French Season will kick off at Grahamstown National Arts Festival

The French Season begins at the National Arts Festival as part of the France-South Africa Seasons 2012 & 2013. The rich programme will feature some 100 events including concerts, exhibitions, street performances, workshops and sporting events.

The France-South Africa Seasons 2012 & 2013 is an exciting two-year series of artistic exchanges and collaborations between France and South Africa. The French Season comprises more than 70 projects in various fields, the first leg of which includes performances at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July. This will be followed by the official opening of the French Season in South Africa, with an exhibition focused on 20th Century Masters: The Human Figure, at the Standard Bank Gallery; and a series of events held around the country with a culmination in November. A reciprocal South African Season runs inFrance between May and December 2013, and means exposure for South African productions and cooperation inFrance.

This exchange programme with France is a first forS outh Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. The ultimate goal is to facilitate mutual understanding between the two countries and explores not only culture, but innovation, science and technology, higher education, business, tourism, sport and language. In doing so, the hope is to reinforce existing collaborations and build a lasting legacy for both nations.France has engaged in similar Seasons previously with India, Brazil, China an dJ apan among others.

At the 38th National Arts Festival this year, the French Season forms part of both the Main Festival programme and the Standard Bank Jazz Festival.

The festival opens with The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (28 June) in a salute to French classical music, with symphonic works by Camille Saint-Saëns and Paul Dukas. Parisian Jazz pianist Carine Bonnefoy (1, 3 July) returns to Grahamstown this year to showcase new work with the New Large Ensemble, an orchestra of French and South African players. BIG TIME! (July 7- 8) is a groundbreaking collaboration between French drummer Braka and his quartet ELEPHANTS, joined by local musicians an d young brass band players fromCape Town and Grahamstown townships. Their performance will draw on the French ballroom repertoire of the 1950s, adding a wide range of music to jazz standards.

A series of dance and theatre productions will also be showcased at the festival. Pudique acide and Extasis (1-2 July) are two contemporary dance duets, created and re-staged by French choreographers Mathilde Monnier and Jean-François Duroure. The pieces are described as combative and humorous, and will be performed by Sonia Darbois and Jonathan Pranlas. Phia Ménard, from the innovative Cie Non Nova Theatre Company, is the creator behind performance art pieces Afternoon of a Foehn (L’après-midi d’un Foehn) and Vortex (28 June-1 July). L’après-midi d’un Foehn is a choreographed “dance” by a group of small inflated puppets set to music by Debussy, while Vortex is a soloist’s exploration between man and the unpredictable currents of change.

!Aia (28-29 June) is a collaboration between artists from South Africa and ThéâtreTaliipot from Reunion Island, celebrating the bonds between man and nature. The piece brings together art and science. It was scripted and choreographed by Philippe Pelen Baldini who used artists and archeologists for research on the origin of the human species. Ster City (2-4 July) is the result of a meeting between French theatre-maker Jean-Paul Delore Carnets Sud/Nord and South African actors Nick Welsh and Lindiwe Matshikiza. In the multi-lingual play, two clowns, played by Welsh and Matshikiza, reflect on the voices from Joburg’s past and present. The play draws inspiration from the abandonedJohannesburg cinema complex of the same name, situated in the CBD.

Nounouche: The Side Show is a street theatre happening inspired by 1940s French comic book character Nounouche, brought to life by Toni Morkel, Nadine Hutton and Fred Koenig, an established French-South African creative team. Nounouche will appear in unlikely places, surprising the public and inviting them to join in. Wrapping up the festival programme is Ancestors (30 June-2 July), a visual and performance art creation by Les Grandes Personnes (The Grown Ups) that fuses visual and performance arts in creating puppets. The performance explores our origins, heritage and links between generations.

After the National Arts Festival, the French Season in South Africacontinues and opens officially with 20th Century Masters: The Human Figure running at The Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg from 13 July to 15 September. This major exhibition brings together 60 works of French masters examining the human figure from the 19th Century to the present. The exhibition is courtesy of four major institutions in the Région Rhône-Alpes. Sylvie Ramond, director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon curates the exhibition which looks at the changing nature of the representation of the human body. 20th Century Masters: the Human Figure includes works by Manet, Degas, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse and Léger. The exhibition is organised by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and the Standard Bank Gallery.