A festival can be thought of as a collection of songs, like a record, where the songs we hear seem to be autonomous but turn out to be in dialogue with each other. And while each song says something, so does the silence between one song and another. We can decide to go through the record alone, or listen to it collectively.
The festival begins with the sound of t u m u l u s, a collaboration between choreographer François Chaignaud and Les Cris de Paris. The voices of the 13 performers weave a melodic line that ranges from baroque to contemporary, while their movements give life to a community that is formed and unraveled. Harmony and disharmony are two sides of a collective body in constant transformation. Music becomes a place of encounter: an image that emerges in several ways during the festival.
With Music Rooms, Nevin Aladağ’s first exhibition in Brussels, old furniture is transformed into newly invented musical instruments that keep together elements of different cultures. In her new creation Éléphant, Bouchra Ouizguen uses movement and voice to create a collective body constituted by several ones. Christoph Marthaler is back at the festival with Aucune Idée, a theatre performance in which music is the only meeting place between two neighbours. After two years of isolation, these projects reaffirm the importance of shared spaces. The harmonies and contrasts of a collective life emerge in Chassol's new visual concert: it is a polyphonic portrait of Brussels and its citizens, one year in the making, with the musicality and overlapping rhythms of city life recontextualized as a sort of urban symphony.
Rhythm assaults us with its ability to tell contrasts and at the same time unite us in a collective experience. Marlene Monteiro Freitas embarks on a choreographic exploration of rhythm, both in a new solo performance and in the group creation Mal — Embriaguez Divina. Noé Soulier materialises the force of pauses and suspensions, and together with Thea Djordjadze and Karl Naegelen they craft an experience punctuated by gestures, sculptures, and music. Cherish Menzo premieres a performance inspired by the rhythmic complexity of chopped and screwed, a music remixing technique that involves slowing down the tempo. The exploration of rhythm is at the core of the Free School, where Calixto Neto investigates the minimal classical music of Julius Eastman as a vehicle for political vindication, and Kate McIntosh’s Polyrhythmic School trains us to listen to and play what’s beneath the dominant narratives and the single story.
Songs have been crucial tools to create narratives about ourselves as individuals and as communities. Several artists this year start from a place of strength and intimacy in their storytelling, with biographical elements transformed in a poetic way. Beginning with an exchange of private letters between two girls, Okwui Okpokwasili recreates Bronx Gothic in the space of Brigittines, while Castélie Yalombo’s choreography creates the appearance of instability as an expressive means of personal storytelling. Samira Elagoz and Maxime Jean-Baptiste use cinema as an archive of the present to author creations in which their own lives flow between stage and screen.
Sometimes theatre doesn't simply tell a story, it questions how the story can be told. In dialogue with journalists who covered the siege of Sarajevo 30 years ago, Sébastien Foucault’s theatrical fresco investigates what it means to witness an event, and the role of art in its reconstruction. Fanny & Alexander use hyperrealism to make Primo Levi's words present in the symbolic space of the Senate. The new performance by Australian company Back to Back Theatre and the collaboration between Bárbara Bañuelos and Carles Albert Gasulla challenge how mental issues are often represented on stage. Both performances consciously displace every idea of normativity, and guide our awareness to a new place.
Perhaps theatre and music find their ultimate meaning in an ability to transport us, and even alter our idea of what is real. El Conde de Torrefiel returns to Brussels with their new creation: a mesmerising theatrical mechanism of mute actions and text that plays with our perception of reality. Lia Rodrigues' Encantado is an explosion of gesture and colour, with a kaleidoscopic interplay between the choreography and the notes of a single song that guides each dancer’s movements until the last sound.
Every record has a B-side, where we find songs that carry the narrative into new, uncommon territory… Sometimes artistic projects have this same quality, revealing uncomfortable truths and neglected histories, then inviting us to look those ghosts right in the eye. On the B-side, we receive the unique gifts of what is often least listened to.
Trajal Harrell recreates Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, giving space to minor, and often marginalised, figures from the play. Merging fashion references and voguing culture, Harrell's House appears as a salon magnificently reconstructed at the KVS BOL, where the perceived division between high culture and subculture disappears.
For her first performative creation, Jelena Jureša sets the scene in a nightclub, where loud disco music covers memories of the past. In the space of Bozar, Rossella Biscotti takes us on a sonic journey into the invisible regions of the Mediterranean Sea. The unseen space of the sea is also centred in the work of Silke Huysmans & Hannes Dereere, using documentary theatre as a tool to reflect on extractivism. Starting with a statue that was looted during the Lebanese Civil War and mysteriously reappeared at the MET in New York, Rayyane Tabet creates a performance retracing its journey. For these artists, silence – what is not said – becomes the space for investigation.
The balance between spoken and unspoken is at the core of Parnia Shams’ theatre, recreating the life and hidden dynamics inside a girls’ school in Tehran; it resonates in Mark Teh’s passionate storytelling of the way Malaysia’s history was written, and what could not be said. Lav Diaz’s exhibition touches on the lesser-known stories of the Philippines, while Nadia Beugré’s L’Homme rare is a reflection on the history of Europe’s gaze on black bodies and its persistence today. Coming from different compass points, these projects describe a vast political landscape in front of us, and a renewed way of listening to it.
Even a city we think we know contains lives and stories unknown to most of us. Daniela Ortiz uses public space to present a puppet performance whose protagonists are the animals from Brussels’ colonial monuments, as if being heard for the first time. Satoko Ichihara guides us around the Japanese Tower in Laeken as a way to illustrate the orientalist desire behind its construction. Akira Takayama collaborates with local delivery riders in guerrilla performances around the city, presenting the often overlooked reality of this industry in the form of hip-hop music.
Music is a time-based medium, often reacting to the present. In Lavagem, the dancers of Alice Ripoll investigate the way dominated identities are coerced into performing certain tasks in our societies, while the question of resistance is fundamental to the new creation from Bruno Beltrão. In resonance with the whole programme, the discursive programme of this edition is titled Politics of Music, bringing together perspectives on music as a place of encounter, domination, resistance, and its potential today.
This multiplicity of voices, languages, aesthetics, and textures form the soundscape of the festival. And together, they transmit the complexity of sounds inherent in the present. In a piece created for Kunstenfestivaldesarts, writer Teju Cole had this to say - "A playlist is an act of imagination. You can listen to the songs in no particular order, since every playlist moves according to its own logic, which cannot be determined in advance”. Here is the programme of the festival: a space to embrace coincidences and cherish unexpected encounters. Have a good listen.
The artistic direction
Daniel Blanga Gubbay & Dries Douibi