28th edition of Noorderzon: a candid look at a dark world

Posted at: 02 Sep 2018

Groningen’s performing arts festival draws 150,000 and ends with bright skies

The 28th edition of the Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival Groningen closed on Sunday 2 September with the traditional NoorderZondag. Over the course of eleven days, some 150,000 visitors enjoyed an extensive interdisciplinary programme, combined with a summer fest open to all in the idyllic park, the Noorderplantsoen. At this edition, makers from across the globe presented a very well received and exciting mix of theatrical performances, lectures and more, staged at various locations in the Noorderplantsoen and around the city of Groningen. On Thursday 23 August, Noorderzon 2018 was opened with a strong call for imagination and the power of art in the opening speech by Belgian theatre maker Sarah Vanhee, followed by the virtuoso Inoah by Brazilian maker Bruno Beltrão/Grupo de Rua.

A colourful and adventurous palette, intimate and accessible
With their candid outlook and the accessible nature of their art viewed as “refreshing”, companies and groups from all over the world, working in a wide variety of disciplines, told stories with serious themes such as suicide and migration or a contentious personal or national past still casting a long shadow, thus determining present and future. From digital fata morganas and making magic with pixels with Adrien M & Claire B from France to Argentinian Guillermo Cacace’s heart-rending monologue on unrequited love. From Jaha Koo’s brilliant bit of “lost in translation” to the taboo breaking Russian roulette with local youth created by Ana Borralho and João Galante from Portugal. A poignant Soviet tale from Siberia by KnAM Theatre and the playful, touching NASSIM by Nassim Souleimanpour (Iran/Germany), featuring two actors and an actress from Groningen, thrice unprepared. In 2018 Noorderzon enjoyed presenting a full palette of colourful and adventurous initiatives, collaborations and partnerships, spread across eleven festival days and a wide variety of locations in the Noorderplantsoen and Groningen city centre (DownTown).

In many parts of the programme, greatness also manifested itself on a smaller scale, with visitors experiencing a performance, walk or film on their own, potentially magnifying the personal impact. The immense interest in the programme led to a number of extra performances being scheduled, such as screenings of Lynette Wallworth´s Emmy Award winning VR film Collisions, the magical augmented reality exhibition of Adrien M and Claire B, and the phenomenal South African Soweto Skeleton Movers. In addition to events in the international main programme, visitors could choose from a wide-ranging programme divided into seven “festivals within the festival”, including an extensive context programme, a programme created in the North, a multifaceted music programme, literature festival Literaturia, the festival for the youngest guests, Rotor, and finally all the shipping container events.

Context & elaboration
For as far as possible, Noorderzon aims to provide an incisive impression of current affairs in art and the wider world. The 2018 programme included a number of artistic movements that really require context to be provided, social and otherwise. This was took shape in sold-out lectures given by Ruben Terlou, Hans Aarsman and Micha de Winter, organised in conjunction with Studium Generale Groningen, an extensive academic programme created together with the University of Groningen, Science LinX, Arts in Society, and exhibitions and discussions on art, sustainability, virtual reality and healthy ageing. The many post-performance conversations led by experienced interviewers were well attended, creating a direct link between makers and visitors.

Music programme: Omar Souleyman, Agar Agar, Tamino, Baloji and much, much more
On many stages in the Noorderplantsoen and across Groningen city centre, there were all sorts of concerts and gigs to attend, many of them for free. Acts playing the Spiegeltent included Tamino, Tyler Childers and Dylan LeBlanc & Nicole Atkins. Het Dok, the main stage in the Noorderplantsoen, featured free performances by Baloji, Agar Agar, Warhola and Arp Frique, among others, with a closing show by dance phenomenon Omar Souleyman. Together with Soundsofmusic, in the Lutherse Kerk Noorderzon presented concerts by New Queens of String and the Ruysdael Quartet. Poppodium Simplon and Clash presented Binkbeats, an electronica evening in Simplon. OOST nightclub hosted five afterparties and was one of the many Podium op Zuid partners. Podium Plataan and the Dwergenpodium also offered visitors a wide-ranging programme featuring artists from the Netherlands and abroad.

Remarkable projects
There were a number of projects included in the programme which were particularly remarkable. Among them was the lights installation LILY created by artists collective WERC, comprising 300 light-emitting elements floating in the park pond – an artwork photographed by thousands. The unusual audio walk created by Johannes Bellinkx was another event that attracted a lot of attention: visitors began the walk in the Noorderplantsoen, and then made their way through the city walking backwards. There was a bus trip to Duisburg which brought a group of enthusiastic theatre-goers to the newest masterpiece by Mariano Pensotti from Argentina, staged as part of the Ruhrtriennale. This was coproduced by Noorderzon and Grand Theatre, with the set constructed in Groningen. Two years ago the Mystery Route was introduced, where visitors have no idea what they will be visiting. This year it once again proved to be popular, and this year’s addition, the Mystery Performance, was a hit with visitors too.

Curious an entire life long
In addition to the children’s programme Rotor, which drew kids aged 4 and over in droves to the Speelweide, older generations from Groningen and the surrounding area also showed up in large numbers for the second edition of Stee in Plantsoen. For three afternoons there were activities set outdoors, such as a vlogging course, sing-alongs with golden oldies, poetry writing with Lilian Zielstra, the City Poet Laureate, and simply soaking up the atmosphere.

People, Environment, Material
Behind the scenes, since 2009 Noorderzon has actively been making choices which take the impact on its surroundings into account. These choices are divided into three main areas, three Ms in Dutch – Mens, Milieu & Materie: People, Environment & Material. This has led to the organisation collaborating with the Food Bank for a number of years now, which has now been extended to include the Geef een Toegift (Give an Encore) programme, an initiative allowing visitors to donate an extra ticket to those who can’t afford one. Quiet Groningen, an organisation linked to the Food Bank, ensured that the tickets went to deserving individuals. Visitors could also collect plastic PLA cups and trade in 50 for a drinks token. The cups were recycled into granulate to make new products for next year. During the three Sundays when the festival was being set up and taking place, crew and artists were served entirely vegetarian meals backstage. For the eighth year running, in 2018 the festival was awarded the Green Key gold-level sustainability certificate.

Arts media about Noorderzon

“At the performing arts festival in Groningen ‘difficult’ subjects are dealt with viewed in a candid and refreshing manner. Theatre at its very best.”
– Aleksander Hiskemuller, Dutch daily Trouw

“If anything could be said to characterise the shows and performances at Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival, it is the playful, almost child-like curiosity with which the world is approached. This does not, however, mean that they are easily digestible fluff: the candid view taken of ‘difficult’ themes is refreshing, and as a result the impact is all the greater.”
– Aleksander Hiskemuller, Dutch daily Trouw

“Noorderzon proves worthy of its international reputation with multimedia performances and an incomparable programme.”
- Annette Embrechts, Dutch daily De Volkskrant

“Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival has had a strong international reputation for years now: its incomparable programme doesn’t revolve around famous names, but around makers who combine theatre, dance and music as a matter of course with audio drama, film, object art, walking routes or virtual reality.”
- Annette Embrechts, Dutch daily De Volkskrant

“Noorderzon Festival which takes place in and around the Noorderplantsoen city park introduces visitors to the theatrical meaning of a blue fairytale book, rough-edged street dance and technical virtuosity. The combination is rich and exciting.”
- Kester Freriks, Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad

“It’s truly captivating thanks to the perfectly synchronous dancing which makes even the angular movements elegant and flowing. Perfect harmony is the way to describe it. An aesthetic wonder.”
- Luuk Verpaalen, De Theaterkrant on Lucy Guerin Inc *****

“Immediately afterwards, Beltrão and his hip-hop dancers embark on an extremely bleak routine in the near dark, like a grimy ghetto clash, with white men in black, and black men in white. As the performance progresses, the men break away in astounding moves, as if conquering themselves and others too. A promising start to eleven days of festivities.”
- Eric Nederkoorn, Dutch daily Dagblad van het Noorden on Bruno Beltrão

The 29th edition of Noorderzon will take place 15–25 August 2019.