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FROM: Anne Taylor, South African arts journalist


Who is the New Republic to get it so wrong about South Africa, particularly Cape Town? Yes, the Capab Opera Company was disbanded but it still exists as Cape Town City Opera without singers on salary and is very active, thanks to energetic fund raising. The company's program for this year includes "Porgy and Bess" (May) a new opera by a local writer-composer in (June), a Verdi centenary festival of "Ballo," "Rigoletto," and "Macbeth" followed by a Requiem and "La Boheme."

When Capab Ballet had its subsidy spun down to nothing over a few years, it became a non-profit company and continued as Cape Town City Ballet. It has downsized, but when we had 60 dancers it was a lot for a small city. It has reduced management without loss of quality, and now has a board under the chairmanship of the principal of Cape Town University School of Dance.

They have managed to produce new ballets, present a Choo San Goh (not cheap), offer a place to the leading dancer of the State Theatre company when it was summarily disbanded. And the audience is growing again. They performed a world-class "Giselle" recently, have "Two Pidgeons" at the Oude Libertas, and "Swan Lake" next month.

On the drama side, Pieter Toerien is still producing play after play at his Johannesburg and Cape Town theatres. He has just opened a new theatre in a casino-shopping complex to replace the old one, in a now run-down area but his Camps Bay house is never dark.

Other groups are forming, long or short term, to present plays. What is heartening is that when the State Theatre was mothballed and a production of "Death of a Salesman" cancelled, the cast and crew decided to go ahead at their own risk and produced a triumph, now touring.

In Johannesburg, the Agfa Theatre on the Square, in an up-market shopping area, is doing extremely well. The Nico in Cape Town was busier last year than ever and the Baxter was hardly dark. Small theatres like On Broadway and the Gauloises Warehouse in Cape Town are constantly busy. The Cape Comedy Collective appears at the little Armchair Theatre. Shakespeare in the open air continues an unbroken annual string under the management of Artscape, which took over from Capab.

Theatre in the broadest sense is extremely active, as it shakes down after the disappearance of a combination of state subsidised companies and protest theatre, which characterised it for decades. New playwrights are appearing. Players are doing it for themselves at venues like the Baxter - not a makeshift theatre - where Fiona Coyne's second play ran for three seasons.

The New Republic is confused about our orchestra. The CTSO was a municipal symphony orchestra for over 70 years, not government supported. We currently have three orchestras in Cape Town, the Philharmonic having taken over the weekly concerts to critical acclaim. There is one at Spier for its opera season and a third which is making original efforts to capture a new audience. riter-composer Michael Williams has managed to raise a great deal of money for Cape Town City Opera.

There are too many great voices emerging in this country, most of them black, for it to wither away and, with the likes of award-winning, home-grown Sibongile Ngoma and Fikile Mvinjelwa heading the cast, the Euro-centric label will go. There's no need to be so pessimistic.


THEATRE IN SOUTH AFRICA: "The South African government has drastically reduced arts spending. Government subsidy for European cultural expressions no longer exists. Whatever the reasons for this, whether to help promote an indigenous African culture or to punish those who voted against the ANC, in Cape Town the policy has already resulted in the loss of the city's opera company, ballet company, and symphony orchestra. The theater still survives after a fashion, partly because it can still draw on private funding." The New Republic 02/12/01

THEATRE IN THE FUTURE TENSE: In South Africa it's hard not to make theatre that reacts to the country's recent political past. But "a new generation of writers and performers each in their own way are approaching being South African in a way that is enriched by new-found freedoms. They are exploring new ways of being and discarding a theatrical approach that relies exclusively on reacting to the past or on seeing the present purely in terms of being a victim of the past." The Independent (South Africa) 02/03/01 "

NEW ORCHESTRAS IN SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa's tradional arts organizations have been in turnoil since the government has cut back funding. Last July the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra went out of business. Now not one, not two, but three new orchestras are set to come into being. "Interested parties are convinced that Cape Town cannot support two orchestras, let alone a third. The tragedy-farce started after the CTPO management decided to liquidate the orchestra in an attempt to avoid the financial implications of paying a retrenchment package to its 80 musicians." Daily Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 11/09/00