“I had an extraordinary year,” said Lara Foot, CEO and artistic director of Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre Centre, of her 12 months as protégée to British director Sir Peter Hall in 2004-2005.
Foot was recalling her participation in the Rolex Arts Initiative as she addressed a capacity audience in the Baxter’s main Concert Hall early in April. Comprising many prominent South African artists and intellectuals, the audience had packed into architect Jack Barnett’s 1977 brick masterpiece in Cape Town to listen to a trio of globally acclaimed artists and Rolex mentors – William Kentridge, Peter Sellars and Wole Soyinka – speak about the pleasures, travails and arcane secrets behind realizing a creative idea.
Foot’s informal welcome address on 6 April prefaced this event. Billed as "A Unique Gathering: Rolex Mentors and Protégés", the line-up also included seven Rolex protégés. Along with Foot, present were Edem Awumey (literature, Togo), Maya Zbib (theatre, Lebanon), Anani Dodji Sanouvi (dance, Togo), Antonio García Ángel (literature, Colombia), Aurelio Martínez (music, Honduras) and Josué Méndez (film, Peru).
During the weekend, the mentors and protégés took part in three lively debates about the creative experience, while former music protégé and world music star Aurelio Martínez gave a concert.
Visibly enthused by the large turnout, Foot cited her “extraordinary experiences” as part of a growing number of alumni linked to Rolex’s philanthropic initiative as her reason for organizing the three-day programme in South Africa.
The international nature of the line-up, a rarity on South Africa’s cultural calendar, reflected the multi-talented, inter-generational network Foot has tapped into since participating in the Rolex Arts Initiative. “It certainly makes you more ambitious,” said Foot of her participation in the programme. “Suddenly, the world is so much bigger.” She said she was particularly delighted that Kentridge, an acclaimed South African multi-media artist and theatre director who lives in Johannesburg, was participating in the Baxter weekend.
Kentridge’s workshop on 5 April, which kicked off the weekend, explored the origin of ideas. His studio featured prominently. Kentridge, whose art films and performances often depict him involved in a form of “productive procrastination”, showed a specially prepared short film that humorously illustrated the tension between the act of making and its correlative, viewing. Kentridge’s afternoon discussion was capped with an evening performance.
Aurelio Martínez, 2008-2009 music protégé to mentor Youssou N’Dour, joined Cape Town musician Neo Muyanga to put on a stirring show. At Foot’s request, Muyanga had assembled a backing band that would enable Martínez to showcase his Garifuna musical style, which blends African and Caribbean influences. Taking his cue from the clapping, whistling and outbursts of dancing, 2006-2007 dance protégé Anani Sanouvi burst from the audience and performed an unrehearsed dance.
“This is a special time,” Martínez said several times. Visibly moved by the opportunity to perform on African soil, he invited Foot onto the stage where he presented her with a handmade drum. Like many of the protégés, including 2006-2007 literature protégé Edem Awumey, Rolex theatre mentor Peter Sellars was visiting South Africa for the first time. Introducing his workshop in the Flipside Theatre on 6 April, Sellars picked up on an idea introduced by Martínez the night before, during a vocal lull between the percussion-driven songs. “When you eliminate the humanities, you end up with a society that is not humane,” Sellars declared. Earlier in the day, Sellars also spoke about the need to be “radically inclusive” and to decentre cultural debate. “There are many realities,” he emphasized. “They are all across the world.”
This idea had, in fact, strongly informed Foot’s sense of mission when she contacted Rolex with a plan to gather mentors and protégés in Cape Town.
“When I started [in 2004, at the start of the Rolex Arts Initiative’s second cycle], there were six mentors and six protégés,” explained Foot. “Every second year that group grows. Now the family, as it were, is getting bigger and bigger. The connection remains, because we keep meeting. This pilot project is an opportunity for six of the protégés to spend time together to talk like leaders and think about a possible collaboration.”
While motivated by the desire to connect in person, Foot also wanted to give back. Much like Martínez’s gift of a drum, she views the Cape Town gathering of Rolex mentors and protégés as a gift of sorts. “As an alumna, you get to go to all these discussions, which are fantastic.” Foot was particularly inspired by a Rolex-sponsored event at the New York Public Library in 2011. That event’s weekend-long mix of dialogue, deliberation and joyful entertainment guided her vision and programming in her hometown. “It is great that Cape Town is able to experience some of that energy too.”
Pictured from left: Anani Dodji Sanouvi, Josué Méndez, Aurelio Martínez, Lara Foot, Peter Sellars, Wole Soyinka, William Kentridge, Maya Zbib, Antonio García Ángel, Edem Awumey.