From Brussels with love

by Michela Marelli

Theatre in Brussels is a serious thing all year round and for a month it invades the city.
The “presence” of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts (the 2019 edition is held from 10 May to 1 June) is second only to that of chocolate. And the chocolate in Brussels is delicious and it is everywhere.
Also in the “press kit” that is given to us once arrived there is a packet of Galler chocolates, the first of a long series of exquisite courtesies for guests (the excellent vegetarian food always offered to us, the sumptuous accommodation at Motel One right in the city centre…) that made us feel very pampered and loved.

In fact we were there as guests of the From Brussels with love program, organized by Kunstenpunt / Flanders Arts Institute and Wallonie-Bruxelle Théâtre Danse, in collaboration with Workspacebrussels, Vincent Company, Théâtre Varia, Les Brigittines, to present Belgian artists to international operators. This practice should absolutely be copied.

The first day, Tuesday 14 May, we are at Workspacebrussels which is a laboratory for artistic innovation within the performing arts, with a great openness to transdisciplinary projects, which assists young and independent artists in their starting tray within the professional arts landscape.

The first artist presented to us is Cassiel Gaubel, a very young and talented dancer and choreographer who studied the techniques of Hip Hop, House and Clubbing Dance. The other performances are performed by Dan Mussett & Laurent Delom and the Grupe Pluton.

To intersperse the visions in the dance hall we are presented with two interesting transdisciplinary projects.
Calculated Risk of Kasper Vandenberghe is a compelling illustration of today’s hunger for safe risk. It combines this contemporary notion with an ode to the innocence of the child. Kasper dares to fall from increasing heights, using the child matter of plastic wrap as a protective shell.
But at any time the artists will do what is necessary not to get hurt, following the advice of a physicist with advanced knowledge on acceleration and gravity.
Seeing him (on video) letting himself fall backwards from a height of over four meters with a huge foam mattress fixed on his shoulders… is exciting.

Beetween Us by and with Kim Snauwaert & Anyuta Wiazemsky is definitely one of those cases where the performance generates a reflection on society. The two artists, a Belgian and a Russian, do not have a romantic relationship and are not lesbians (they have a boyfriend respectively) but have decided to get married.
In addition to a real marriage, Beetween Us is also a durational, multidisciplinary artistic process in which Kim and Anyuta – as an artistic couple – take care of their marriage relationship. They married, among other things, so that Anyuta would be given a residence status, but with the clear mutual intention to create and maintain a sustainable common life. This somewhat vague notion of “sustainable common life” is the basic requirement for a “pure” or “real” marriage according to the Belgian law.

In the evening transfer first to La Raffinerie and then to the Kaai Theater for two shows scheduled at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts: the installation / choreography of the Belgian Louise Vanneste atla and Penelope Sleeps by the Norwegian author and performer Mette Edvardsen and the composer and performer Matteo Fargion (Londoner of Italian extraction).

The second day, Wednesday 15 May, transfer to Antwerp for the showreel organized by Vincent Company.

Vincent Company is an artist-centred organisation, working on content-based distribution models. The aim is connecting the right partners and locations with the artist’s work, striving for a proper and honest visibility, both in Belgium and abroad.

We are in a very suggestive space: an old warehouse overlooking the port where companies can rent rehearsal rooms and spaces to store the sets. We are presented with: – we mention them, as per the program, in alphabetical order -Charlotte Vanden Eynde & Nicolas Rombouts, Jeff Van Gestel, Kevin Trappeniers, Koen De Preter, Post uit Hessedalen, Stefanie Claes (Lucinda Ra), Tom Struyf, Ugo Dehaes, Wannes Deneerand their ten proposals.

They are all work in progress, brief studies, the artists are very interested in having a comparison with us in which they punctually underline that they are still looking for co-producers, residences, dates for the shows … They are all long-term project, the debut is planned in 2020 or 2021. This practice should also be copied.

They range from the company of four dancers to the duo dancer & cello. From the visual artist who works on the deconstruction of technology to a first sketch of wooden scenography that will be a real pop-up.

From the documentary project on a kindergarten converted into a prison, to the puppets used to show a story of abuse without reticence.
From the choreographer who is building non-humanoid robots and makes them interact to show the concept of forced labor to the duo juggler & drummer who is preparing a performace entitled How to train your robot.

From the landscape art installation project with concert, to the concert of “imaginative” instruments (tubes, plates, tanks, metal shelves, lamps and various ready-made) that amuses us a lot and gives us the CD of his works. Very different works but all with some interesting points.

Parked in the huge warehouse there is also a big truck with the Pacman inscription which is the title of the show that is done inside the aforementioned truck for 25 spectators.

Thanks to the sun and the sea air we go back to Brussels in an excellent mood.
In the evening we go to the KVS, in the alternative room for which the director almost “apologizes”, stating that the KVS also has a real theatre. Among the international operators there are artistic directors of important theatres and festivals (including four other Italian companies) but at least for our small group the KVS Box room is wonderful.

The eleventh show of the day is Let us believe in the beginning of the cold season by Sachli Gholamalizad, a Belgian actress of Iranian origin, who creates a dramaturgy poised between poetry, music and narration, with Farrokhzad’s verses the songs of Googoosh, the video interviews to his mother and the story of The Conference of the Birds.

The morning of Thursday 16 May begins with the Meet-up Café at the Théâtre Varia where we attend the pitching of eight companies presenting their works:De Facto, Mariedl, Collectif Enervé & Rien de spécial, Egloff & Chapelle, Clinic Orgasm Society, Venedig Meer e garçongarçon.

The director of the latter company, Salvatore Calcagno, is twenty-four years old and is of Italian extraction. His first work, produced and distributed in Belgium was La vecchia vacca, performed in Italian. He has toured all over the world, but not in Italy. His next show, the eighth, will be A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee William. We connect on socials and put the Instagram’s heart to his photo with Raffaella Carrà.

In the afternoon we move to Les Brigittines, a splendid center for contemporary art in the city of Brussels.

In his different spaces we can see three work in progress: #Frontiera by Claudio Bernardo (Belgian director and choreographer of Brazilian origins), a rewrite of Euripide’s The Trojan Women between theatre, dance, song and video documentary that will be presented at the festival Oriente Occidente on 3 September in Rovereto; Glitch by and with Samuel Lefeuvre & Florencia Demestri already scheduled at seven major European festivals and Homogramm-Tanz by and with Mauro Paccagnella.

Mauro Paccagnella, born in Padua in 1964, is a star in Belgium, his company Wooshing Machine is known throughout the world.
Nonetheless, with a humility that moves us and gives him immense honor, he sits down with us during a coffee break to discuss sincerely and openly about his work.
This practice is also to be copied.

The day continues returning to the Théâtre Varia where we see a performance on site taken from the Carnage show by Hélène Beutin & Clément Goethals / FACT. The foyer of the theatre is full of smoke, there is an upside downmotorbike and other examples of contemporary youth degradation.
Finally an evening show that is not included in the program of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, the theatre is sold out for Rater mieux, rater encore of the Collectif Enervé & Rien de spécial. The audience laughs at word games and paradoxical situations.

To greet us the organizers organized a dink and a concert: Das Boot of Clinic Orgasm Society, absolutely hilarious. We wished it would last much longer, the room was about to unleash itself in the dances at the fast pace of the demented rock that unfortunately was already over.

On the morning of Friday 17th May we quickly visit the city and buy chocolates.
The experience was decidedly positive, very enriching both from a theatrical and human point of view.
We have seen several works in progress that have aroused great interest and that we would like our realities, our small theatres in Italy to come into contact with. We feel that now more than ever that we companies need – and that our public also needs – a constant artistic dialogue with Europe and the whole world. Together we think about how it is best to build it: are we able to take on the commitment to follow the evolution of projects in progress and become part of their productive path through a residence or is it better to wait for the debut as the inclusion in the programming?

In short the professional reflection, after having met thirty-two companies, is that the Belgian theatre is vital and very well supported by the system that carefully takes care of its growth.
But there also arises spontaneously a more general human reflection: in Belgium, the melting pot (to which Italians have also contributed greatly) has benefited culture, giving it wider horizons, greater depth and greater force.
And from this widespread culture, considering also the festive welcome with which Brussels was preparing for the weekend’s gay pride, we had the clear perception that the whole Belgian society benefited.

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