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The best chance of total bewilderment. Why you want to experience completely unknown performances at the Holland Festival.

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There was a time, not so long ago, when the Holland Festival had a reputation for being elitist. The festival, founded in 1947 to get the culturally starved Netherlands back on track after the Second World War, had a bit of that about it because, for a long time, 'being elitist' was not a bad thing at all either. You didn't go to Maria Callas (her name comes up more often than she herself was present) in your everyday clothes, but dressed up for it. As people still seem to do for the opera today. 

But times have changed. The price of a Holland Festival ticket (13 euros for students, 28 regular) is no higher than an average theatre ticket, part of the programme is also free, and that at a time when the average popular festival in the Arena costs a multiple of that (69 euros for people in wheelchairs at The Toppers!) And you have to change for that too. 

Abroad

What people might still find elitist at best about the Holland Festival offering is that many performances are in a foreign language, with surtitles. And that it does not always fit into our traditional image of what art or entertainment might be. This may apply to people who already find Taylor Swift complicated, but also to people who only come to the Concertgebouw to listen to their favourite European music. 

A festival like the Holland Festival is for those who want to be surprised. People who want to be open to stories from parts of the world where there are very different views on what is beautiful, good and art. 

Golden formula

This has not always been the case. The change from a festival that offered 'the highest' of the Western canon, to one in which your views on it are actually questioned, only really got off the ground when a set-up with 'associate artists' was chosen. Working with an artist who acts as advisor and programmer proved to be a good method to step outside the beaten path of the international festival market. 

It is a formula that also makes a festival like Utrecht's Le Guess Who so unique: artists who did not grow up in the international world of festival programmers come with their very own idea of what they find beautiful and special and inspiring. 

So you go to the Holland Festival to see with those artists, and thus look at your own tradition with fresh eyes.

Brazil

This year, Christiane Jatahy, a Brazilian living and working in Paris, has put her own stamp on the festival, which can rely on a strong team of programmers to flesh out the programme. Jatahy is relatively young, comes to the Netherlands with a background in film, video and theatre and a whole load of luggage from Latin America and those who can afford to go and see more performances (always cheaper than two days of Toppers), should definitely do so. If everything is not already sold out, because it seems to be going fast. 

And otherwise you can always check this site, as we are going to bingen. For you, thanks to generous press passes available and off-peak NS season ticket. 

What you can't see for yourself, you can read up on here. A selection. 

Sacre du Printemps - 6 June

The opening of the festival, usually rather royal and therefore already exceptional to experience. It takes place in the Gashouder on the Westergasfabriek grounds. That round temple usually provides grounds for very nice things, with the three-day marathon Aus Licht by Stockhausen in 2019 as an absolute highlight. Strawinsky's Sacre du Printemps is usually called by friends only by its first name ('Sacre') and is considered by connoisseurs to be pretty much the beginning of modern musical theatre. Attraction value this time lies in the film Evangelia Kranioti made to it combined with something conciliatory set to music by Caroline Shaw by Brazilian-French associate artist Christiane Jatahy. And of course that huge orchestra

The festival thus opens an edition that will focus heavily on oppressed groups. Be it women, members of the queer community or residents of disappearing nature. 

After the silence - 7 June

Film, music and theatre in an indictment of destruction and an ode to survivability. I cannot say a meaningful word about this beforehand, other than that, based on Jatahy's previous work, I have complete confidence in an evening I will remember for a very long time. Jatahy knows how to bring the three art forms, theatre, film and music together so naturally so far, that this could well be another highlight. Bit of an early peak, in the Holland Festival that's allowed. The trailer already makes one wildly curious. 

Bird of a thousand voices 8 - June

Again, a trip into the unknown. After all, a festival like this is the best place to get to know what you don't know yet, what you know nothing about and where knowledge falls short. 

Dans la mesure de l'impossible - June 9

Stories from aid workers. This does not promise to be a feathery evening. Chosen purely on the name Tiago Rodrigues. I got to know this maker thanks to previous editions of the Holland Festival. Like what he did with Isabelle Huppert, in 2022: 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.'. And there's a drummer on stage. Always plus 1.

Pearls - June 11

Masculinity and femininity are not definite concepts, humanity has known that since it existed. This fluidity of genders makes life exciting and fascinating. We too know all about it. Caruso, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Stromae: not for nothing do the biggest stars have something indefinable that makes them attractive to everyone on the spectrum from male to female. And further. 

A show about a culture where that was the norm until Western rulers set foot on the scene. That's why I'm going to watch.  

Levagua Terre - June 12

I got to know Vitor Araújo at this year's Holland Festival press conference. He sat down behind the piano and started improvising. With fingers on the keys, but also with his teeth in the strings. It resulted in an exciting 15 minutes of musical boundary exploration, after which I was sure I wanted to attend this man's concert. 

Hard choir - June 13

'Uncompromising' is a weak expression of the energy Naomi Velissariou exudes. Uncompromising theatre-maker who mainly puts herself on the chopping block. But sometimes also her interlocutor. This performance is a comeback of sorts after a burnout she suffered earlier. This will not be a gently rippling evening. With drummer. And DJ. Can't wait.  

Eu não Sou so eu me em mim - 14 June

No idea what you're about to witness, which is why you're going The text in the programme book doesn't make you any wiser, just curious: "a group of rebellious punks who liberate their dance from rules - call it 'anarchic choreography' - to music that ranges from hard beats to live played piano. Alongside AI and technology, language and text projections enhance their energetic dance style." Keep it coming. 

Macacos - June 15

A show to be at during the European Cup. Ever since it was announced that football fans feel there should be fewer black people in their national team have to play, this performance has become even more necessary. This is about that deep-seated exclusion of people of colour. Since the Netherlands has a right-wing extremist as shadow prime minister, something to be very much aware of. 

Signal to Noise - June 16

Tim Etchell's theatre has been making school for 40 years. It has been a long time since the last time a play of his was seen here. That was children's sth. and it made quite an impression. So it's high time for a re-acquaintance. 

The Divine Cypher - 18 June

From Pearls, the performance about liquid life in the Philippines to Haiti, with another interesting twist on how we look at what makes us human. The second performance in this festival that explores the limitlessness of human capability on a miniature scale. 

Melencolia - June 19

Melencolia I (B. 74; M., HOLL. 75) *engraving *24 x 18.8 cm *1514

An excellent opportunity to experience the world's top musical performers in a show that attracts me for the title alone. Melancholy is a wonderful word, Lars von Trier's film with that title offered reconciliation with the end of the world and Albrecht Dürer's print is still undeclared for a reason. That can only make for beautiful music. Angst and Paralysis: Visualising Melancholia from Albrecht Durer to Lars Von Trier

Alfa Romeo - June 20

As someone who has made the switch yourself, you might be quite curious about how Wunderbaum will shape the reactions to the first electric Alfa Romeo. Especially if you yourself frequent places where those kinds of debates extreme forms assumes. So every reason to witness its theatrical representation. 

Hamlet, in the folds of time - June 21

Virginia Woolf unspools Shakespeare in a Parisian flat, thanks to Christiane Jatahy. What if Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark who is told by a ghost that his father has been killed by his uncle and then, after some hesitation and theatrical playing the fool, meets his end in a bloodbath, had the chance to look back on his actions as a woman? Christiane Jatahy talks about it here: Timeless doubt in French Hamlet: 7 dilemmas for Christiane Jatahy.

11,000 Saiten - June 22

50 pianos, each detuned by 1/50th note relative to its neighbour, in a huge circle in the Gashouder of the Westergasfabriek. For that reason alone. Can't help but be a topper of the festival.

Carmen - June 23

Any variation on this theme of fatal love is welcome. 

Verocai 25-6

The alpha and omega of Brazilian music. So unique that just getting a ticket is a treat.

The Romeo - June 26

In fact, the essence of any festival: where art is sometimes precisely something that allows you to stand out from others, it is also something to be absorbed in together, if you open up, and allow yourself to be immersed. 

The Second Woman - 28 and 29 June

The final of the festival is going to be memorable. For some, just watching Georgina Verbaan live for 24 hours will be a dream come true. Regardless, this marathon in which she plays the same make-up scene hundreds of times with a different completely unknown antagonist each time will be a war of attrition. It's one of those moments where art and top-class sport merge. Not only exhausting for the people on stage, but certainly also for the people who are going to want to be there for those full 24 hours. Also available via live stream. 

We at Culture Press are going to see as much of this choice as possible, and tell you about it in two podcasts, the newsletter and articles on this site. Don't miss anything, become a member!

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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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