Time and Unity: Holland Festival


This year the Holland Festival will celebrate its 65th edition from June 1st until June 28th with 46 productions and 110 performances including dance, theater, music, opera, theater, and a multidisciplinary of all of them. According to Holland Festival managing director Annet Lekkerkerk, ‘the Holland Festival includes the greatest diversity of performing arts than any other cultural festival in Europe, including the notorious Edinburgh and Salzburg festivals”.

The incentive for the festival was born just after the Second World War in 1947 when there was no money for cultural events. “The country was too concerned with rebuilding after war”, Lekkerkerk adds. The founders of the festival believed that culture was a needed cohesive to unify Europeans after the war had devastated so much, and were also convinced that culture in Europe was its strongest asset, and unified more people than divided them.  In the 65 years since the first festival, it has evolved and not only focuses on European culture but also includes performances from all over the world. Lekkerkerk says, ‘last year more than 85,000 people attended the festival, including many from abroad who come for the performances that are usually not seen elsewhere’.

Critics have sometimes complained that previous festivals did not have a theme. However, Lekkerkerk argues the underlying philosophy for the programming of the festival aims to present more experimental-typed dance, plays, opera’s, and concerts that would normally not be available to the public due to high production costs. Putting previous critiques aside, there are two main prevalent themes in this year’s program: time and unity. In the last 65 years, the artist has always been the central focus for the festival, and the artist has always been aware of the man-made notion of ‘time’. 

An artist’s awareness of ‘time’ is keenly made prevalent in Robert Wilson’s directed documentary film The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, a biography of  “the grandmother of performance art”, Marina Abramović. Abramović became the master of time and made that aware to her audiences in 2010 with ‘Artist is Present”, a static-silent piece in New York’s MoMA where she sat immobile and mute for 760 hours and 30 minutes in the museum’s atrium while visitors could sit with her. In Wilson’s documentary, which includes Willem Dafoe, Abramović plays herself and her mother, and is an autobiography about her life from the time she was a child in Serbia until her career as a performance actor in New York. Time (and location) is the main theme in the dance performance Addio Alla Fine where six dancers choreographed by Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten guide the audience who are picked up by boat - at a yet to be disclosed location - and are sailed to several locations around the city in a Noah’ Ark kind of way, where they will be confronted with image and sound.

The second theme ‘unity’ and how art brings people together is a dominant factor in this edition of the festival. Lekkerkerk remarks, “in our world where there is a growing dichotomy between Western and non-western societies, the festival aims to crosses all boundaries, and brings people together”. The Bulgarian-born music director, Vladimir Ivanhoff, together with Ensemble Sarband, goes as far as to mix western and eastern cultures. In his designed performance Passio-Compassion, he hypnotizes the audience with five dervish dancers swirling across the stage in immaculate white dresses and confuses their musical minds with the Baroque sounds of Bach’s passions played by a string orchestra, accompanied with two jazz saxophones and Arabic vocals and altered with traditional Turkish music and songs from early Christianity. When the performance first premiered in Singapore in 2007, The Business Times reported: “Bach would have turned in his grave. Then he would have stepped out, dusted himself off, and paid attention”.

Combining cultures and combing art disciplines culminates in the performance Accordion Wrestlers, which is the multidisciplinary category of the Holland Festival. Accordion Wrestling is a mix of sports/music, and dance performance where in Finland, wrestling matches used to be accompanied by well-known accordion players whose names were placed next to the wrestlers on the billboards. The managing director’s eyes twinkled ‘I can’t wait to see that!”

Holland Festival, June 1-28, 2012

Diverse locations throughout Amsterdam

Tickets, information, and program: Holland Festival

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