The Karoo takes centre stage at Artscape

Kirvan Fortuin, Ouma Katrina Esau and Coenie de Villiers of Katrina: Die Dansende Taal.

The Karoo takes centre stage in a musical double bill at the Artscape Theatre until Saturday September 22.

During the first half of the evening, Coenie de Villiers and author Deon Meyer return with their box-office hit, Karoo Suite, a musical ode to the Karoo.

The work consists of stories from the Karoo told by Meyer as the writer and narrator, with De Villiers and the band performing his music to complement the text and photography by Meyer.

Some of South Africa’s best musicians make up the band: Jaconell Mouton on keyboards, David Klassen on percussion and guitarist Mauritz Lotz join De Villiers behind the piano.

The second half sees the debut of Katrina: Die Dansende Taal. De Villiers once again wrote the music for this dance production, which is choreographed and performed by Kirvan Fortuin.

The show is based on the life story of Katrina Esau, 85, and is narrated by her in her native language.

Esau is the last fluent speaker of an ancient language, the San language N/uu – pronounced with a distinct click behind the teeth. In the production, she tells her unique story through music and dance.

Esau hails from Upington, on the seam of the Kalahari Desert and N/uu is her life’s passion. She even runs a modest home school for the township children in the afternoons where they can learn some basic N/uu.

De Villiers and Fortuin are extremely sensitive about the San community and the respect Esau’s story deserves.

“These are the original inhabitants of our country, and their languages predate all of our own,” said De Villiers.

“We consulted widely with the San Board and explained that we could not possibly tell the San narrative in all of its complexity; we also do not have the mandate to do so.

“However, what we could attempt to do, was to try and tell a single individual’s story with all of the dignity and beauty that it deserves.

“We can only hope that this will pique interest in the wider community and all of its issues, including the brace of languages which are under threat.”

Esau’s narrative is told in seven “chapters”.

For the music, De Villiers researched and consulted widely regarding indigenous and traditional instruments.

“I received guidance from experts in the field,” he says.

These traditional sounds infuse the contemporary score De Villiers created.

“It’s a bit like Vangelis discovering his roots,” he said.

Likewise, Kirvan Fortuin visited the Kalahari with De Villiers to research the ancient dance formats of the region.

“We visited the community of the late Dawid Kruiper, where we were introduced to the dance by the descendants of this legendary leader. It was very important to understand the spiritual underpinnings of the dance, and the reverence with which it should be approached.”

All shows are at 8pm, and there will be an extra matinee performance at 2.30pm. Pupils and students are invited to attend a discussion session and demonstration with De Villiers and Fortuin at 12.30pm followed by the matinee performance on Saturday, which will cost R50.

Tickets for evening shows are R150 each at Computicket and Artscape Dial-a-Seat at 021 421 7695.