From Sea to Shining Sea

Whether or not the American Art Song is a specific type of genre is not known to me.  There are certainly many of them and they enrich the classical vocal repertoire greatly. Wits University selects their outside performers carefully, intent on giving music students specifically, and other students generally, an opportunity to be exposed to things which they would not usually be able to hear live.

So the concert starts with a work by Simon Sargon (b 1938) – A Clear Midnight for baritone (Christian Bester), piano (Laetitia Orlandi) and horn (Shannon Armer).  Six poems by Walt Whitman (1818-1892).  In the first item Bester’s voice is sometimes overpowered by the instruments.  By the second he is in full stride and his voice is loud and clear and the work flowed exquisitely from there. By end of the song cycle, I was a confirmed fan. Simon Sargon is an American composer from Israeli/Indian descent.  I am amused, Bester was born in South Africa and now lives in the USA.  Armer was born in the USA and now lives in South Africa.  The joys of the music world include a lot of international collaborations.

Christian Bester.PNG

Bester’s voice is lovely, and his explanations of the works he chose is too brief. I wanted to know more.

Shawn Okpebholo, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Griffes, Ricky Ian Gord, Paul Bowels, H Leslie Adams were all represented, all exquisitely performed.

The encore was by Charles Ives.  A false start.  I loved it.  “Live performance” he says, and shrugs. No visible embarrassment, no stress, just starting over, getting it right, delighting the audience with something completely different.

It was a charming concert.  I was just a little disappointed that it was not better attended.

From Sea to Shining Sea was performed at the Wits Atrium on Wednesday 22 March 2017.


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Icons and Aikonas – Tea with Pieter-Dirk Uys

One of the problems with loving theatre and going often is that people always seem so incredulous when one doesn’t recognise a name, a brand.  Thus it was that my cousin stared at me in disbelief when I told her I didn’t know about Pieter-Dirk Uys.  “You have to see him.”  I did. Together with the rest of white South Africa.  At The Market Theatre where he performed most of his works in the late seventies and early 80s. I loved his work.

In the mid to late 80s Pieter-Dirk Uys was my next door neighbour while I lived in a commune down Melville.  He was a quiet one.  I never saw him except at the theatre where I continued to see his work, which I continued to love.

Pieter-Dirk Uys is up in Johannesburg, performing at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre in a work called The Echo of a Noise.  I popped in to De La Creme in 7th Street, Melville, to have tea with him.  He drinks rooibos, strong and black.

We talked about the work, The Echo of a Noise, briefly and his next work coming up in May even more briefly.  It started with the title and grew from there.  It is the first time that Pieter-Dirk Uys is up on the stage without the benefit of costumes and props and a character  No Evita Bezuidenhout, no Bambi Kellerman, no characters at all.  Just Pieter-Dirk Uys with his autobiographical memoir.

The current work’s publicity blurb dubs him “South Africa’s foremost satirist”, a title he has undoubtedly earned.  It goes on to say “He leads you into his inner sanctuary, takes you through our history and shows where what is public and private meet.”

I am expecting great things from the work based on the publicity and the reports from the National Arts Festival and Cape Town. With more than seven thousand performances to his credit, he knows his craft, his country, his people.  I’m expecting that to meet him as a person.

From the work, which I still had to see when I talked to him, we moved on to chat about the many things that Pieter-Dirk Uys is. Evita Bezuidenhout.  The Publications Board. April Fools Day.  Brexit.  Trump.  Optimism. Daylight savings and whether cows would really not know when to give milk if it were implemented. Evita Bezuidenhout’s recipe books which are used in many a household. I told him I wished I could see inside his head to view the pathways and thought processes.  He said it was a terrible traffic jam in there. We talked about icons,Sophia Loren (one of his) and Vanessa Redgrave (one of mine).  He talks to Sophia regularly – and about her in his latest play. He gives me the title of this discussion “Icons and Aikonas”.


Evita Bezuidenhout, one of Pieter-Dirk Uys’ most enduring characters

Awards.  Yes.  Life time achievement awards come because one survives.  Pieter-Dirk Uys talks about how good it is to be 71 years old.  He talks about his latest award, Best Documentary Feature for Nobody’s Died Laughing at the 2017 SAFTAS. This is a documentary about his life.  Directed by Willem Oelofsen it stars Pieter-Dirk Uys, Sophia Loren, Desmond Tutu, Charlize Theron, Janet Suzman, and Jonathan Shapiro.


Pieter Dirk Uys

Evita’s se Perron in Darling where Pieter-Dirk Uys now lives.  His Early Development Programme is currently benefitting some seventy young people and their families.  Making a differentce.  Funded by a Trust, Pieter-Dirk Uys says that he is always seeking funds for this and, like Madiba, will happily approach people and ask for their help in this regard. I’m sure he won’t mind anyone approaching him either.

Pieter-Dirk Uys is one of South Africa’s most visible and outspoken AIDS activists. The work he has done in this regard over the years is one of the greatest legacies he will have made to this country.

Pieter-Dirk Uys tells me he is intolerant of the nonsense that provides him with his scripts.  He smiles , not sardonically as I expected, but with a twinkle that reaches his eyes, as we reflect on life. He is as easy to like in life as he is to like on stage.  My excitement mounts.  I can hardly wait to see The Echo of a Noise.

It runs at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre from Wednesday 22 March 2017 to 9 April 2017.




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Revised casting for La Traviata, the Ballet

Press release below:

Joburg Ballet_Burnise Silvius & Juan Pablo Ledo in La Traviata_Photo Lauge Sorensen

Burnise Silvius and Juan Pablo Ledo


uest artists Juan Pablo Ledo from Buenos Aires and Daniel Szybkowski from Cape Town City Ballet join Joburg Ballet’s dancers in the casting line-up for the company’s 10-performances of La Traviata – The Ballet at Joburg Theatre from 31 March to 9 April. Due to the departure of Dayana Acuna and Juan Carlos Osma to Cuba, Joburg Ballet has revised the season casting. The changes do not affect the dates for Burnise Silvius’ final three performances as prima ballerina with Argentinean guest artist Juan Pablo Ledo on 1, 8 and 9 April, all at 15:00.

Also dancing the leading roles of Camille and Armand in La Traviata are Shannon Glover and Michael Revie (Friday 31 March at 19:30, Sunday 2 April at 15:00, Wednesday 5 April at 11:00, Friday 7 April at 19:30) and Claudia Monja and Daniel Szybkowski (Saturday 1 April at 19:30, Tuesday 4 April at 11:00, Saturday 8 April at 19:30).

Joburg Ballet_guest artist Daniel Szybkowski & Claudia Monja in La Traviata_2_Photo Lauge Sorensen.jpg

Joburg Ballet has also announced the productions for their second and third seasons of 2017. A new work, Big City, Big Dreams, presented by Joburg Ballet in collaboration with Moving Into Dance Mophatong and Vuyani Dance Theatre, will have ten performances at Joburg Theatre from 28 July to 6 August. Early Bird booking is now open and runs until Sunday 4 June; Standard Price booking opens on Monday 5 June.

The third Joburg Ballet season for 2017 will be a new ballet version of Snow White choreographed by artistic director Iain MacDonald, with a 10-performance season at Joburg Theatre from 13 to 22 October. Early Bird booking is open and runs until Sunday 20 August; Standard Price booking opens on Monday 21 August.

Joburg Ballet will host a fun filled-week of classes in ballet, contemporary dance, pas de deux, pointe work, Pilates and much more for children aged between 6 to 18 from Wednesday 19 April to Sunday 23 April at Joburg Ballet Studios. Information on schedules, fees and booking for the Autumn School is available from Edgar Moagi on 011-877 6898 or

Follow the company on our social media platforms;,, @JoburgBallet or online at


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Rusalka – Live at the Met in HD

The next production in the current Met: Live in HD season is the acclaimed production of Dvorak’s “Rusalka”, directed by Mary Zimmerman.  I previewed this gem this afternoon at Cinema Nouveau in Rosebank.


The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Dvorak’s Rusalka is based on the familiar fairy tale of  The Little Mermaid, but a much darker, sexier, story, without a happy ending.

Directed by Mary Zimmerman, Rusulka has fabulous sets, a wonderful cast, believable for their looks as well as ability to sing, and sumptious costuming. The work conveys a sexual energy and a gripping narrative to those of us who don’t know this little opera.  (For many in the South African audiences, this is a first exposure to this operatic gem).

The set is designed by Daniel Ostling and it never disappoints, from the mystical first act dominated by three in the centre, through the second act. first in a sunlight field, then later scenes at the palace and into the third act for the sad parody of the first act set.  The wonderful costumes are by Mara Blumenfeld and the evocative lighting by  T. J. Gerckens. The choreographer is Austin McCormick.

Dvorak’s music is brought to life under the baton of Mark Elder.  The stars of the production are the lovely soprano in the title role, Kristine Opolais, and the human prince, the good looking and sexy tenor, Brandon Joyanovich.

For much of the opera our heroine is silent.  The lesson, given in an on screen interview with the director, is that when we become something we are not, we pay a price.  We lose our voice.  We literally lose the passion of which we, as humans, are capable.  If we are inauthentic, our relationships, even the one for which we sacrificed out authenticity, are doomed.

The only aria which is well known from the opera is the plaintive “Song to the Moon” from the first act, sung by Rusulka.

Three singing wood sprites – Hyesang Park, Megan Marino and Cassandra Zoé Velasco – are joined by dancers.  Vodnik, the water gnome, is sung by bass-baritone Eric Owens. Jamie Barton, dressed in a cobwebbed pattern Victorian gown, is a powerful mezzo-soprano who brings life and guts to the witchy role of Jezibaba.  The foreign princess is sung by  the Wagnerian soprano Katarina Dalayman.
All round this is a fabulous production which opera lovers should really not miss.
The screening times at Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas are as follows, from Saturday 25 March at 17:00, Saturday 25 March  at 17:00,Sunday 26 March at 14:30, Tuesday 28 March at 11:30, Tuesday 04 April at 18:00 and Wednesday 05 April at 11:30.
The running time of this production is 3hrs and 40 mins, including two intervals of 30 mins each, twenty minutes of each taken up by interviews and filler material.
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Dani and the Lion at POP Art in Maboneng

As part of the POPUpstairs season 2016/2017 supported by the National Arts Council of South Africa. Directed by Nicholas Spagnoletti, Dani and the Lion takes place at a bar at the end of the world known as “The Den”. This is the last time that resident cover bad, Dani and the Lion, perform at the bar. A special caberet performance of songs and stories that they have wanted to perform for years, but were never allowed.


Daneel van der Walt (performer) studied Theatre and Performance at UCT, she then went on to work on her waitering skills and after a level of servitude was reached she approached the theatre industry with a new found fervour. Since then she has been in shows like Juliet Jenkin’s Big Girl, Long Street Nights directed by Nicky Rebelo and The Fugard’s Rocky Horror Show. Dani and the Lion; Last night at The Den, is a continuation of the cabaret that first saw light at The Alexander Bar last year.

Accompanist, David Lubbe is a pianist and teacher in the Cape Town area. He graduated from the University of Stellenbosch, he took a leave of absence to make money in the doll-drum accounting sector for many years but has recently returned to the world of music, working as an accompanist, teacher and performer. As a student, he won the Hugo van der Spuy Cup for Best Accompanist, was the first runner up in the inaugural Nina Schumann Overseas Bursary Competition and performed with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the Youth Music Festival.

Venue: POPArt Theatre, 286 Fox St, Maboneng Precinct
Time: Thursday 23 March 2017 to Saturday 25 March 2017 8pm | Sunday 26 March 2017 3.30pm
Cost: R100 – R120

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Twenty years old …

1997 was a good year for the arts.

Lots of things started up and Michelle Constant, CEO of BASA (Business of Arts in South Africa), shared some of these things with BASA friends at a breakfast conference celebrating twenty years of existence at Mesh, Keyes Avenue, Rosebank.  BASA encourages mutually beneficial partnerships between business and the arts, securing the future development of the arts sector in South Africa.

The Field Band Foundation, an umbrella body operating more than 40 bands of an average 120 members each in all South African provinces, the Field Band Foundation NPC uses the global performance band concept to teach life-skills that improve the quality of life of disadvantaged young people, so to broaden their chances of building better futures.

The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival Johannesburg is the biggest pure jazz festival in the country, (the Cape Town Jazz Festival being more general music than jazz), taking place each year in September at the Sandton Convention Centre.

Buskaid was started by Rosemary Nalden in response to the desperate need to provide quality musical education to talented township children.  To this end Buskaid teaches music to the highest possible standards, runs a professional string orchestra, trains music teachers of string instruments, runs its own instrument repair and manufacturing workshop.

Robben Island as a tourist destination uses/used former political prisoners as tour guides.  I have been on this tour three times now and am constantly fascinated by the different experiences of the guides who were incarcerated on the Island at different times.

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

While this was a celebration of the past, it was also a pledge for the future that BASA, in particular, would be doing its bit to help South African arts to flourish. \

Happy birthday!  May your future be bright!




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Shepherds and Butchers win at the SAFTAs

Press release below:

Shepherds and Butchers.PNG

Oliver Schmitz, director of the award winning SHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS won the coveted Best Achievement in Directing prize at the 11th South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA) last night.

Produced by Anant Singh and Brian Cox (who also wrote the screenplay), the film stars 2017 SAFTA nominees Garion Dowds  and Deon Lotz who received nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectfully, as well as Academy Award® nominee, Steve Coogan (‘Philomena’) and Andrea Riseborough (‘Birdman’). The film also features well-known South African talent including Robert Hobbs, Eduan van Jaarsveldt, Marcel van Heerden and Sylvia Mdunyelwa.

In a statement on winning the award, Schmitz who is currently in Germany said:

“I thank you for this honour and apologise profusely that I cannot be with you, I am shooting at the moment and that made it impossible for me to come. I salute my fellow nominees and the new generation of directors in South Africa who mare making big strides despite the difficulties and uncertainties that mark our profession.

SHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS was a hard film to make as a director because it deals directly with white violence in apartheid and a challenging one to watch, especially  by all who suffered at the hands of it, maybe more so even now because South Africa is still trying to heal the wounds of its damaged past. But if we always made films that are popular we would censor our desire to tackle difficult things. I believe that in order to strive for a better society it is important to also look at the worse one behind us, to see how much we have achieved, to see how far we have come and not to repeat the same mistakes of the past. I am proud of SHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS and all the creativity that went into its making.

I thank Anant for his tenacity, courage  and perseverance, my wonderful cast and team for their talent and dedication and Brian for always being there to think, rethink and his laconic sense of humour. I thank you all and I am humbled by this award, thank you very much.”

Producer, Anant Singh said, “Whilst the film deals with the controversial issue of capital punishment, Oliver crafted an amazing film with sensitivity and care. We congratulate Oliver on this wonderful achievement. We also congratulate the production team, including those who received SAFTA nominations for their contributions to the film.”


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