movie, the sequence of the much loved songs with wholesome lyrics and singable tunes is somewhat different, but it all works wonderfully.  The dramatic tension is tight and I found that I was more caught up in the characters than I usually am when watching yet another production of The Sound of Music.

The audience on the ordinary weeknight that I attended was multi-generational – everything from people who were older than seven in 1965 through to children who are not yet older than seven. For many in the audience both the music and the story were new to them.

The sets are exquisite (particularly the magnificent church scene where the wedding was conducted), although I thought the mountains were about as well done as is possible for recreating a Swiss Alp on a stage.  The costumes (particularly the costumes in the party and wedding scenes) and Robert Jones is to be commended for his excellent work on both the sets and the costumes in this regard. Lighting is by Mark Henderson and it is superb, particularly in the thunderstorm scene.

The musical director is Kevin Kraak and the musical input is slick, with this production using the original orchestration by Robert Russel Bennet from the 1959 show.  The singing nuns climbing the stairs of the auditorium in the beginning sounded a bit thin to those of us close to the aisles – can’t be helped, really, but perhaps the nuns should have exited from the stage area and so stayed closer to one another – a minor gripe, of course.

Sound of music 3

Carmen Pretorius was a charming and plausible Maria capturing her loveable free spirit very well, with Janelle Visagie as a magnificent Mother Superior, Andre Schwartz as Captain Von Trapp.  Andre Schwartz copes easily with the music, but he is visually not made in the mould of a romantic hero.

Baroness Schraeder was played by Haylea Heyns, and Max Detwieler was portrayed by Jonathan Taylor.  The children are all quite adorable – and importantly, never shrill – I was positively impressed.   The diction, both in the singing and the speaking, is excellent all round. Sixty years on there are some lines that make one cringe – Maria saying “I belong to him” and the whole “I am 16 going on 17” number is very dated now.  For the most part the foreboding of the evils of Nazism is underplayed in this version.

The climax of the production finds us, the audience, transported back to 1938, in Austria as the Von Trapp Family sing with Andre Schwartz singing Edelweiss for the first time, really making the point about his rebellion against the Third Reich with its Nazi regime as the words “Bless my homeland forever” echo through the theatre.  The escape from the concert hall is the pinnacle of the action with the armed Nazis surrounding the audience and the tension is held right through to the family’s narrow escape in the Nonnberg Abbey garden.  Their final escape over the mountain is a poignant relief for everyone.

Once or twice during this heart-warming production, I found my eyes becoming somewhat watery and once they even leaked.  The Sound of Music can be seen at the Teatro, Montecasino until 28 April 2018, whereafter the production will head to Cape Town.  It is a longish evening for the little ones with the performance, including the interval, running to about two and a half hours, but most of them stayed awake throughout.

Great family entertainment.  Five stars.

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Carmen – the Ballet 2018

The particular thrill of musicians tuning their instruments has always been one of my most treasured experiences.  Its absence at ballet performances over the past few years has been an ever-present, if dull, ache.  The presence of a live orchestra is a delight which adds immensely to the total ballet experience.  Brandon Phillips was at the helm of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra who, with concert master Miro Chakaryan, played very well last night at the ballet performance of “Carmen- The Ballet” with the famous and familiar music by Georges Bizet (1838-1875).  The arrangement and orchestration of the music was by Michael Tuffin.

Joburg Ballet Brandon Phillips Conductor

Brandon Phillips conducting the JPO for Carmen – the Ballet at Joburg Theatre.

The story, choreographed by Veronica Paeper, follows the opera drama closely, although there is a scene in the fourth and final act inside the bullfighting stadium which the opera omits.  The portrayal of the dead bull is a clever theatrical device which pleased me and from the start the dance work is steeped in death, albeit of a bull at the beginning.  Street urchins (presumably from the Joburg Ballet Academy, although I had guessed they originated from the Joburg Ballet Outreach?) mimic the soldiers in the changing of the guard and, from the tight unison of the male corps de ballet, one knows that this production is going to be superb.

“Where did they get all these dancers?” is my initial thought when seeing the number of male dancers on stage.  Artistic director, Iain MacDonald, answers my question in his programme message.  They come from the Joburg Ballet Academy and the National School of the Arts (the first time the latter is collaborating with Joburg Ballet).

On opening night the role of Carmen was performed by Claudia Monja.  Carmen is one of the most psychologically difficult of all the ballet roles for a ballerina to master, for Carmen is the antithesis of other ballet heroines.  She is common, slutty, trashy and her allure is not of a young innocent girl, but a morally outrageous and sexually experienced woman.  Most portrayals are unconvincing to me, a woman, and even more so to men.  Claudia Monja, however, while not being Joburg Ballet’s best dancer technically, is certainly Joburg Ballet’s strongest character actor by a long margin, and she “nailed it” as one person commented after the end.  One is never in doubt about her potent effect on the men who desire her.

Carmen 1

Claudia Monja in the title role on opening night of Carmen – the Ballet at Joburg Theatre

On opening night Claudia Monja was partnered by Leusson Muniz as Don José, with Armando Barros as Escamillo.  It was, however, Nicole Ferreira-Dill who provided the stark contrast to Carmen in her role as Micaela – the faithful and innocent fiancée of our rather dubious “hero”.  It will probably be no secret to regular readers of my blog that I admire the dancing of Nicole Ferreira-Dill immensely and she didn’t disappoint in the role of Micaela.  My heart was urging Don José to go home with Micaela and to stay out of the trouble we know Carmen is going to bring him.  Alas!  The ballet storyline won out over the reasoning of my heart and Don José deserts to follow Carmen into the underworld.

Carmen 3

Claudia Monja and Leusson Muniz in Carmen – the Ballet at Joburg Theatre

Kitty Phetla as the Madame of the factory, Tumelo Lekana as the pickpocket, Revil Yon as Captain Zuniga, Sikhumbuzo Hlahleni as the Captain of the Guard, Monice Cristina as Mercedes, Sanmarie Kreuzhuber as Frasquita, Albertus Dreyer (guest artist) as Lilas Pastia, Ivan Domiciano as the Chief Smuggler and Chase Bosch as the Fiesta Man all contributed positively to the wonderful dancing.  The stand-out performance here was Tumelo Lekana in the role of the pickpocket.  I loved it.

The technical aspects were interesting but not startlingly innovative or remarkable.  The arena sets date back to more affluent times.  Most people know that I am not a fan of big sets for ballet – believing that the imagination of the audience is better than even the best sets.  The costumes are lovely, and created “after the originals” by Peter Cazalet.  Lighting design is by Simon King.  Photographs in the programme and for publicity, including the ones used for this review, are by Lauge Sorensen.

“Carmen-the Ballet”, which runs at the Joburg Theatre for a season of ten performances, is not to be missed.  I tried to work out exactly what makes this production so wonderful.  The live music helps, the quality of the dancing, especially the corps de ballet work, is hugely improved.  Ultimately I think it is the energy of Carmen, the Ballet itself.  It is energetic and gritty, filled with allure and bravado, rather than the escapism and magic of most other ballets.

Joburg Ballet needs the support of all dance lovers.  I hope that dance teachers will encourage their students to attend performances presented by the Joburg Ballet (and other dance companies). One warning to parents – there are two on stage sex scenes, Carmen’s consensual act with Escamillo and Don José’s rape just before he kills her.  However both are very subtly accomplished and it is highly unlikely that children under the age of fourteen or fifteen will even notice them.

After the performance the promotions and awards were announced – Claudia Monja and Nicole Ferreira-Dill have both been promoted to principals while Ruan Galdino, Leusson Muniz, Monike Cristina and Sanmarie Kreuzhuber were also promoted.  The Giselle Award went to Albertus Dreyer and three Madge Cade Awards were made to Shannon Glover, Shana Dewey and to the general manager Kabelo Modiga.  My congratulations to all concerned.

Readers are reminded of the forthcoming ballet season in July/July which will be Act III of Raymonda together with a world premiere by Redha, one of Europe’s leading choreographers.  I have seen works of his before and they are wonderful. The next symphony season will be in May/June at the Linder Auditorium.  Importantly there is “A Dazzling Gala at The Teatro” with Joburg Ballet and Friends on Saturday 19 May at 15:00 and at 20:00.  Tickets are priced between R200 and R400.

All round “Carmen – the Ballet” was an excellent evening’s entertainment.

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When in doubt say Darling

I have been watching Pieter-Dirk Uys play his satirical roles as various South African politicians on both sides of the 1994 divide, South Africa’s most famous white woman – Evita Bezuidenhout, the lovely Bambi Kellerman, the intriguing Ouma Ossewania and many more, for more than forty years now. Although I am a little younger than he is, we’ve grown together.  I once lived next door to him in Melville, although I hardly ever saw him – he is fairly retiring in his personal life.

When in doubt say Darling

The last show of his at Montecasino, this time last year, was an autobiographical one, The Echo of a Noise. This one, When in Doubt Say Darling, is another autobiographical show.  He is clearing out his space in his home in Darling, Western Cape, and as he deals with the various props, he reminisces about his various productions.

Most of the older audience remember, with great fondness, each of the characters (and more) he takes props and memories out of his signature plastic crates.  I loved his take on “today’s news” as he looks at “polonialism” and Winnie Mandela who is possibly reuniting with Nelson – unless they have gone to different places.

Pieter-Dirk Uys has become a social campaigner over the years, for voter education, for HIV education and for social upliftment wherever he happens to be.  He recounts heart-warming tales of what he is experiencing as he interacts with the underprivileged youngsters from Darling.  This section alone is all new and wonderfully amusing without any satire.

Younger audience members assured me they didn’t feel alienated by not knowing who Piet Koornhof was, or not really remembering PW (or any other) Botha. It was almost as if they were stepping into history.  However, most of his audience has aged alongside him and we continue to love his shows even as we remember those days alongside him.

When in Doubt Say Darling runs at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino’s Studio Theatre (upstairs, no disabled access) until 22 April 2018. Tickets from Computicket.

 

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