Les Spectateurs

25, 26, 27, 28/05 – 20:30
1h 15min

Lotte van den Berg has become known for her minimalist theatre endowed with a strong plastic dimension that invites the audience to watch more intensely. In the next few years, towns will be forming the epicentre of her work. For her latest creation, the director set off for Kinshasa with a group of artists from various disciplines. They spent four months there losing themselves and forming relationships with the local residents. But what kind of experience can you really have as a guest in a country you do not know? Is it possible to form some kind of connection or are you never anything more than an onlooker? Van den Berg confronts western individualism and the intense sense of community governing life in Kinshasa. Bringing together people from the Netherlands, Belgium, Liberia and Congo, Les Spectateursis about our need for identity and preservation, but also the desire for an instantaneous – and doubtless impossible – abandonment to anything unfamiliar. A show about the spectator at a distance who aspires to disappear into the world he is observing…

Lotte van den Berg, Floor van Leeuwen, Anoek Nuyens, Rachid Laachir, Freija Wouters, Elizabet van der Kooij, Willem Weemhoff, Daan ’t Sas, Guido Kleene, Bright O’Richards, Anke Wirken, Bart Kusters, Ifor Schrauwen, Rianne van Hassel and others

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre 140

OMSK (Dordrecht)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Theaterfestival Boulevard (’s-Hertogenbosch), De Internationale Keuze van de Rotterdamse Schouwburg, steirischer herbst festival (Graz), Zürcher Theater Spektakel, Toneelhuis (Antwerp)

Supported by
SNS REAAL Fonds, VSB Fonds, Performing Arts Fund NL, Gemeente Dordrecht

Project coproduced by
NXTSTP, with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union

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Longing for the unknown

Theatre maker Lotte van den Berg left for Congo for four months with one Flemish and five Dutch artists. They settled themselves in Kinshasa at the edge of a large sandy square in the lively neighbourhood of N’djili. In cooperation with Kola, the owner of Espace Kola, and Toto Kisaku, the young and ambitious artistic director of the K-Mu Théàtre, they built an open atelier there. Every week they organized an exhibition, presentation, debate or performance. Anouk Nuyens worked as a dramaturge and describes her first impression of the city.

“While we commence our descent I press my head against the airplane window. We’re flying over Kinshasa, but at this late hour of the day there is nothing to see but dark plains, a speck of light here and there. It’s as if I’m flying over holy land. Kinshasa is a blanket of candles. A city that, so it seems, could be blown out by a gust of wind. For the next four months that totally unknown place will be the temporary base for theatre company OMSK.” Lotte van den Berg founded the theatre company OMSK in Dordrecht two years ago. In a short time she assembled a group of artists (visual artists, theatre-makers, a film-maker) around her and posed the question: ‘what is a home?’. They went into the city, met the residents and worked together on the performance and exhibition Het verdwalen in kaart. From this experience more questions arose. Because in addition to the urge to connect to a place, to build a home, there is also the desire to be far from home. Where does that longing for the unknown come from?

Temporary connection

The past years Lotte toured across the world with her performances. This period of frequent travel and the temporary connection with new places and other cultures provided much food for thought. How do we, from our own world, relate to other worlds? How do you seek rapprochement of the other? Can you place yourself in another’s perspective? In a 1958 Peugeot 403 Lotte van den Berg and artist Guido Kleene drove from Douala (Cameroon) to Kinshasa (Congo), where Guido has since settled. While writing and thinking, the idea emerged to assemble a group of different thinkers, artists and observers, to travel to this metropolis and encounter and research an unknown other world. Artists from different disciplines were invited: Rachid Laachir and Ank Daamen as visual artists, Guido Kleene as a theatre- and film-maker, Daan ‘t Sas as a machine builder, Fierman Baarspul as a technician and internet specialist, Rianne van Hassel as a producer and myself as a dramaturge. During the preparations for our journey, a second team of artists assembled in Dordrecht. They felt challenged to start a dialogue with the travellers and in so doing, relate to an unknown world. From this came a series of two-way correspondences, live interactions through the Internet, and exchanges of parcels of work and material. A risky project: leaving for a totally unknown world, not clasping a play text or any defined artistic parameters, but just the intention to ask questions on the spot and have ideas emerge. For an outsider this might seem a somewhat naive attitude, but you could also choose to call it fearless. Looking into the world without predetermined intentions. An open mind for the unexpected. This attitude is quite unusual for foreigners in a city like Kinshasa. Most foreigners in Kinshasa are either there for clear religious convictions, such as catholic missionaries, or economic interests, such as the many Chinese that start businesses there.

Who hears the black bird?

At dusk, between 20:00 and 21:00, a big black bird flies over Kinshasa. You don’t see the bird. The sky above Kinshasa is just as black as the bird. You can hear it though. ‘Brrr, brrr’, the man explains to me. Those are the witches. They fly somewhere to eat. I nod to the man sitting across me. He remains silent and gives me an inspecting look. ‘It’s true’, he says again. If I think of things I know exist, but have never seen with my own eyes, I think of bacteria, cells or tissues in my body. I have never seen my body on the inside, but I still imagine my inside and know it exists. Still, I will probably never hear that same bird, because I can never turn off my perspective, the way my father and mother raised me, the way the world made its impression on me. We long for the unknown in order to re-experience the things that are familiar to us again. Placing yourself in another’s position for the most part has to do with yourself. In one of the lasts weeks of our stay, we drove into an unfamiliar district with Lotte, Guido and some actors. In a wide street we installed a large bamboo frame four meters square. In front of the frame we placed twelve chairs. When we sat on the chairs, there in the middle of the road with people surrounding us, we gave a cry of joy. The thing through which we view the world so often, the familiar frame that provides the possibility for distance and overview, was now standing in the middle of Kinshasa. With dozens of curious people we gazed through the frame as if it were a film. Some chose to play in it, acting small scenes in front of the frame. Others remained seated and watched.

We left for Kinshasa on the day of the Dutch elections and flew back in the week they established a new and rather right-wing government. One of the most important themes of this new cabinet is that integration must be enforced from now on. The idea is that foreigners must at all costs completely adjust to Dutch society. That a part of them has grown up in another world is irrelevant. Nevertheless you cannot simply forbid or turn off that perspective. That is a part of your identity. Halfway through our stay in Kinshasa I decided to live with a Congolese family. Every day at five in the morning I went to church with the girls, I learned a little Lingala, spoke as little Dutch as possible and ate only with my hands. That is the way to learn about a city, a person, a culture. It is, however, an art to not let this immersion transform your own way of being into that of the other and to become the other, or want to be the other. Patricia de Martelaere writes: “One who is never at home, never sees the banality of things, never arrives at routine action. One who is never at home, finds everything interesting, is always alert.”* The behaviour De Martelaere describes here is exhausting and inhuman. People innately have the quality to attach themselves to other living creatures and places. Every human needs a home. A place where the real being can be expressed freely. Only then can you address the other. To ultimately be able to place yourself in another’s position, you must be able to show your own perspective, even if the differences sometimes seem unbridgeable.

Anoek Nuyens
A longer version of this text was published in Etcetera 123, December 2010

(*) Citation from: Thuis. Een plaats om beu te worden - Patricia de Martelaere. Essay published in Dietsche Warande en Belfort. Year 138, 1993. Publisher Peeters, Leuven.

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Lotte van den Berg (°1975)’s fascination for the theatre goes back all the way to her childhood days thanks to her father, theatre maker Jozef van den Berg. She studied theatre direction in Amsterdam and began setting up performances in Flanders as well as in the Netherlands even before she graduated. Between 2005 and 2009 Lotte van den Berg worked for the Antwerp Toneelhuis, where she took her first steps in production for large theatre venues. For the Antwerp Toneelhuis she directed Stillen (2006) and Winterverblijf (2007) and other productions. In 2009 she left the Toneelhuis to settle down in Dordrecht in the Netherlands, where she established OMSK, her own structure in collaboration with a number of artists and performers. With OMSK Lotte van den Berg developed an ambitious long-range plan that is to take her, for instance, to Brussels and Kinshasa. In 2009 she created OMSK’s first production: Het verdwalen in kaart.

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