The Great Yes, the Great No

Music Theatre

Internationally acclaimed for his drawings, films, theatre and operaproductions, South African artist William Kentridge presents his latestwork for the stage, a play/oratorio/chamber opera set on a fateful 1941 seavoyage from Marseille to Martinique.

The Great Yes, The Great No takes a historical escape from Vichy France by, among others, the surrealist André Breton, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam, the communist novelist Victor Serge, and the author Anna Seghers, and fictionalizes the journey by adding to the passenger list Aimé Césaire, the Nardal sisters (co-founders with Césaire of the anti-colonial Négritude movement in Paris), the West Indian Marxist philosopher Franz Fanon, Josephine Bonaparte, Josephine Baker, Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Stalin. 

The ship is captained by Charon, the ferryman of the dead, and the beating surrealist heart of the work is amplified by the voyage’s conflation with other forced sea crossings, historical and contemporary, and by the dissolution of rational languages, verbal and visual.  

Charon’s language in directing the proceedings incorporates pieces of the passengers’ own works, as well as the poems of Bertold Brecht, and as the story unfolds among this fantastical menagerie of thinkers and makers, meaning becomes elastic. The Great Yes, The Great No is expansive and confounding, like nothing before it, and like everything that has been – it is the rarest of rare works of art for the stage: something novel.


  • 2024-07-07 00:00:00 2024-07-10 00:00:00 - LUMA Arles, Arles - France


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Creative team

Concept | Director William Kentridge

Associate Directors Nhlanhla Mahlangu | Phala O. Phala

Choral Composer Nhlanhla Mahlangu

Music Director Tlale Makhene

Dramaturg Mwenya Kabwe

Costume Design Greta Goiris

Set Design Sabine Theunissen

Lighting Design Urs Schönebaum | Elena Gui

Projection Editing | Compositing Žana Marović | Janus Fouché | Joshua Trappler

Cinematography Duško Marović

Video Control Kim Gunning


Xolisile Bongwana, Hamilton Dhlamini, William Harding, Tony Miyambo, Nancy Nkusi, Luc de Wit


Thulani Chauke & Teresa Phuti Mojela


Anathi Conjwa, Asanda Hanabe, Zandile Hlatshwayo, Khokho Madlala, Nokuthula Magubane, Mapule Moloi,

Nomathamsanqa Ngoma


Nathan Koci Accordion | Banjo

Tlale Makhene Percussion

Thandi Ntuli Piano

Marika Hughes Cello