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Perfect body control and poetic activism at Theatre Festival Boulevard

After nearly 30 editions, I finally had my Boulevard baptism of fire. And what a breath of fresh air it was. Audiences from 2 to 80, a festival terrain you can just stroll across without a ticket. Even better: a festival area where you can also watch acrobatics and dance on an outdoor stage without a ticket! I saw people walking their dogs and checking to see if there was anything nice, I heard people making their schedule with a festival newspaper in their hands. There was no hassle with tokens or long queues for dirty toilets, in short: a dream festival venue. The outside temperature was perfect, 22 degrees and sunshine. Inside, it was less pleasant in a tent with no cooling. Anyway, all for art.

Lyrics to a non-existent man

At the beginning of the site is a semi-circular shack with what promises to be a YouTube-like setting with Antifragile Bodies. This is rather disappointing, partly because one of the two screens refuses. It is, however, a space where you can read an enigmatic text by Selma Selma on a cushion, and see drawings and texts on the wall. The texts are diary entries or letters addressed to a non-existent Omer.

Selman writes about her dreams, hopes, disappointments, experiences with this man. We read the text as it is written on the screen; after reading it, it is erased. I'm reminded of an angry email to the patriarchy, the system, not flat activist, but a lot more circumstantial and poetic. The email you write to get something out of your system, but not to actually send.

If the second screen also cooperates (later in the day, everything was up and running again), you can see Selma's mother experiencing the sea for the first time. How salty that water is! There's always something touching when you see grown-ups doing something for the first time that to me is quite normal. The beauty of Selman's work is that she takes away that poignancy right away. No, it's not strange that her mother has never seen the sea, from Bosnia you have to cross two borders and that doesn't happen overnight. This woman, Roma, lives in a different world with a lot less privileges and a lot harder history.

Selman's work is activist and engaged, but above all, good art. She makes you think, observe carefully, associate. What a great start to a festival day.

We are our phone

Of entirely different order is the performance I, Phone by Rob Smorenberg. A bloodless Siri-like female voice gives Smorenberg commands to do something with his phone. Swiping, gaming, mute. With tiny gestures, he carries them out. His gaze is as vacant as ours as we waste time on the phone. I heard a lot of approving laughter around me. Ai, aren't we all fused to our smartphones?

I, Phone abstracts all daily movements and transforms them into an aesthetic version of our obsession. Smorenberg takes a few minutes to show how absurd it is to sleep with a phone next to you. As if we are watching a time-lapse recording, we see his body fidgeting and moving, not catching sleep and then quickly glancing at the phone anyway. That doesn't look like an eight-hour quiet night. But what a command of his body, not a fibre does not participate.

Beautiful is when his father suddenly calls on an old Nokia. Then it is suddenly about real contact, warmth through small talk. His mother wants to get on the phone too, but he has to keep it short, as he is at work. He reflects briefly on the performance ("they had to get into it, but now they are laughing anyway").

I'm just marking off my screen time again and deciding to talk to people for real a bit more often.

Raging dreaming bodies

Talking about mastery, Febris by Corpo Máquina Society (Simon Bus and Roy Overdijk) is incredible. They explore the ways a body can move when the mind has no control over it. Febris is the goddess of fever, Bus and Overdijk surrender to her. As they walk in, they are deeply hunched over on the stage. Then they suddenly shift forward, but how? We see no movement of limbs. From how a body happens to hit the floor, they look at how to move forward.

Feet and hands seem to land permanently in the wrong place and their bodies seem to have no points of articulation. With blank stares and tremendous ingenuity, they ice themselves, across the floor. The foot of one almost becomes the foot of the other, the dividing lines no longer visible. Like a two-headed dream monster, they move themselves and each other through space. But more than physically clever, it is a very inventive dance language that is developed here. Technically perfect, playful, original, a feast for the eyes.

What a fine festival day this was. With short chats with strangers, acrobatics on a warm outdoor stage, a lawn to lie on. And Den Bosch - from Amsterdam - is not that far by train at all.

Helen Westerik

Helen Westerik is a film historian and great lover of experimental films. She teaches film history and researches the body in art.View Author posts

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