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At the Holland Festival, Many Shades of Strange

Founded in 1947, the Holland Festival demonstrated a desire to build bridges in Holland after World War II. Its mission was simple. Every summer, we would invite international artists from various fields to Holland.

“There were three cultural exports back then: tulips, cheese and Holland Festival,” Emily Ansenk, the event’s artistic director since 2019, said in an interview.

Its core mission hasn’t changed much. The breadth of work on offer in Amsterdam can be somewhat disorienting, ranging from performance to visual his art. The 2022 edition tackled issues of climate change and representation, but this year there is no clear theme.

Still, as the theatrical portion of Holland Festival kicked off in earnest over the weekend, we began to see commonalities. Not all of them were attractive. Ellie Papaconstantinou and Suzanne Kennedy, two experimental European directors, have created a stage world so bizarre that the action proves difficult to follow.

ANGELA (a Strange Loop), created by Kennedy and her creative partner, visual artist Marcus Serk, is the centerpiece of this year’s festival. The Holland Festival performances are at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels and the Vienna Festival in Vienna, before the Avignon Festival in the South East of France next month.

It’s easy to see why programmers like this. The premise is the zeitgeist. The central character, Angela, is an influential figure with an autoimmune disease who is crumbling her real life. Kennedy and Serg bring this zeitgeist to life with genuine technological magic. In Angela’s house, designed by Selk, every wall is a screen. After a while, you can see the all-white kitchen behind her. Next is a giant talking cat or a frenetic explosion of color.

The play’s script is all pre-recorded, and the cast lip-syncs to it throughout, making it look matter-of-fact and a bit robotic. Reality is volatile and unreliable, but the show continues to send telegrams. In fact, the most natural conversations happen when Angela is captured cheerfully calling out to her followers, “Hey everyone!” She was a stark contrast to her aloof demeanor.

The early scenes promise a lot. When Angela’s boyfriend, Brad, stops by, the slow-motion exchanges that affect them, and the chomping sounds recorded while eating takeout, are similar to Angela’s relationship with her domineering mother. to, strangely seductive.

But “ANGELA (a Strange Loop)” eventually veers off track in the second half, packing so many weird shades that it becomes difficult to follow. Appearance of a bald angel statue playing the violin? How strange. A kidnapping subplot where Angela wanders the forest before being “reborn from water and spirit”? It’s bafflingly bizarre. Is it a ritual in which Angela “coughs” a baby trapped in a small balloon and holds it in front of a totem, with distorted images of the fetus flashing behind it? It’s pointless and tediously bizarre.

In terms of opaque plot, Kennedy and Seluk competed with Greek director Papa Konstantinou, who staged Bacchae in Musikgebouw, Amsterdam’s largest concert hall. “The Bacchae” is very loosely based on Euripides’ ancient play, and its characters appear to be transplanted into a post-apocalyptic world. The austere family of King Pentheus of Thebes gathers around the dinner table in outrageous camping make-up and outfits, awaiting the arrival of a meteor that could destroy the Earth.

The meteorite turned out to be Dionysus, the god who punished Pentheus and his kin, who appeared in Euripides’ play and claimed that Dionysus was not the son of Zeus. Here, Dionysus, played by Alaia Lester, is the catalyst for the actual vacation, as well as the composer of several songs scattered throughout the film. The cast are in their underwear, writhing and bouncing on the floor.

By contemporary dance standards, however, this particular gender-bending orgy was rather bland and lacked choreographic structure. Disturbingly, a family servant is also sexually assaulted by Pentheus in close-up on-screen, and then happily joins in as if nothing happened. Georgios Iatru’s menacing performance as the drug-wearing, singing Tiresias wasn’t enough to redeem this “Greek tragedy of the Metaverse.” As Papa Konstantinou says.

Queer characters were treated better in Brideshead Revisited, the only Dutch theater production in this year’s Dutch Festival line-up. In this lo-fi conversational show, actor and performer Florian Maiger delves into his teenage passion for the 1945 Evelyn Waugh novel.

Meiger is a member of the acclaimed Dutch theater collective De Walme Winkel, which opened its own rehearsal and performance venue, De Throat, in Amsterdam last year. On stage there, Meijer first addresses the audience as his sweet, awkward 16-year-old self, fantasizing about the man-to-man friendship between Oxford students Charles and Sebastian, which is central to the novel, but this has been widely interpreted as having homosexual overtones. “But that’s not what I’m looking for, because I’m not gay,” protests the young Maiger.

However, Maiger eventually comes out as gay and spends the rest of the show wrestling with his long-held desire to stage “Brideshead Revisited.” We saw him three times start rehearsing with another actor, Abke Hering, who co-directed with Meyer. Their attempts to kickstart the creative process are laughably clumsy at first, but then become serious.

Two actors reveal their deepest fears. Haring explains that she has always felt that she was a boy at the same time that she was a girl, and details the impact this has had on her life. As the two’s relationship became more conflicted, Haring wondered why Meijer chose her over a man for the project, and she admitted that Meijer still feels ashamed of her own sexuality. .

Brideshead Revisited is certainly not Waugh’s adaptation, but Meijer and Hering took a literary classic and freely riffed it in warm and vulnerable ways. Holland Festivals may have been intended to bring the world to the Dutch stage, but it’s nice to see Dutch artists joining the party and in the spotlight.

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