For a while it looked like we were in a live version had come right from The Square, but it was just the official opening performance of Theatre Festival Boulevard in Den Bosch. Now, that festival is miles away from the self-absorbed elitist art world that is rocked by a human gorilla act completely out of control in that Danish film, but uncomfortable was it at the dance performance Born to Exist: The Woman I Know by Joseph Toonga. The reason: the monkey screams for which football matches are normally rightly stopped, but which now came from the throat of a Black dancer.
Joseph Toonga is, to put it in proper Dutch, 'boldly going where no man has gone before', when it comes to addressing social injustice on the stage of established art. Not only does he work with his own company, and projects in London and Brazil, he is also a staff member at the Royal Ballet in England.
Born To Protest, Born To Manifest, Born To Exist
Last year, two other parts of his 'Born to' trilogy were featured. In both impressive pieces, the group dance Born to Protest and the duet Born to Manifest, the dancers also threw existing prejudices about Black people back in the faces of the predominantly white Boulevard audience. There too, painful associations with jungle noise and monkey behaviour were displayed by Black dancers and discomfort on the other side of the footlights was great, and rightly so.
As with Born To Manifest, which highlighted how oppression leads to stigma and violence that transcends generations, in Born to Exist there is no room for comfort on the audience side. We see three women, each totally different in appearance and technique, resisting an unfamiliar, dark world around them. A world where guns are common, raised fists deadly to those who open their mouths and Black lives don't matter. A world to which we, the Boulevard audience, overwhelmingly belong. "Look at me, see me!" the performers shouted at us, and we did our best.
It is up to us to do something with that, because for now the gap is unbridgeable. Toonga shows that gap, and that is a good start for a festival in which we come mainly to celebrate summer. Especially now, the first full edition after two years of isolation and restriction due to the pandemic.
Catalog of Shadows
One who had not yet fully disengaged from 2 years of Zoom was Kristel van Issum. Her installation #Catalogue of Shadows II is described as "a fascinating weave of spoken word, image, audio, video and specially composed music". That pretends to be quite something, but in the studio of Theatre Artemis, on the 14-plus screens, it unfortunately gets no further than a zooming session: all restrained, all distance, no contact.
It does have a bit of train sound from Station to Station, the jets from Neuköln and a performer, Ulrika Kinn-Svensson, who looks quite a bit like Bowie, as well as some references to Star Trek and Barbarella, but it only leads to the tedium of a too-long online drink. No drive, no need, no power.
The Making of Berlin
Lack of physical contact, but of a very different order, offered the Flemish company Berlin in The Making Of.... The company that combines film, live action and architecture previously managed to win my heart with the fantastic Zvizdal, a document about two Ukrainian oldies who did not want to leave the forbidden zone after the Chernobyl explosion. Later, they made a project about an art forger, in which a Dutch-Romanian writer was still taken for a ride, which she was not happy about.
With The Making of Berlin, the company seems to sort of apologise for that, by now turning the game of truth, falsification and documentary fiction on itself. It seems somewhat inspired by the famous zoom concert with which the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra at the beginning of the first lockdown still managed to fraternise friend and foe alike in emotion. Now it is about an idea that would have existed in the last days of World War II, to have the Berliner Philharmoniker play a piece from Wagner's Götterdämmerung in different bunkers.
Betraying the plot would be no fun, suffice it to say they don't spare themselves, but they also shed light on how deep journalistic research sometimes goes precisely not when a subject comes up that might be too good to be true.