“Five Easy Pieces”: Milo Rau’s Extraordinary Work About Child Murderer

  It’s not often that a children’s theatre features a piece about a pedophile and child murderer in its repertoire. But on rare occasions when vision, intelligence, and courage align, this kind of programming can change lives. Last week, Swiss director Milo Rau’s piece made by the commission for Ghent’s Campo theatre and dealing with the Belgian child murderer Marc Dutroux was shown at London’s Unicorn theatre for two nights. No less than nine institutions from Europe and Singapore are listed as co-producers of this extraordinary theatrical experiment which has already been on tour for a couple of years....

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“La Cerisaie”: Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard” With New Secrets

La Cérisaie (The Cherry Tree/The Cherry Orchard) presented by the Belgian company TG STAN (i.e. Stop Thinking About Names). The Flemish TG Stan collective from Antwerp chose to perform their version of Chekhov’s last play (1903-04), as a comedy where the tragedy was reduced to moments of pure pathos as the actors free themselves from the constraints of Chekhov’s theatrical conventions. The enclosed space of a dying society has flung open the windows and let fresh air flood into the theatre to produce a counter-discourse that brought this performance beyond past readings of the play. This reading was at time intriguing but at...

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Metaphor At Play: New Theatre from Belgium, Poland and United States

Focusing on varied issues, three foreign plays staged at the 8th Theatre Olympics appealed with their presentation and performance. The Last One presented by Gema Galiana and Anthony Nikolchev’s The Useless Room, U.S., is a fine theatrical piece in terms of innovative presentational style as well as a severe indictment of mindless exploitation of nature in the name of development. Directed by Galiana and written by Nikolchev, there are three characters—one woman and two men. It is a physical theatre involving a lot of violent encounters between performers who appear to be trained in martial art and adept at the...

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Force And Fragility Meet And Merge In “Dunas”

There are mutual squeals of delight when Belgian dance artist, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Spanish flamenco dancer, Maria Pages are reunited after “far too long” at a Tokyo rehearsal studio. Pages, 54, has flown in from Madrid to promote the pair’s 2009 work Dunas (Dunes), which sees its Japan premiere this month at the Orchard Hall in Shibuya Ward—just down the road from the studio we are all sitting in. Cherkaoui, 42, is in Tokyo to direct an all-Japanese cast in a run of his play Pluto, based on the Naoki Urasawa manga of the same name—though by the look...

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City Of Arrival: The Role Of Arts Organizations In Promoting Diversity

In the session City Of Arrival, and with the case of Brussels as a starting point, the new nature of our European cities was discussed. From “multicultural” to “superdiverse“–with a majority of the population having roots in migration–our cities have changed and this change should be reflected in all aspects of societies. In a heated debate, the role of arts organizations in reflecting this new reality was questioned. How to be on the forefront of change rather than lagging beyond? Dr. Dirk Geldof, a professor at the University of Antwerp and author of the book Superdiversity In The Heart...

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Afterthoughts On Ivo van Hove’s “The Fountainhead”

Toward the end of the fourth and final hour of Ivo van Hove’s interminable adaptation of Ayn Rand’s bloviated and adolescent-minded novel The Fountainhead (which recently visited BAM for five performances), I grew twitchy and restless and started looking around at some of my fellow audience members. Onstage, the winsome Dutch actor Ramsey Nasr, playing Rand’s starchitect-protagonist Howard Roark, was midway through his rousing climactic speech that justifies all his actions as heroic defenses of the individual threatened with ceaseless assaults by monstrous collectivism. This speech, a ridiculously implausible, self-aggrandizing, sensationalized monument to Whataboutism, was driving me insane. We should all,...

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Experiencing “Badke”

KVS Theater in Brussels I tend to shy away from western-Arab collaborations. I tend to be skeptical, as are others I am sure, of western interpretations, fetishizations, and orientalizations (and so on), of the complexity of local contexts and traditions. This was the reaction I had when I first saw the announcement for the show Badke, at KVS theater in Brussels. To quote the curatorial text, the performance was a collaboration between Koen Augustijnen, Rosalba Torres (Les Ballets C De La B), Hildegard De Vuyst (KVS), and ‘ten Palestinian performers, young autodidacts from various disciplines including contemporary dance, hip-hop, circus, and so...

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Francis Poulenc’s “Midnight In Paris” (“La Voix Humaine”) In Beijing

Belgium’s new opera company Muziektheater Transparant is invited by the 2017 Beijing Music Festival to bring La Voix Humaine, a one-act opera composed by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), in a concept of director Wouter Van Looy, soprano Naomi Beeldens and pianist Jeroen Malaise. Based on a written work by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), La Voix Humaine centers on a woman, Elle, making a final attempt to get back her lover in a desperate telephone conversation. She creates a web of words – fearful, yearning, hysterical – as a safety net in her struggle for survival in the face of the imminent...

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Jan Lauwers: Beyond Postmodernism

How are we to live together in this day and age? Jan Lauwers, the ‘first among equals’ at Needcompany, has been one of Flanders’ major figures for several decades. Has any gap appeared between the prestige and the artistic quality? Certainly not according to Vanhaesebrouck. He focuses on The Blind Poet (2015), which he considers exemplifies the works Lauwers has created since the highly acclaimed Isabella’s room (2004). Jan Lauwers has been working steadily on his oeuvre since as early as 1979, not only as a theatre-maker but also as a visual artist (see recent Silent Stories exhibition at...

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Avignon Part 9: “Kalakuta Republik” – An Exploration of Music, Space and Movement Based on The Life of Fela Kuti

Kalkuta Republik Choreography Serge Aimé Coulibaly; music Yvan Talbot; inspired by the political thought of Fela Kuti; A production of the Faso Danse Théâtre, Halles de Schaerbeek (Bruxelles). Born in Burkina Faso, Serge Aimé Coulibaly established his professional career in Africa. He moved to Europe in the early 2000s to re-invent himself as a European dancer and choreographer, now working in Brussels and Bobo-Dioulasso at the same time. In his subject matter and artistic devices, Coulibaly remains the patriot of his native country; he believes that an artist must remain the servant to his/her community. In his criticism of contemporary Africa, Coulibaly tirelessly...

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A Review of Begüm Erciyas’ “Voicing Pieces”

Upon entering the Brigittines chapel, I see three mushroom-like structures, with big black heads and thin metallic feet, lingering in the dimly lit space. These are the reading stations, one-person theaters, waiting to be inhabited. One is in use when I enter, and I notice the humor inherent in their architecture: as the upper part of the visitor’s body disappears in the black ‘head’, it looks as if the mushroom has human feet. I hear voices already: the voice of the woman ahead of me, reading out loudly to herself inside the mushroom, the echo of her voice bouncing...

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“Us/Them” Explores Exclusion And How Children Cope

How do you stage appalling real-life events? I mean, without either being too luridly voyeuristic or too matter-of-factly journalistic? Maybe an oblique approach is the answer. This is certainly what Brussels-based BRONKS, one of Belgium’s leading theatres for young audiences, do with their current production, Us/Them, which takes an indirect look at the Beslan siege of September 2004, when a group of Chechen terrorists stormed into a school in North Ossetia, Russia, taking hundreds of children hostage. The siege lasted about three days and left some 334 people dead, including 186 children. Us/Them is not a documentary account of this...

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Dispelling The Myths Of Circus

“Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; Our meddling intellect Mis-shapes the beauteous form of things:— We murder to dissect.” Dear circus artists, The above lines from William Wordsworth’s poem “The Tables Turned” are a striking expression of a number of the central elements of Romanticism: a penchant for the mysterious, the glorification of nature and the unknown, and an accompanying aversion toward intellectualism. “The Tables Turned” dates from 1798. At about the same time, the English poet John Keats grumbles to a writer friend at a dinner that the work of the scientist Isaac Newton had “destroyed all...

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“Mount Tackle” by Heike Langsdorf / RADICAL_HOPE

In this time of superdiversity, with different cultures and strata of the population living alongside each other, how to make a performance that is potentially open to everybody? This inherently impossible question lies at the heart of Mount Tackle, a project by choreographer Heike Langsdorf. With this project, Langsdorf continues a movement that started from working in the public space (i.e. Postcards from the future, with the collective C&H), going beyond the threshold between public and semi-public space (i.e. Sitting with the body 24/7), to arrive at the theatre space. Throughout this journey, she collected insights and experience, taking...

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Superdiversity in Youth Theatre

The realization that our society is becoming superdiverse is more topical than ever. Even more relevant is the question as to how we want to deal with this fact. The reactions to the attacks in Paris in early January 2015 are telling: the Western world wavers between an us-them way of thinking in which repression has the upper hand, and a vision in which the attacks are seen as an extreme, fundamentalist act that has nothing to do with the otherness of large groups in society. That balancing act is laborious, and the sign of an age in transition...

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Failing to Understand Together: What Is Theatre Seeking In Current Affairs?

From the ‘crisis play’ to the ‘memorial play’ to the ‘Syria play,’ current affairs are doing well in theatre. And yet this is not a matter of course for a medium that likes to invoke its slowness with regard to the flow of information that washes over us daily. But perhaps today, Kristof Van Baarle argues, we have a greater need for stories than for information. It was impossible to avoid this spring: the ‘Syria play’ conquered the theatre. Various makers dealt in a variety of ways with the current issue of the Syria fighters. The press and the audience...

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An Interview With Contemporary Dance Artist David Hernandez: ‘Doing What You Want Is a Privilege, and a Nightmare’

In her research, theatre scholar Annelies Van Assche investigates the working and living conditions of contemporary dance artists in Brussels and Berlin and how these affect the working processes, modes of working, and eventually the artistic work itself. Her comprehensive research project ties dance studies to sociology by combining quantitative and qualitative research with the analysis of contemporary dance. Following the release of the first results included in a report, Annelies interviewed contemporary dance artist David Hernandez, whose Sketches on Scarlatti will premiere in Belgium in January at STUK. (AVA) What is for you the value of investigating the...

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The Political Is Personal (Or Vice Versa)

During summer, the Flemish theatre lover catches up on what he missed during the season. And the amateur sociologist that I am—sometimes—observes that the audience of the Flemish summer festivals Theater aan Zee (Ostend) and Het Theaterfestival (Antwerp) seems to correspond much less to the inner circle of theatre lovers than the audience during the season. Sometimes you have the impression, through the regular season, that theatre is mainly made for other theatre-makers, but at these festivals, hundreds of pure lovers, of all ages, show up. At the same time, the after-parties at these festivals are gaining importance as...

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Jan Fabre/Troubleyn – “Mount Olympus”

On Mount Olympus (Jan Fabre/Troubleyn): To glorify the cult of tragedy  ‘Breathe, just breathe. And imagine something new.’ After sitting for a gruelling 24 hours you, at last, hear the closing words of Mount Olympus. A quarter of an hour earlier the audience in the Bourla Theatre in Antwerp had stood up en masse already to cheer on Jan Fabre’s ‘warriors of beauty’ who, covered in colourful layers of paint and glitter, were rhythmically shaking their backsides up and down in the direction of the audience. It’s called twerking. This dance move became world famous thanks to superstar Miley Cyrus...

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Moussem Cities Festival Reflects on Autocratic Tunisia

The censorship and strict regulation of the public sphere during autocratic times in Tunisia took their toll on artistic freedoms as they anesthetized most of cultural life. The revolutionary movement, however, marked the beginning of the 21st century in a hopeful way. Five years later, the Nomadic Art Center, Moussem, invited five young Tunisian directors to show their work on the stages of BOZAR and the  “Maison des Cultures” in Brussels.   The festival explored how artists look back on this period and tackled the question how artists can contribute to the construction of a new social conscience on the...

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