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Gender gets Japanese touch at Theatre Festival Boulevard @tfboulevard

'Not a bad word about Lego or Knexx. But identity is the most exciting building kit.' So opens the preface to Theatre Festival Boulevard in Den Bosch. What you see is what you guess is the motto this time. It refers to the gap between how other people see you and how you yourself feel. Identity in its broadest form: from gender to religion, from physique to nationality. During the Performing Gender-programme, these themes come together nicely.

Dance makes differences

Gender will have a special place in this edition of Boulevard. The festival is hosting 'Performing Gender - Dance makes differences', a touring two-year programme for European dancers focusing on gender and sexual identity. In addition to Boulevard, the dancers will attend festivals in Bologna, Ljubljana, Madrid and Leeds, among others.

Therefore, during this edition of Boulevard, you can enjoy numerous interpretations of the gender theme. 71BODIES1DANCE, for example, by dancer and choreographer Daniel Mariblanca. In Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Spain, he found 71 transgender people, who joined him in performing a show combining dance, film and photography.

Or Kyabajo by Korean-Japanese Jija Sohn, who studied dance in Amsterdam. The title refers to the profession of bar hostess, which is regarded with high regard in Japan. In that sense, this performance is similar to Sohn's previous show, Geisha's Miracle (2016), in which she also reflected on femininity and the clash Between tradition and modernity.

Power or submission

During this performance, Sohn pours alcohol into stacked cocktail glasses in provocative poses. She spreads her legs while balancing from height on a floating bar stool. She makes music by sliding her fingers over half-filled glasses. The details prompt thought: is the boxy cape she wears a reference to her fighting spirit or the naivety of a fairy-tale character? Is her demand for a strong man from the audience to lift her off her barstool contraption a sign of power or submission? Are her feminine movements and incited caresses part of her role or parody of it? Is she doing this of her own free will? Does she enjoy her own performance, or is that enjoyment too part of her role? How much power does the kyabajo itself?

Thus, Sohn's performance continues to raise relevant questions. Questions that at the same time offer a valuable insight into Japanese gender culture. A culture that is as much suppressed as it is celebrated, which appears as contrived as it is true. Especially in the convincing form in which it is presented to the viewer at Theatre Festival. The gender debate is a multicultural voice richer.

Good to know Good to know

The presentation of the Performing Gender project will take place on 11 August at the Bank of Loan under the name 'Five miniatures and a conversation'. The dancers will then show the performance they shaped during the festival.

Anne van den Dool

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