I don’t think I have ever gotten up so early to see art. A ten-minute cycle to a dew-covered polder in the pre-dawn. We were handed a fleece blanket and some headphones and directed to some stools circling a triangular glass structure – a contrasting hard and urban intervention in the landscape. Inside the structure was Willen de Bruin a rapper and performer with a string of dutch hits under his belt.
Barely visible behind the glass in the half-light de Bruin, in a crisp pink suit and polo neck, stood on a slowly revolving turntable. His soft voice spoke to us through the headphones – a very personal experience. The show was in Dutch – I pick up a few words but not enough to fully follow the story. It was an opportunity we don’t often get to hear the rhythm and sounds of another language over a sustained period. I can still hear him talking to me. Willem’s mother is Dutch and his father is from Surinam. The show is a solo performance about identity and about being a mixed-race boy and man from a remote Dutch village. De Bruin’s monologue is interspersed with his own music. As the sun rises, the three glass doors open in the box, as the show comes to a conclusion they close once more. There was something very special about this show even if I couldn’t understand all the nuances. It was an experience – a lovely experience. At 6 am, we returned to our hotel and went back to bed.
By 10 am we had cycled away from the polder into the woods to see Human Time Tree Time by Klub Girko. We encountered two men balancing on a felled tree, itself balancing a tall stump. Essentially this was circus balancing but so much more than that. It involved intimacy, stillness, a bit of mischief, trust and a hell of a lot of skill. For me, this was the answer to the question asked yesterday: ‘When does a show about nature interfere too much with nature?’ This one didn’t – there was a discreet soundtrack from hidden speakers but otherwise, it was devoid of plastic, batteries or electricity – there was no set, other than the forest. They used found twigs and branches. Technologically it was timeless. The soundtrack was just about perfect, it supported the work. I can remember that it was there, but can’t remember what it was which I mean as a compliment. A fabulous experience – it was lovely.
Back to base in West-Terschelling for discussions and lunch before we cycled to the centre of the island for drinks and some short performances from Station Noord, developing new talent and ideas. Dinner was at the festival’s backstage canteen which reveals just how big Oerol is.
At 9 pm we cycled further east to another forest for our last show. Oroonoko by Orkater / De Nieuwkomers: UMA, an adaptation of one of the first novels written in English, by Aphra Behn published in 1688. The novel is an imagined back story of a man trapped in slavery in Surinam. Sung and spoken in English and Dutch (We were given an English script) this told the story and challenged us to reflect on the romanticised representation of an oppressed man as an African prince.
This is a story from another age presented for the now by three female actors and a musician. The quality of the set did not live up to the performance – stark, white and flimsy. The costumes were an imaginative fusion between 1688 and 2022. The singing was great and the musician was incredible. The show opened and closed with a beautiful harmonised traditional version of The Magnificat for three female voices with a drum and bass soundtrack. The performers switched roles and broke the fourth wall to tell the tale as storytellers rather than characters. They were young, had swagger and really pulled it off. They are a young company and this is their first show having been nurtured by Oerol over the past three years. It was great.
Yesterday, I was conflicted by issues around representation with Via Berlin’s portrait of ‘non-western looking Muslim refugees’ and the only black performer in a cast of 17 representing (bad) oil. Today I have seen two shows, Spruug van God and Oroonoko, with non-white performers presenting work that directly addressed how non-white people are and have been perceived and represented.
Finally, before the long cycle ride back to the hotel (about 20km into the wind!) a group of us headed even further east to see De Strecken by Mark van Vliet, a tidal installation on the mudflats. The installation is a tranquil place with long views during the low tide. During high tide, it is surrounded by water. It is described as a ‘sacred space’ and lives up to it. A beautiful place in the last of the mid-summer light to finish what was been a very special experience.