29th edition of Noorderzon reaches out to ‘the other’

Posted at: 25 Aug 2019

Groningen Performing Arts Festival greets over 150,000 visitors and climaxes in sunny weekend

The 29th edition of the Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival Groningen was a great success, ending on Sunday 25 August with the traditional NoorderZondag. Over the course of eleven days, over 150,000 visitors attended the festival. They came for the extensive interdisciplinary programme – for which over 45,000 tickets were sold – as well as the highly popular summer fest set in the idyllic Noorderplantsoen, free of charge to all. At this edition, makers from across the globe presented a very well received and exciting mix of theatrical performances, concerts, lectures and more, staged at various locations in the Noorderplantsoen and throughout the city of Groningen. Noorderzon 2019 opened on Thursday 15 August with a call for togetherness from both artistic director Mark Yeoman and the director of the opening performance Space – The 3rd Season, the multi-talented Canadian Josh ‘Socalled’ Dolgin: ‘Listening and learning from difference, collaboration, sharing: coming together, of music, talents, words, ideas, peoples, languages, cultures, flavours. Togetherness. It is possible, if you’re open to it. And those connections, those combinations, lead to new ideas, lead to greater understanding.’

Main programme dispenses with genres and calls for a shared humane approach
Shaking up form and genres in fanciful fashion – whether in relation to major themes such as migration, artificial intelligence and fake news, or intimate, personal stories about first loves or becoming a father – Noorderzon nurtured a feeling of community and shared humanity, sometimes candidly, sometimes playfully. From 15 to 25 August 2019, ‘the other’ was never far from mind or from view, including as a robot in Stefan Kaegi’s (Rimini Protokoll) Uncanny Valley and Robin Jonsson’s The Most Human. The ‘other’ was also no longer ignored in the brilliant narrative about the harsh reality of Latin America as depicted in Trinidad González’s Carnaval. Guillermo Calderón’s Dragón was widely acclaimed for its dissection of the drawbacks of political theatre. Samara Hersch & Lara Thoms’ theatre company portrayed the uncomfortable truth about the consequences migration policy has for children. American Half Straddle provided an inside view of the Trumpian era with its literal portrayal of the true tale of the imprisoned intelligence specialist Reality Winner. Another remarkable aspect was the way that initially seemingly ‘light’ subjects turned out to harbour dark aspects, as in the work of the circus company Le Galactik Ensemble and Italian choreographer Marco Chenevier: although we perhaps view ‘the other’ as a threat, might it not be that the threat actually lies within ourselves?

In 2019, Noorderzon was very happy to present a diverse, multi-coloured and adventurous range of initiatives, collaborations and partnerships. Delight in playing with form and the form of performance were other common aspects of a major part of the international main programme of the festival. This was embodied, for example, in the (live) performance by stop-motion filmmaker Ainslie Henderson, as well as in I am a Seagull –a film brimming with community spirit, created by the New York based company The Chekhov Project. This also emerged in Session by dance luminaries Colin Dunne and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, whose playful duel culminated in a perfectly fitting finale. Olivier de Sagazan shifted shape and transfigured until he was no longer able to, in a sublime depiction of the artist’s struggle. In addition to events in the international main programme, visitors could choose from a wide-ranging programme divided into six ‘festivals within the festival’: an extensive context programme, a programme created in the northern Netherlands, a multifaceted music programme, literature festival Literaturia, the mini festival for the youngest guests De Speelweide, and finally all the shipping container events.

Context & elaboration
For as far as possible, with its shipping container programme, Noorderzon aims to provide an incisive impression of current affairs in the arts and the wider world. It featured popular lectures in collaboration with Studium Generale Groningen, including ones by Dirk De Wachter, Ellen Laan and Menno Schilthuizen, lectures and discussions on art and theatre in collaboration with Arts in Society, a mini museum curated by the Groninger Museum, as well as contributions from organisations such as De Verhalen van Groningen (Groningen Stories), the University of Groningen, Young Academy Groningen and Dutch daily Dagblad van het Noorden. The many post-performance conversations led by experienced interviewers were well attended, forging a direct link between makers and visitors.

Remarkable projects firmly rooted in the northern Netherlands
The extensive programme featured a number of projects that stood out in particular. Among these was invisible, by acclaimed theatre maker Yan Duyvendak, in which visitors conducted clandestine assignments in public spaces, with everyone else there unaware. On the final Saturday, 24 August, the national première took place of WAD live, a collaboration between the Groningen orchestra Noordpool Orkest and film maker Ruben Smit, narrated by nature journalist and radio maker Rob Buiter (Vroege Vogels). After Noorderzon, the movie will be touring various Dutch theatres. Mads Wittermans’ A Hard Day’s Night was staged in a very special location: the roof of Minerva Art Academy. Schout bij Nacht’s Glory Glory Holelujah! took its visitors on a theatrical voyage of discovery along men ‘working behind windows’, while Illustere Figuren staged an evaluation of 100 years of women’s voting rights in Groningen City Hall. Three 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, as did the Mystery Performance. The traditional NoorderZondag and the extensive shipping container programme provided a wonderful taste of all things artistic in and around Groningen.

Music programme: De Likt, Vicky Chow, Next of Kin and much, much more
In 2019, Noorderzon presented over 70 concerts in its extremely varied music programme, performing at various stages – many for free – in the Noorderplantsoen and Groningen city centre. In the Spiegeltent, visitors enjoyed the Norwegian travel tales of Stampestuen (n collaboration with the Stichting Folk foundation), and performances by Next of Kin and Charley Crockett. The free performances on Het Dok stage included ones by De Likt, Golden Dawn Arkestra, Durand Jones & The Indications, Imarhan and TheColorGrey. In the beautiful church hall of the Lutherse Kerk, Noorderzon (together with SoundsofMusic) presented two concerts by world-renowned Canadian pianist Vicky Chow. The multidisciplinary project Orbit by Someone/Tessa Rose Jackson was presented together with Simplon, including an accompanying exhibition. 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 local artists, as well as ones from elsewhere in the Netherlands and from abroad.

Mini festivals for young and old – Noorderzon for all ages
In addition to the ten-day children’s mini festival, De Speelweide, which drew crowds of kids aged 4 and over, older generations from Groningen and the surrounding area also showed up in droves for the third edition of Stee in Plantsoen. For three afternoons there were activities set outdoors in the Noorderplantsoen, such as courses on writing short stories or painting, singalongs with golden oldies and lectures, while everyone also could simply enjoy an afternoon in good company out in the park.

People, Environment, Material: from hard-shell cups to donating tickets
Since 2009, Noorderzon has actively been making behind-the-scenes choices, acknowledging their impact on the environment and surroundings. These are divided into three main themes, three Ms in Dutch – Mens, Milieu & Materie: People, Environment & Material. This year saw the introduction of hard-shell cups: re-usable durable plastic cups that were provided without a deposit. This led to an immense decrease in plastic waste. The organisation has also been collaborating with the local food bank, Voedselbank Groningen, which provided 150 families with the opportunity to visit Noorderzon. Since last year, these activities have been expanded with a partnership with the foundation Stichting Quiet Groningen: the Geef een Toegift (Give an Encore) initiative, which allows visitors to donate an extra ticket for those who can’t afford one themselves. Over 200 people participated in this. Stichting Quiet Groningen ensured that the tickets went to deserving individuals. On the three Sundays when the festival was being set up and took place, crew and artists were served entirely vegetarian meals backstage. Hoogeland Catering collected all the coffee grounds generated by the festival, some 600 kg worth of raw materials, which subsequently was used in collaboration with De Mikkelhorst to grow pearl oyster mushrooms. Among the many initiatives generated by the collaboration with Innofest – a project where festivals are used as testing grounds for innovations developed by businesses and universities – was the wheelchair bench. This folding bench ensures that friends, family and fellow festival visitors can easily seat themselves at wheelchair user height. Another successful test involved an entirely biodegradable rain cape. See here for more information (in Dutch) on sustainability and social sustainability.

Arts media on Noorderzon 2019

‘Noorderzon is all about the theatre of today, and perhaps of tomorrow, having proven itself to be trendsetting in its 29 editions.’
- Aleksander Hiskemuller, Dutch daily Trouw

 ‘There is not a single theatre festival in the Netherlands that manages to excite and delight an entire city the way that Noorderzon does Groningen. The visitors are easy to pick out in the city centre, sporting their programme booklet as they parade from one location to the next to enjoy another show or performance. The heart of the festival in the Noorderplantsoen park is a very pleasant place to seat yourself on a verdant terrace with a glass of organic wine and mushroom bitterbal nibble. “Just come join in” could very well be the festival’s motto.’
- Aleksander Hiskemuller, Trouw

‘This welcoming attitude is fully reflected in the 29th edition’s theatrical programming. The international shows and performances unerringly are surprising and innovative, harnessing many disciplines, while still always managing to be widely appealing.’
- Aleksander Hiskemuller, Trouw

‘This Thursday, the 29th edition of this international and interdisciplinary summer festival began, one renowned for its incomparably distinctive programming and constant introduction of foreign makers previously unknown to Dutch audiences.’
- Annette Embrechts, Dutch daily De Volkskrant

‘ .... razor-sharp European première performance (...) on the opportunistic love of political theatre: Dragón by Chilean writer and director Guillermo Calderón. (...) As privileged artists, are they entitled to borrow the skin of someone black or an exploited cleaning woman? And when it cuts to the chase, as audience members, do we prefer artistic simulation to confronting reality? These are questions that make the love of political theatre so strikingly ambiguous.’
- Annette Embrechts, De Volkskrant on Guillermo Calderón ****

‘In this fascinating performance, form and content dovetail wonderfully.’
- Elisabeth Oosterling, Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad on Stefan Kaegi (Rimini Protokoll) ****

‘All of the acrobatics in Optraken come down to diving away yet being struck nevertheless, which proves itself to be a metaphor for our daily lives. We dive away Matrix fashion from everything we dislike – managing to avoid most of this and imagining we are on to every illusion. Our timing is perfect. Yet sometimes the carpet is whisked away from beneath our feet at the very moment we think we have something important to say, sometimes that one tennis ball slams us in the face, or we’re left dangling in space, crying out for help, dependent on others who are just as clueless.’
- Henri Drost, De Theaterkrant on Le Galactik Ensemble

‘The artist transforms into a magician, his face is the canvas on which one attempt after the other fails. The struggle continues, on and on. (...) Never before has an artist’s struggle been so convincingly depicted. Transfiguration offers you a glimpse of the immeasurable depths.’
- Luuk Verpaalen, De Theaterkrant on Olivier de Sagazan

‘And yet, as horrendous as it may seem, there is always some sort of black humour in the performance, caused especially by the candid innocence of the child’s voice constantly questioning matters. The effect is overwhelming. In a subtle collage, Carnaval raises the banner for the voices of this world that too often go unheard.’
- Luuk Verpaalen, De Theaterkrant on Trinidad González/Teatro Anonimo

‘Honest stories, each and every one of them, which – like in the first part – make abundantly clear that in an age where we are used to raucous blathering and banal boasting, greater strength lies in daring to show vulnerability.’
- Job van Schaik, Dutch daily Dagblad van het Noorden on Ainslie Henderson

‘The blurring of the boundaries between man and machine is the astonishing strength of this well-tooled and intriguing performance that doesn’t miss a single mark.’
- Eric Nederkoorn, Dagblad van het Noorden on Stefan Kaegi (Rimini Protokoll) *****

‘A characteristic feature of festivals like Noorderzon is the way they bring out the “us” in us. They forge that feeling of unity that is indeed a classic aspect of festivals.’
- Eric Nederkoorn , Dagblad van het Noorden

‘What they do is astounding. How they do it is amazing, with an indescribable array of effects. Seldom does a performance hit so close to home.’
- Jacques J. D’Ancona, Dagblad van het Noorden on Le Galactik Ensemble *****


The 30th edition of Noorderzon will take place from Thursday 13 August to Sunday 23 August 2020.