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In #Zomergasten 2023#6 guest, Alida Dors, asked the best questions. 

The counter stood at 8 minutes and 45 seconds when it went wrong. Pretty fast for a three-hour interview programme like Zomergasten, but Theo Maassen grabbed the record with verve. His guest Alida Dors, the woman who, as a self-taught dancer, grew to become a forefather of Dutch hip-hop culture, and who now has the task of renovating the Theatre Rotterdam, which is in the doldrums due to mismanagement and official incompetence, shouldn't talk about her colour too often tonight, because, thanks to his youth in Eindhoven, Theo Maassen also knew all about Breakdance.

Although he meant Electric Boogie. But who cares about that difference. As long as you master the 'caterpillar'. Maassen couldn't do that himself, but he had 'other talents', he joked. Alida Dors nodded and batted her eyes. Two hours and 50 minutes to go.

On her guard

Perhaps I expected too much of this latest episode of Summer guests. I saw parallels between a clip of Dors and the new setting of the VPRO monument and even briefly hoped they would let go of the table and conquer the floor, the two of them. In its place came a conversation in which the guest was almost constantly on her guard, and the host a little too eagerly trying to make it a cool evening.

I stopped counting the number of sentences Dors managed to finish after 15 minutes. The counter stood at zero, and that was not due to her thoughtful way of speaking, but to Theo Maassen, who interrupted her all the time, or finished her sentence with his own words. The panting rush came across as odd after the quiet evening with Kamagurka, a week earlier.

Privilege

It resulted in vicarious shame, and then we had to spend another 2 hours and 35 minutes together. Long minutes, during which the moment still came when Dors could briefly explain that it really is something different when black parents tell their children that they are at a disadvantage, than when white parents do so with a white child. Maassen did not see the difference. 'Now that's privilege, Theo,' and now it was time for the host to freeze, and for certain types on social media to speak up for the poor white man.

So by far the best questions in this season finale came from Alida Dors. With admirable calm and engaging self-control, she occasionally continued to ask where Maassen failed to do so. It occasionally embarrassed the comedian turned interviewer, and became truly revealing when it came to the slavery past. Whether Theo Maassen felt guilty about that. Of course not, he replied, because when he was born, there were no more slaves. Dors nodded sympathetically and asked if he then understood why the king had made excuses.

Maassen muttered that he thought it made sense, but that he had nothing to do with the royal family anyway, so he hadn't really paid attention to it either. Dors asked further: whether he had still found the way the king had spoken special. In his reply, Maassen made it clear that he had not listened to the speech, because the expression of deep personal regret that made the moment so special for the Netherlands, and especially the relatives of slavery, had passed him by. Dors nodded, remained silent, and smiled. Not even superior, but it must have boiled, inside.

What was it supposed to be about?

It is a bit surprising when, in preparing for your first season of Summer Guests, in which you are also going to interview a black cultural heavyweight, you have no interest in something that played quite a role for the black community this year. What did Theo Maassen actually want to talk about, this evening? That question occupied my mind last night.

Looking back over the six episodes, it is striking that the starting points were always different, and it also had a bit to do with other things than just the guest's name.

The series opened with a cosmologist, a discipline Maassen understood nothing about. As presenter, however, he did hang, with us, on the lips of the man whose story encompassed the universe, and about whose private life we found out nothing. Cameraman Hoyte van Hoytema was allowed to explain to his fan Theo Maassen, and to us, how lenses worked, and absurdist Kamagurka was given all the time he needed to drop silences, even if it was a bit uncomfortable at the end when he added nuance to the memory of the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Listening is a profession

The conversation with children's book author Bibi Dumon Tak was enlightening for those who had not read her wiki page, but Theo Maassen did not want to pry into the dark sides of her family. The only one with whom Maassen did set himself a journalistic task was Khadija Arib. That is where things went badly wrong. The presenter sat visibly averted for the first two hours, and only came into action when he wanted to force a confession from her, of a fact he was already sure of anyway.

What did he want to build with Alida Dors? It became clear that Maassen knows as little about this choreographer's world as he does about cosmology or camerawork. It would have made sense for him to let her tell her story, and hang on her every word, as he did with the cosmologist in episode 1. Instead, he started explaining to this cosmologist how the universe was put together, because he had also used to look upwards from time to time. It would have been comical, if it wasn't so embarrassing.

I sincerely hope that the next host (m/v/x) of Zomergasten has the ability to really listen, even in the high tension of such a full-length interview. Because listening, putting your own things aside for a moment to give your guest space, we didn't get to experience that with two of the six guests.

That those were women, will be coincidence.

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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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