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SPECIAL! Holland Festival 2022 shows us how indifferent we are about the past #hf22

Just for fun, name one literary or cultural classic Dutch work that you are sure people around you know about. And I mean a work, like a book or a play, that pops up every few years in the lists, on our stages, in our cinemas. Something that everyone, even now, has been exposed to at school.

Chances are you don't know many to mention. Official classics like the Max Havelaar, The Silent Power or Op Hoop van Zegen might pop into your head, but these are not really pieces that meet the criterion of being refreshed every few years. Let alone every year. With the exception, then, of Soldier of Orange. But that's only our country's longest-running musical.

Are we suffering from cultural obesity?

This year, a festival in Amsterdam will make you feel what you are missing out on. The Holland Festival, celebrating its 75th edition this year, was once created to uplift the culturally starved Netherlands by bringing the top international film, music, dance and theatre to our suburban theatres and concert halls. Now, in 2022, you could say that mission did succeed. Indeed, we have so many festivals bringing the top international arts to the Netherlands that we are suffering a little from cultural obesity. After all, IDFA, IFFR, Julidans, Spring, O, November Music, Brandhaarden, Boulevard, these are just a few examples of all the great things there are to taste. As Holland Festival, how do you stand out from all that?

What does a market where the highest bidder determines supply offer?

At least with budget, because, although an extraordinarily questionable decision by the Council for Culture in 2020 simply took a 20% bite out of the budget, there is still no festival in the Netherlands that is richer. In European perspective, it has only gotten a little smaller, compared to festivals like 'Avignon' (25 million) or the Wiener Festwochen (also something like that).

So what else do you buy for that relatively small budget, in a market where the highest bidder can determine the price - and thus the supply? Quite a lot, and the Holland Festival owes that to its excellent reputation. Not only in terms of (artistic) policy, but also the Dutch public is pretty highly regarded. 'We' can take a beating and don't start throwing mud at the slightest artistic quirk.

Debate with earlier takes place in Zurich

But after 75 years, what does the Holland Festival still have to teach us? For that, we have to go back for a moment to the assignment that started this piece: whether you can name a Dutch cultural evergreen/classic. In a number of performances, the 2022 festival edition makes us feel how strange it is to live in a country without widely supported classics.

I was in the fortunate position of visiting a few performances in advance of this festival in preparation. Not entirely coincidentally, three of the five performances involved Nicolas Stemann. The Swiss director is this year's Holland Festival 'associate artist', together with Angelique Kidjo. He is artistic director of the Schauspielhaus Zurich, which has been a hotbed of innovation in otherwise rather conservative Switzerland for decades. Years ago, for instance, I saw a performance there by the prematurely deceased Christoph Schlingensief, who adapted and performed Hamlet with Neo-Nazis: Hamlet with Neo-Nazis - Schauspielhaus Zurich.

The French also have to face it

So there is quite a legacy in Zurich and Stemann seems to be honouring it by - as director or artistic director - getting theatre-makers to work with classics. For instance, I saw A far-reaching commentary on Der Ring des Nibelungen of Richard Wagner and a new insight into the modern classic of the German-speaking world: Der Besuch der Alte Dame.

Steman also did his thing in the French-speaking world. In Lausanne, he made an adaptation of l'Etranger (The Stranger) by Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus.

This piece, in which he wanted to bring together Camus' original, which every Frenchman has read in school, with the literary commentary on Camus by Algerian writer Kamel Daoud 'Meursault - Contre Enquête' can also boast wide interest among French speakers on both sides of the Mediterranean: Contre-enquêtes - Nicolas Stemann.

Texts are sacred

The play is extra special because Albert Camus's granddaughter has explicitly forbidden the makers to use even a single line from Camus's novel about a man who shoots an unnamed Arab out of boredom, but is not punished for it because the law in Algeria does not function between 12 and 2 in the afternoon. Comments are allowed, but Camus' texts are sacred.

Such a ban would be hard to imagine in the Netherlands: literary work here has neither the status nor the impact of a work like l'Etranger, and so commenting on it is not very remarkable either. All but a few older works have not been brought together in a real, self-evident canon, despite all the valiant efforts of ministries and museums.

We undertake demolition and new construction

You could call it liberal, and progressive, not to cling to the past. It's like with our cities: when something is deemed old, we don't let it stand, but companies demolish and build new, because there isn't that much space in our country, and so, apparently, not in our heads either.

So that the Holland Festival makes us feel that now, by making us look a little strange at all this renovation work and reinterpretation of old material, might be a good thing.

Not that we all now have to go to a National History Museum, virtual or otherwise, to see the 50 windows of yet another canon up close, but it is fun to wonder if 'engaging in debate' with such an ancient monument does not also have something noble about it.

Indeed, our indifference concerns not only the cultural highs but also the national lows.

Good to know Good to know

Holland Festival 2022 will take place from 3 to 26 June at various locations in Amsterdam. Information and programme.

Read all previews of the Holland Festival 2022 here:

Full line-up Holland Festival programmes at Melkweg and Lofi known! 

ANTARCTICA - at the Holland Festival : World premiere of an opera about the mysterious continent on 5 and 6 June

NRC asked when Wagner would be cancelled. At the Holland Festival, we get an answer to that question, via Schauspielhaus Zurich #HF22

(Update) Nicolas Stemann on his version of 'der Besuch' at the Holland Festival: 'We do take such women very seriously these days.' #HF22

Ben Frost shoots at elusive state violence with 130-decibel musical bullets #HF22

Tiago Rodrigues directs Isabelle Huppert in The Cherry Garden at the Holland Festival: 'From Chekhov, the best friend of all actors in the world, we play every note.'

Euphoria by Julian Rosefeldt from the Holland Festival 2022 programme

'We need art to talk to lunatics' - Holland Festival presents anniversary programme



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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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