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Like the best clowns, Elias de Bruyne knows how to connect humour with existential angst. At Festival Boulevard #tfboulevard

One of the very best things about Festival Boulevard is the variety of programming. Theatre, dance, music, youth performances, mime, comedy, it all mixes together. And the festival offers just as much space to young makers as to the old hands. So you get a good overview of what the up-and-coming generation of theatre makers has to offer.

That the variation also within a genre can be huge, prove Elias De Bruyne and Hali Neto and Luuk Weers of collective Vege Lijf. Both De Bruyne and Neto and Weers graduated from Amsterdam's mime school. However, what they achieve with their physical theatre is completely different.

The origin of man

At the beginning of Primordial by Vege Lijf Neto and Weers lie entwined on the floor. Clad only in trousers and shirt made of paper, they begin to move over each other. They do not let go of each other in their initial explorations of their surroundings and their bodies. They thus create the suggestion of two curious creatures seeking support from each other. Because of the title, I thought of primordial humans, but an association with babies or animals is also obvious.

Gradually, they become more and more aware of each other and their own bodies. Playfully, they explore each other's bodies, with play becoming rougher. However, the pushing and pulling also often gives way to tenderness, or the sudden abandonment of the other. By fusing humanity and animality in this way, Vege Lijf creates a captivating portrait of the origins of man, which is deeply moving in its helplessness.

Struggling with mortality

Where Primordial the body constantly in the spotlight, it shines in What if this is all by Elias De Bruyne long by absence. On stage is only a fridge, whose door keeps opening to let an object out. A parade of objects (a salt shaker, a packet of fish fingers) ensues, riding on wheels to the edge of the stage and lurching off it. It is a first harbinger of what turns out to be a common thread in the performance: death.

A witty computer voice explains the score. De Bruyne has not been on stage for a long time because of an illness he has struggled with since childhood. It has made him somewhat shy: what if he has forgotten about making theatre? Eventually he does emerge - albeit hidden under a big tarpaulin, but still.

It is the beginning of a series of clumsy scenes in which he tries to pick up where he left off. The resulting hilarity is continuously deepened by the undercurrent of helplessness and mortality. Like the best clowns, De Bruyne manages to connect humour with existential angst.

In the gripping final scene, the actor makes that fear even more explicit. What if your body stops working from one moment to the next? The alienating, understated way De Bruyne makes us part of his horror scenario makes the impact even greater. What if this is all? refuses to cover the struggle with mortality with the cloak of love.   

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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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