Zwarte Vogels In De Bomen > 20:00

20/05 > 15:00

NL - Subtitles: FR - 90'

When writer and director Eric De Volder works with composer Dick van der Harst - and following Diep in het bos (Deep in the wood) and Vadria this will be their third collaboration - the outcome is always described as personal, unclassifiable and original. Accents and dialects in De Volder's work Zwarte vogels in de bomen (Black birds in the trees) are revealed with the help of instrumental music and medieval songs written by van der Harst. Or is it the other way round? To reinforce the peasant theme even more grotesquely, De Volder has magnified its characteristics, using make-up sometimes reminiscent of Ensor, and language and acting that takes this story about 'little people' into great Popular History.

Text, direction & design :

Eric De Volder

Music :

Dick van der Harst

With :

Paola Bartoletti, Leen De Veirman, Johan Knuts, Ineke Nijssen, Hendrik-Hein Van Doorn, Katelijne Van Laethem, Kim Delcour, Liam Fennelly, Jowan Merckx, Jan Van Outryve, Elise Cauwaerts, Ann De Prest, Noémi Schellens

Techniques costumes :

Claudine Grinwis, Plaat Stultjes

Technical production :

Pino Etz

Latin translations :

Roger Stroobandt

Production management :

Kristel Deweerdt

Dramaturgy & promotion :

Ellen Stynen

Construction of instruments :

Herman De Roover & Thijs van der Harst

Photography :

Peter Dewindt & Tania Desmet

Administration :

Marc Vanborm & Koen Vanhove

Production :

Toneelgroep Ceremonia (Gent), Het muziek Lod (Gent)

Coproduction :

Zeeland Nazomer Festival, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

Supported by :

Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen, Stad Gent, Nationale Loterij, Koning Boudewijnstichting

Presentation :

KVS/de bottelarij,


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This is duo Eric De Volder and Dick van der Harst's third collaboration, and it won't be their last. After Diep in het bos (Deep in the wood) and Vadria, here they are again with Zwarte vogels in de bomen (Black birds in the trees). In their work, the unusual universe of one mixes with the unusual personality of the other, and vice versa. One writes the text, the other the music. The critics all agree that their creations are "personal", "unclassifiable" and "original". Each production has a popular element in it: the story of little people plunged into big stories.

Eric De Volder - a writer, theatre director and visual artist - started working with the theatre company Toneelgroep Ceremonia in 1992. Actors performing now in Zwarte vogels in de bomen - Johan Knuts, Hendrik-Hein Van Doorn, Ineke Nijssen - were in the company then too. Leen De Veirman, Paola Bartoletti, Katelijne Van Laethem (singer), Kim Delcour, Liam Fennelly, Jowan Merckx, Jan Van Outryve (musicians) and walk-on actors are also performing in the play. Eric De Volder works on his plays in detail. It has taken months of improvisation, re-writing and recomposing to come up with the right version of Zwarte vogels in de bomen. The first thing he did was to write a working text on the subject of peasants: peasants of yesterday and today, in the fields or at the café, sick animals and fierce farmers, death and celebration, four stomachs, swine fever and other veterinarian tribulations. Material in the text gave the actors inspiration to improvise, which in turn encouraged the text to be rewritten and the music composed. Dick van der Harst, 'companion-in-arms' since Diep in het bos, writes his music starting with words, ideas in the text and the actors' improvisations as well. This means the score is created alongside characters and situations.

Trained in classical music, Dick van der Harst is really fascinated by popular traditions. He likes the colour of the sounds and rhythms and he likes playing unusual instruments. He is well known already for his theatre work which includes a children's opera, and a concert Het huis der verborgen muziekjes (The house of hidden little pieces of music) which is still being performed today.

When he was composing for Zwarte vogels in de bomen, he soon decided what he wanted to do: compose new music inspired by thirteenth and fourteenth century medieval music. "Lots of things happened in the Early Middle Ages. This was before polyphony. The music was full of harsh sounds that disappeared later into other styles. It started with the melody which was based on the rhythm of words and phrases so that the melody's rhythm carries the story. Really all that mattered was creating a means to convey the text's beauty. The elements that created classicism (harmony, common time, the dominant etc.) didn't exist then. Emotion is imprinted in the text, but not yet in the music. This was to happen later on in the history of music."

The instruments accompanying Zwarte vogels in de bomen are all medieval: cornemuse, recorder, reed-pipe, lute, hurdy-gurdy and viola da gamba. Dick van der Harst: "At a first glance, medieval instruments seem more unilateral than modern sixteenth century instruments. The sounds are very pure because the instruments don't mix colours. This is no longer the case in the baroque and classical periods where sounds are mixed. With an instrument from the Middle Ages, we can clearly distinguish between the various tonalities. When you hear the sound of a hurdy-gurdy for the first time, you get the impression that it's creaking and squeaking. But once you get past that, you can hear all the nuances of sounds and colours. I wanted to write music for instruments like that."

Eric De Volder and Dick van der Harst have such a shared approach to their work that the music of one seems to find itself in the other's writing and vice versa. Eric De Volder: "When I write a sentence, it has to contain song. It has to have a particular melody. A longer passage has to have its own rhythm, it has to phrase or ring. The characters recreated during improvisations have their own rhythm and impulse. If a musician can play in a minor key, so can a character. The audience isn't always aware of it, but all this plays on the emotions."

A language that sings, a language approaching dialect. Eric De Volder: "I'm fascinated by language groups. I've more difficulty with standardised language. No one talks like that. Language is your identity, it goes with you every step of the way."

In De Volder's work the grotesque is always present: in the make-up (which makes you think of Ensor), in the language, in the acting. Having trained under Grotowski, he likes magnifying characters' emotions to bring the audience closer to what is being recounted. It is as if he is talking to us through an archaic sensation that has been carried down the centuries. "It's hard to describe, but sometimes strange things happen. In some situations in life, it's as if ancient models of behaviour were returning. A kind of organised or spontaneous ritual. We do things without even knowing that we're doing them or why, but above all how we're doing them: shaking somebody's hand or embracing them. Sometimes if you remain calm, you can feel there's another dimension. You have the feeling that something ancient is happening. These are things passed from one generation to the next, connected to life and death. Often these moments carry strong emotions that cause contradictory sensations. This is exactly what I'm looking for in my plays."

And what does the director think of this obsessive comparison to Ensor? "He provides excellent material to draw from, as do all artists interested in reality. Artists like Magritte and Delvaux, Otto Dix, Fritz Van Den Berghe and Gustave Van De Woestijne make the imagination visible. Just like puppet theatre, giants and folklore. I'm talking about their beauty, not the 'kitsch' that surrounds them far too often. What interests me with Ensor is that he's walking on a tightrope: when you open the door, you meet death. You tell yourself it's impossible, but at the same time you believe it. Something happens between truth and imagination. That's what inspires me: you come across something that reason can't explain."

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