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Music can move, comfort and even heal the greatest traumas, the Holland Festival makes us feel

ANOHNI lived in Amsterdam for a year as a young child, in Gerrit van der Veenstraat, formerly Euterpestraat. The street where the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) had its headquarters during the war in what is now a nice school with a focus on art. Opposite was the building from which Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung organised the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews. The Frank family was one of the families imprisoned there before the deportation. ANOHNI offered an impressive afternoon to reflect on the past, to let the stories be told, and to reflect.

Razzias and bombings

A number of women spoke about their own experiences. Journalist and presenter Marga van Praag told how her mother was stopped in a raid and faced a Nazi on Euterpestraat. Her mother was beautiful as blood and was allowed to go. She survived the war, but the fear never went away. Another woman told how she survived the bombing of the Zentralstelle she lived next door, but her little brother and father did not. Crying, she recounted that only the corner of the hall in which she was hiding was standing. There was no trace of father and little brother.

The disintegration loops

Against this leaden backdrop, William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops was played. The original piece is a loop of found sound, which Basinski wanted to transfer to a digital carrier. Rotating it along the magnetic heads disintegrated the material further and further, more and more bits of sound fell away. The result is an intense loop of sound that is elusive and wistful.

Basinski completed the recording of this run on the morning of the attack on the Twin Towers, suddenly giving the work a very different connotation. Ten years later, at the commemoration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an orchestrated version of the work was played. And so now again. It has become a work for strings, winds and percussion that builds very slowly in slow, repetitive themes towards a melancholic dream state. As the title suggests, the work is about disintegration, but also about consolation. About beauty after trauma. About metamorphoses. Because of the setting, the talk and the grey sky, the work had a deep emotional intensity that will stay with me for a while.

Our job is to imagine a world we want to

This could be the motto of adrienne maree brown, also invited by ANOHNI. Also about metamorphoses, but of a completely different order is To Feel a Thing, a ritual for emergence by brown. She is an author, songwriter and activist whose To feel a thing is a new ritual, by which she means asking for concentrated attention to something. And in this case, it's about calling attention to what we feel. Really feeling. That's why the audience is also cordially invited to sing along, stand up and dance, if we like, or just grab a cup of tea. With gospel-inspired singing, this is not so difficult, soon most of the room is swaying and singing along.

In the centre of the room is a tree, made by an artist, of branches and light. Around it are cushions, for those who want them. Chairs are arranged around the tree, there is no stage, there is no formal distinction between performer and spectator.

Brown is not just delivering a performance, she is also not asking us to perform, but to do what feels right. Because no one is watching you, no one is engaged with you. So sing if you like, stay put if that suits you better.

She is well aware that she is a passer-by in Amsterdam, but has a local interpretation of the ritual. The queer choir sings along, we are blessed by a Winti priestess and Ernestine Comvalius, founder of the Bijlmer parktheater recites a poem.

Diversity dream for every festival

What is striking, and beautiful, is that the audience is fully on board. Perhaps because it is the most diverse audience in colour, age and gender that I have seen at the festival so far. The younger visitors in particular immediately creep closer into the circle and are involved in the ritual and each other from the first moment. The singers walk around with their microphones and look at us. The queer choir members stand among the audience. Older white visitors (like me) are happy to let us in on Gen-Z's enthusiasm. And the connection, joy and warmth wash away any tendencies towards cynicism.

ANOHNI has not taken the stage herself, but her voice is loud and powerful. What a strong choice to ask her as associate artist. And what beauty to tap into an emotional layer beyond what usually happens in theatre in two performances so different. Grief, stillness, contemplation, but also joy, simultaneously with the awareness of intergenerational trauma. It's all possible. And it is purifying.

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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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