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Getting a whiff of Lotte van den Berg's special approach, fresh back from Africa

What she does is vulnerable to the point of confrontation. Theatre-maker Lotte van den Berg has such a personal view of the world that, outside the safe context of theatre, it can come across as absurd. Or alienating. On Sunday 26 September, she returned with the members of her Dordrecht-based location theatre company OMSK back from a four-month stay in the Congo capital Kinshasa. A full house in Rotterdam's Gouvernestraat then got to be there when they unpacked their bags a few hours after landing.

Those who travel far can tell many stories, but not immediately after returning. The transition from one atmosphere to another is usually too big for that. All the more brave of Lotte van den Berg that she tries to tell us something anyway. As is the way with artists, she does so less with words than with images.

She asked a young actress to be a guinea pig in her first attempt to shape what Kinshasa did to her. The actress has not been along herself and so is as blank as we are. The actress bravely tries to show what it feels like to be touched anytime, anywhere, and still be lonely. It is at first touching, then embarrassing and then suddenly beautiful, but still not what Lotte van den Berg actually wants to show. About the collectivist society in Congo, it teaches us little. It also raises questions in the audience: 'Isn't it logical that everyone looks at you when you walk through Kinshasa as a white woman in a crazy T-shirt?' Lotte van den Berg's answer to that question is not satisfying, but the audience favours her. We are not here to argue either, but to build something together, Van den Berg informs us. It is illustrative of the distance there is between the newly returned traveller and the left-behind home front, also experienced on slide night Full of untransferable memories.

As the attempt to get the actress to play a feeling souvenir slowly falters, the rest of the company emerges from the stands. The actors and technicians unpack suitcases, lay out drawings, reenact acts from their Kinshasa days and finally allow the audience in among their display of souvenirs. And the spectators walk between them, watch them, talk to them or walk out of the auditorium.

Lotte van den Berg can make beautiful things. Legendary is her ode to the dawn in a residential street in Brabant, and with her disarming manner, she is able to get criminals and down patients to play. With real actors, things sometimes don't go as smoothly, as she experienced at Antwerp's Toneelhuis. That is why she is actually still searching for what makes her profession her profession. Earlier, that search took her to the Far East, this time she went to the capital of Congo, which is torn apart by its colonial past. I tried to find out what had attracted her to that metropolis of 10 million inhabitants, but in the conversation we couldn't figure it out. So wait and see, what comes out here in a year's time.

26 September seen: Cold Turkey by OMSK, in co-production with Company DakarTheatre festival Boulevard ('s-Hertogenbosch), K-Mu Théâtre KinshasaArts festivaldesarts (Brussels), Steirischer Herbst (Graz), Theatre Embassy and Zurich Theatre Spectacle, The International Choice of the Rotterdam Theatre and NXTSTP With support from the Culture Programme of the European Union.

The research is financially supported by  Fund for Cultural ParticipationOxfam NovibSNS REAAL Fund and VSB Fund. OMSK receives structural funding from the NFPK+ and the municipality of Dordrecht.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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