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The Netherlands' Flemishest festival. Theatre festival Boulevard sees artists searching for a way forward

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'As programmers, we are more often in Ghent than in Amsterdam,' says Viktorien van Hulst, director of Theatre Festival Boulevard. The Bossche arts festival, which this year takes place from 1 to 11 August under the Sint Jan and at unexpected locations around the North Brabant capital, has for years stood out for its close ties with our southern neighbours. 'The Dionysian artists are more in the south' Van Hulst explains the Flemish slant. 'You see in Flanders much more productions with a free dramaturgy. And we here in Den Bosch, of course, have also taken a hit from the Catholic mill.'

Indeed, Northerners have different experiences of this. Van Hulst: 'We see water turning into wine here. Children grow up in a Catholic culture that is hugely focused on images, magic and legends. That appeals much more to the gut and to feelings. The northern, Protestant tradition is much more about language. That suits a festival like Boulevard less. There's a reason our business plan uses the term 'Southern, Sensible.'

Own work

Boulevard is also this year a showcase festival for foreign visitors who want to get to know both Dutch and Flemish theatre. 'Then with us they have everything together in one go.' That the festival was chosen for that presentation is, of course, also due to the many international (co)productions the festival presents: the high-profile group Berlin, for instance, which previously went to Tchernobyl before the tourists, and just last year had two Dutch authors hunting for a supposedly stolen canvas. And work by Italian choreographer Allessandro Sciarroni - who recently won a Golden Lion in Venice - by British Liz Aggiss, by Tabea Martin from Switzerland and by Omar Rajeh from Lebanon.

Studio Orca is also coming along again. The company that previously moved hundreds of spectators to tears with the unique outdoor performance Chasse Patate. This year they are in Den Bosch with Craquelé, a play about a church in which the sexton sees cracks appearing in his rock-solid world view. The programme book says: 'Craquelé is also a warning: unused time can never be reclaimed, Choose, jump and live now, is the motto under the church arches.'

This approach is also the background to the festival theme, which the organisation has hung over this year's programme: 'You Are Here'. According to Viktorien van Hulst, such a theme is not only of publicity interest: 'After we had programmed the first performances, it became clear that there were similarities in theme. it struck us that all the pieces radiated a strong sense of a turning point, a point at which you inevitably have to make a choice. You can't go back, you have to go forward, but how you do that, artists at this festival all give a different answer to that.'


From that image, they then started looking for other performances to go with it. This creates a coherent programme, although Van Hulst is careful not to make it too compelling: 'Ultimately, a theme only emerges for the viewer afterwards, when you have experienced more performances'.

And that, of course, is what you should do at a festival: immerse yourself in it. I did that myself this year at the Holland Festival, for example, and had unprecedented experiences. The advantage of the Bossche festival is that it is more compact. You can see several performances in one day, and before or after the big productions, you can see small performances on the central square, which is called Parade in a very confusing way for non-Bosschen people, also by 'big' Flemish makers like Miet Warlop and Berlin.


And if you immerse yourself in it, like in Ersan Mondtag's opening performance The Living, which has become a sensation in Germany, or in Dries Verhoeven's new performance dedicated to happiness pills, 'Happiness', then that theme comes naturally to you. Van Hulst: 'The artists we programme show a great awareness of the confusion and lack of answers to it that we face from today. What is striking then is that they don't just observe this, and become fatalistic about it. Instead, they all offer their own perspective on how we can move forward. That is optimism. It's about your attitude to life. The optimism of our festival is that you can talk about it on those few acres. That's comforting.'

Good to know Good to know

Theatre Festival Boulevard takes place this year from August 1 to 11. Information.

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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