Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Festival a/d Werf 2010 Side Program

This year, the side program offered a layer of reflexion to the artistic program of Festival a/d Werf. Through straightforward and insightful conversations, some of the artists of the festival explained their artistic quests, their working processes, and the ideas that fuel their practices. Besides this, the Performance Studies International conference, which will take place next during within Festival a/d Werf 2011, was officially announced.

The HOPE DEBATE consisted of a series of three public interviews, where Elke van Campenhout discussed with James Beckett, performers from Lone Twin Theatre, and Dries Verhoeven the possibility of hope as an artistic practice. The interview with James was conducted on the set design of his performance Zakłady na Życie (Plant Life). With the his characteristic clarity, he explained his approach to his work: “A healthy intellectual will maintain a curiosity for everything. But when it comes to creative work, it helps to limit yourself and make very specific choices in order to develop a style.” In the second interview, Elke approached the performers from Lone Twin in a playful way, and requested them to choose questions from a piece of paper to read to one another. On the third one, she and Dries Verhoeven were both blindfolded, as they explored the complexities of hope within intercultural communication, as exemplified by the performance Life Streaming from Dries Verhoeven.

Next to these debates, Branka Zgonjanin and Pere Faura, choreographers and students from the Amsterdam Masters of Choreography, interviewed Fanni Futterknecht, Joao Evangelista, Dries Verhoven, Inari Salmivaara, María Jerez Quintana, Min Kyoung Lee, and Jean Baptiste Veyret-Logerias (these last three being performers from
Five People). Branka and Pere questioned their peers with attentiveness and curiosity, asking them to narrate their working processes and to tackle the often complex issues raised by their work.

On Friday the 28
th, the 17th PSi (Perfromance Studies International) conference was oficially launched. Maaike Bleeker, one of the conference directors, announced a comprehensive program for next year. She related the story of Giulio Camillo, a 16th century philosopher, that intended to create a Memory Theatre that could contain all the memories of mankind. Contemporary commentators often see a link between this dream and the promises of the internet as a memory machine. The conference, that will bear the title Camillo 2.0, will revolve around the concepts of memory, technology and experience. These will be explored through performances, lectures, and shifts (“hybrid program components introduced by participants or initiated by the organizers which pave the way to unconventional types of presentations”). The launch of the conference was fittingly accompanied by a a talk from Frederik LeRoy on the political implications of “reenacment” as a way to keep history alive and by a presentation of Woonmachine, and installation/performance by Belgian arquitect Laurent Liefhooge that will be part of next year's prorgram. The PSi conference will take place from the 25th until the 29th of May 2011 during the next edition of Festival a/d Werf.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Eclips: thought-provoking moments within an industrial warehouse

Theater collective The Glasshouse presents Eclips, directed by Kees Roorda. The work is built upon simple theatrical devices that generate profound consequences. The performance takes place in an almost empty, enormous storage room at the Jaarbeurs. The performers guide us through different areas of this space as the story, which guides the piece, unfolds. With the usage of a few props, simple narrative techniques, almost no lights, and the elegant music of three saxophones, they manage to bring about a unique environment. Within the clean openness of this industrial space, they generate moments of intimacy and immense beauty. Through a few stories and the interactions among characters, the performers engage people's imagination and effectively drive the audience into a state of philosophical reflection. Eclips will continue playing at Festival a/d Werf from the 25th until the 28th of May.

Monday, May 24, 2010

CAMPO: Five People, artistic collaboration at its best

Ideas of exchange and collaboration have become increasingly important for our contemporary culture. This is something beyond the obvious: you don't have to go far to see how these concepts have found their way into every imaginable aspect of everyday life. From business to education, going through sports to high art, people are collaborating with each other at unprecedented rates. Furthermore, these exchanges are happening between people of different backgrounds: cultural, educational and professional. The integration of ideas from diverging origins have come to dominate creativity and productivity and are redefining the ways we think and experience the world around us. Again, this is so obvious it is almost a cliché, and it is almost impossible to repeat these things in a way which is fresh and original. The performance Five People, by CAMPO is a rare opportunity for a playful questioning of what it means to collaborate with other people, with a different training and a different view of the world. Five artists will share a space, in a collaboration that will grow from a solo to a culminating moment where all five artists will be on stage. This performance can be seen at Festival a/d Werf from May 24 to 26 2010.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rosa ensemble's mixture of stand-up comedy and music

Rosa Ensemble likes to challenge its audiences. After the premiere, the director told me that they always play with the expectations of the public, in order to offer something unique and unexpected. When they are invited to play in a pop venue, they would always open with a piece of classical music. And, likewise, if they are to play in a classical setting, they would not hesitate to include pop songs in their repertoire. It is in fact this irreverence that has made them thrive and given them a place within the Dutch musical theatre landscape. This time, they have collaborated with stand-up comedian Jan Jaap van der Wal to create a show that combines the distinctive music of the ensemble with the sharp-tongued wittiness of the comedian, built upon the story Simon Vestdijk's famous novel De kellner en de levenden (The waiter and the living). Every night a slightly different show is offered, since all of the performers are ready to adapt themselves to the audience, and to the unexpected developments of topical issues. Both the music and the words are flexible, in the tradition both of stand-up comedy and of Rosa Ensemble, a group fascinated by the tension between improvisation and composition. This show offers a fresh perspective, where experimental music and stand up comedy come into play. For those interested, this piece will still play today and tomorrow at Festival a/d Werf (be aware of the fact that this performance is in Dutch)

Friday, May 21, 2010

The premiere of "We Hope You (or why there are no butterflies in winter)"

When writing about the performances of Festival a/d Werf, a dilemma I often face refers to how much I should reveal about them. If I write too much, I might unintentionally blow the surprises they have in store for the audience. But then I think that if people knew what awaited them, they would certainly not miss a chance to see the performances. This is the case for João Evangelista’s We hope you (or why there are no butterflies in winter), a work that premiered yesterday evening at Huis a/d Werf. If you don’t want the surprise to be ruined for you, then take this sentence as a spoiler alert and don’t read beyond this point.

At some point during the performance, the audience will be invited to follow the performers, out of the theatre and into the streets that surround Huis a/d Werf. The performers will act as a sort of tour guides, describing the strangeness of a series of places that circumscribe the Huis. Working here, I usually cycle back to my house through the streets that João and Yen Yi-Tzu’ walk included and I must say that most of the places that they took me through had never grasped my attention. I had never realized the unusual, absurd or downright unbelievable character of the objects, street corners and abrupt public spaces that I was invited to look at in different light. Even if this piece can be described as a guided tour to some extent, the way in which the performers speak does not reproduce the style of your typical city-tour guide. It adopts a unique language, both naïve and abstract, that describes the urban environment in ways that challenge preconceptions and invite the audience to bring their own imagination into play. We could say, in a more technical way, that the performance allows the audience members to experience the mechanisms of hope. This is, at least, the way in which João likes to describe his intentions. And I think that with the usage of precise and ingenious theatrical devices, he fully succeeds in his goals. This performance is both uncomplicated and profound and it manages to deliver an experience that is aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking at the same time. True to their own artistic quest, the performers triumphantly stay away from the superficiality of entertainment and the dryness of over-the-top intellectual art, while creating a deep and enjoyable experience for the people that venture with them into the streets. Art theorists often celebrate the capacity of art to trigger changes in the perception of the audience. And this inspiring work, in my opinion, clearly accomplishes this goal in a subtle and powerful way.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Adem: theatre as a journey

Some days ago, I had the opportunity to see a run-through of Roos van Geffen's Adem. I had already seen a few rehearsals and spoken to Roos on numerous occasions about her work. It was fascinating to see the result and to think back on the process I witnessed over the past months. Of course, some things might have changed during the past few days, after I saw that run-through. The process of fine-tuning a theatre piece is endless, specially for some one with as much attention to detail as Roos. The way I experienced it, however, felt pretty complete already. I was thrilled to discover how the different fragments I had seen earlier found their way into a compelling structure. The piece itself feels like a journey. Tempted as I am to describe it more in detail, I will only speak about in general terms because I don't want to ruin the surprise of the spectators. But what I want to share here is that the piece allows the audience to undergo an experience of transformation. I felt different, from the moment I stepped into the room to the moment I left. Something undeniably changed inside of me, something was stirred up and relocated. The piece, through simple and effective mechanisms, with subtle and powerful movements on behalf of the actors and the set design, creates the possibility for this change. At the beginning, I felt distanced both from the performers and the space. I also felt them separated from each other. But as time progressed, intimacy slowly crawled its way into the performance, resulting in a feeling of extreme closeness and connection. The piece premiers May 20th and it will run until the 29th (daily except on the 25th), for anyone interested in experiencing the transformation and the journey that this piece affords the viewers.


Last week I had the opportunity to watch a run-through of Miek Uitenhout's performance Lollipop, which will be part of Festival a/d Werf 2010. In the performance, a woman is trapped inside of a bell jar, who the audiences watches blatantly as she engages in an inner battle. When talking about her work, Miek tells me that it all started with a fascination she had for Marie Antoinette. She was captivated by the contrast between the glamour of her life and the way in which she actually lived and eventually died. She then realized there were some points of comparison between her and Britney Spears. Even though the second one was born several hundred years later and is still alive, they remain, in Miek's mind, similar kinds of women. Both share a preoccupation for a public eye eager to follow their every move. Furthermore, both of them are tumultuous women in contact with extreme feelings. This is how she came up with the idea of the bell jar: “I think that when you are in contact with that extreme feeling, then you might be a bit closed towards the outside world, and that is the feeling that you are living in a bubble or in a bell jar”. What makes this image even more effective is the fact that it symbolizes concealment as much as exposure. The woman inside the jar is locked up inside her own world, but she is also on display, showcased in a transparent structure that doesn't allow her to hide anything from an audience that surrounds her. The glass is a perfect metaphor because it both distances and reveals the woman: it is a space of loneliness and entrapment in the midst of the public eye. Miek says, however, that this play is not only about Marie Antoinette or Britney Spears, but it is about every woman, and even about every person. When I ask her how she would like the audience to react to her work, she says she would like them to actually feel that they are not so different from these women, the extreme feeling that they experience(d) is actually “a bit closer to us than we think. You just need an open mind to the feeling. It is actually very close.”

Miek originally studied Graphic Design and Theatre Design. This visual background clearly shines through in her way of working and her conception of theatre. For this piece she first developed a sort of magazine, a personal, visual map of the issues she wanted to tackle in the piece: a collection of intimate thoughts expressed in the forms of images. Very early on she had the image of the bell-jar in her mind. As she pursued her research, she was also drawn toward the life and work of Sylvia Plath. To her surprise, she found the last work of Plath is a semi-autobiographical novel called The Bell Jar, which describes a woman who feels like she is living inside of such an object. For Miek this is not a coincidence, but rather a confirmation of the power and universality of the image that she is working with. Once she had an initial set of images from where to move forward, the next step was finding an actress who could impersonate Lollipop, the woman who would be trapped/exposed inside of the bell jar. “I had to find a strong but also beautiful actress, and also one that could be the 'ideal woman', or at least the ideal woman that we sketch in the fashion world”. For this, she found Lotte Verbeek: “I saw her in Nothing Personal, where she was a strong woman that wore no make up and was dressed in boots. And then I saw an interview with her where she was wearing make up and had a little dress on. And I thought that she had that contrast already in her. That is what I am looking for. The ideal image but also something behind the beautiful face.” Miek developed the initial set of ideas through improvisations with Lotte. The beginning and the end have remained almost unchanged but everything else was developed in communication with Lotte: “there is a lot of her in the piece”. During the first part of the working process, they developed a lot of material, and then Miek started to discard most of these excessive amount of material, letting go of most parts and keeping just the essential ones: “I wanted to have too much, I wanted to kill a lot of darlings”. She didn't want to articulate her material into a story or a conventional piece, but rather offer something that she describes “like a sort of roller-coaster: you are looking at it and you get captured”.

The fact that Lotte is a public figure, a well-known film actress, also helps bring about the theme of this play. It deals with women who are both fake and authentic in the public eye, being true to themselves but also doing this in front of an audience. However, as Miek pointed out repeatedly as she talked to me, this is not as far removed as we might think. Extreme feelings, an awareness of being enclosed and exposed, a longing for wanting to be true to yourself while at the same time being watched by others... those are all things that everyone -Miek says- can relate to.