BOOK REVIEW: Celebration of Nataniël’s stage career marked by flair and eccentricity
Closet is both a celebration and an act of preservation by the iconic South African actor, writes Diane de Beer
CLOSET – The remarkable wardrobe of Nataniël
Nataniël in 2017 marked his 30th year as a solo stage artist. Part of his celebrations was compiling an encyclopaedia of his stage wardrobe.
"It is beyond logic that I have been able to be this politically incorrect and unashamedly Eurocentric in presentation, content, sound and inspiration," he writes.
The book is both a celebration and an act of preservation. Books and costumes are what he collects and holds dear. They cover his walls and fill many rooms. "I love them like others would love their children."
His costumes are works of art. "I wouldn’t go on stage, if that wasn’t true," he writes. They are conjured by people with creative minds, "crafted by skilful hands, worn by those lucky enough to have been chosen and admired by those who need to escape, travel or dream".
He wanted to document his life, and his costumes, he thought, would be the easiest way to do it. He has kept every costume he has worn.
Nataniël has written, staged and appeared in more than 80 original stage productions. He has released 17 albums and five DVDs, filmed three TV series (Edik van Nantes is on DStv’s kykNET channel), and published 17 books. Including his 28 concert tours, numerous collaborations, food shows and lifestyle talks, he has given more than 6,000 performances.
Whatever he decides to do and whenever he creates a new show, it always starts with a costume — where his fantasy world begins. He says in his early performance days, he had no role models, no one to look up to or to follow. "I was part of a society that was anxious, conservative, judgmental and fearful."
He dressed like fictional characters and, with the help of friends, made his own costumes. "I dressed like someone looking for trouble and appeared on stage wearing as little as possible, as tight as possible."
He caught everyone’s attention and people began talking — a performer’s dream.
I have worn crystal, metal, lace, wood, canvas, rope, chains, vinyl X-rays and foamNataniël
On a trip one day, he bought a magazine and spotted a faux fur, Dalmatian printed, short-cropped jacket with a large collar and a red lining. The designer was listed as Blue Zoo. He called them and a new world opened for the young performer.
"I could have pieces created that nobody else had. The possibilities were endless: the picture could change as often as I needed it to. The music would become visual. The stories would follow," he writes.
His three designers dictate the way the book unfolds, with Shani Boerstra of Blue Zoo starting the show. She introduced Nataniël to the wizardry of costumes and how to make the impossible become possible, which is how the structure of his shows developed and evolved. He is intensely loyal to Boerstra who still creates daywear for him — zips and all, he writes.
She was followed by James Edward Moulder, whose attention to detail and dedication to the understated, blew Nataniël’s mind. His ability to draw was exceptional and he also did graphics for show posters and programmes, and illustrated Nataniël’s book Tuesday. When he left SA for the UK, he told Nataniël about Floris Louw who had just completed his fashion studies and won every possible award.
For Louw, it is all about texture — layers and layers of texture, says Nataniël. It runs from quilting to beading to embroidery to fringing to fraying to plaiting to printing and welding.
"Through the years, I have worn crystal, metal, lace, wood, canvas, rope, chains, vinyl X-rays and foam. One costume had a dancer inside, one had to be carried by dancers, one was on wheels, one had hundreds of meters of ribbon, one covered the entire stage, one turned into a backdrop," he writes.
His costumes have very little to do with fashion, but everything with history. Nataniël and his designers tap into specific periods in the past.
Having honoured his three designers, he turns to the way his costumes determined his shows. The knee-length coat, for example, evolved because he felt the need for more costume changes. It only appeared about 10 years into his stage career.
Because of the nature of his performances, he could only leave the stage so many times for a costume change. Layering came into play. He would open with a dramatic coat, have a smaller garment underneath and a lighter yet striking top or shirt beneath that. A fourth costume could be thrown on during a blackout or lighting change. During an instrumental or a guest solo, he could leave the stage and change again.
Nataniël also understands that a cut can accentuate the waist, length adds elegance and shape is a perfect canvas for detail and play. Add to this his love of colour.
For Nataniël, the stage is his perfect world. It is where he paints his pictures, and creates a land where things work the way he imagines they should.
With more than 300 photos and a story that explains his creativity, Closet documents a stage career that is as extraordinary as it is explosive. It captures a time, a place and a world that is unique to Nataniël, and is a reminder of a world-class act.
Full disclosure: De Beer wrote the book’s foreword.