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Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Still One of Europe’s Most Inspiring Performing Arts Festivals
[Festivals] Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Still One of Europe’s Most Inspiring Performing Arts Festivals
Writer : Sophie Travers _ Performing arts producer 2013.06.03 Europe > Belgium

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Still One of Europe’’s Most Inspiring Performing Arts Festivals
[Festivals/Markets] Review of 2013 Kunstenfestivaldesarts

Kunstenfestivaldesarts is one of the most important arts festivals in Europe. Founded in 1994 by Frie Leysen, it is now in its seventh edition, directed by Belgian Christophe Slagmuylder(Interview Click), who worked under Leysen and remains true to her vision of an open, evolving festival that embraces challenging new work from Belgium and the world. The festival’’s program for 2013 outlines the role the festival plays in the host city of Brussels. "Fundamentally conceived as a bilingual undertaking, it contributes to encouraging dialogue between the communities in the city."

The Festival that being part of City Life

The festival is an ambitious undertaking in a Europe currently in crisis and the scale and audacity of this year’’s program is a credit to the strong partnerships that support the festival team. Funded by the two Belgian governments, (the Walloons and the Flemish,) the City of Brussels and the European Union, the festival’’s budget of approximately 3 million euros is supplemented by only a small handful of programming and media partners. The festival relies upon its strong links to the host venues, all twenty of them spread across the cityscape, and the income derived from 98% paid attendance. Taking place over three weeks in May, Kunstenfestival is not one of those European summer festivals that appeal to holidaymakers. It rather targets the living, working city and its inhabitants and the waiting lists for most shows attest to the role Kunstenfestival plays in the cultural life of the Belgian capital.

Abecedarium Bestiarium _ Antonia Baehr ⓒ Almudena Crespo

Zoological Institute for Recently Extinct Species _ Jozef Wouters ⓒ Silvano Magnone

This year the program made strong connections to year-round programming in Brussels venues such as the Beurschouwburg. German artist, Antonia Baehr presented a new work, Abecedarium Bestiarium, that followed a month long residency at Beursschouwburg. A partnership with the Flemish National Theatre, KVS, presented another world premiere as part of their festival in the neighbourhoods, Tok Toc Knock. Belgian artist Jozef Wouters’’ Zoological Institute for Recently Extinct Species, built a whole new wing to the Natural History Museum to make his claim, “We should be angrier than we are” about the impact man is having upon the planet. Another fresh engagement with the city came in the form of Mette Edvardsen’’s Time has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine, a series of one-to-one encounters with "living books" in the wonderful environment of the Royal Library of Belgium. And Chantal Akerman’’s installation at BOZAR, the Palace of Fine Arts, provided an excursion into a visual arts environment in the same way as the lecture given by Renzo Martens’ Institute for Human Activities at the WIELS contemporary art gallery.

Cutting edged, but keeps beckoning to general audiences

The high proportion of world premieres taking place at Kunstenfestival is what makes it such a magnet for professionals from around the world. The festival bar, open each night at the Beursschouwburg is always full of presenters from several continents, rubbing shoulders with artists from the program as well as the cosmopolitan arts community of Brussels. Kunstenfestival calls itself " a festival gambling on a combination of demanding, uncompromising artistic creation and a broad audience." It works hard to ensure it reaches beyond the professional audience, with the popular Festival Pass, that ensures entry to the entire program for 150 euros. Other ticket offers include the Festi-Pass that offers half price tickets to all under 25 year olds and the Festi Freak that offers concession price tickets to anyone purchasing tickets to a minimum of four events.

Outreach activities that connect to the communities in the city include a program of workshops in schools as well as an after show talk for all performances for the general public. Special events, such as the lecture about the task of deciphering the traces left by war that accompanied Sarah Vanaght’’s short film create links to academics and specialist institutions in the city. A group of culturally diverse young people from a youth centre were visible throughout the festival, enjoying their artist-accompanied journey through the program. Workshops for professionals, again in partnership with local institutions such as CIFAS and Charleroi Danses, filled out the outreach program, ably managed by the small festival team and their trusty interns and volunteers.

Kunstenfestival makes a strong gesture towards inclusiveness in these projects, but its main business is to support the work of provocative artists. The program essay by Lars Kwakkenbos sets out a series of conceptual concerns that set the level of debate as urgently political, social and theoretical. He concludes with the question, "How great can the discrepancy be between a story or image and the surrounding world?" Slagmuylder eschews programming to a theme but his preface to the program picks up ideas about "the relationship between the self and the world", "free speech and the creative act, forces of the imagination and utopia" and he highlights Sarah Vanhee’’s festival-long project, Lecture for Everyone, as a guiding provocation, asking, "Does a shared frame of reference still exist today?"

The 17 world-premiers shows the venturous feature of the festival

Certain shared ideas and questions are evident in the thirty one shows in this year’’s program. Coming from far afield and close to home, Slagmuylder has selected many artists with whom the festival has a relationship, whilst introducing new voices and taking an enormous gamble by programming seventeen world premieres. Of these "creations", seven are directly commissioned by the NXSTP European network in which Kunstenfestival is one of eight partners. Whilst the input from this network of like-minded programmers may help to mitigate the risk of presenting untried work, it is clear from the critical reaction to Kunstenfestival 2013, that the high proportion of premieres creates a sometimes uncomfortable experience for the audience as expectations are not always met.

Schubladen _ She She Pop ⓒ Benjamin Krieg

Sad Sam Lucky _ Matija Ferlin ⓒ Tim Verheyden

Of those productions not premiering at Kunstenfestival, She She Pop and their East-West Germany piece, Shubladen was very well received. Matija Ferlin’’s Sad Sam Lucky was also a highlight, as was the relatively unknown Christiane Jatahy’’s Julia. Big internatioanl names such as Heiner Goebbels and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Boris Charmatz lined up alongside talents from afar, such as and Marcelo Evelin from Brazil and Mariano Pensotti from Argentina. New work from Selma and Sofiane Ouissi from Tunisia disappointed, as did Pulling Strings, the latest oddity from Eva Meyer-Keller. In addition to the previously mentioned works sited outside the theatre space, there was Markus Ohrn’’s impressive film, Magic Bullet, consisting of the censored cuts from Swedish cinema, and the provocative lecture by Milo Rau of the International Institute of Political Murder about free speech and censorship in Russia.

2013 was a classic Kunstenfestival in the range of work presented, the courage of the risks taken by the curatorium, the breadth of the partnerships with presenters, artists and producers across the city, the EU and the world, and the unapologetically political, challenging and uncompromising provocation to audiences.

Kunstenfestivaldesarts : http://www.kfda.be/en


Sophie Travers _ Performing arts producer

Sophie Travers is the project director of the Australia council IETM collaboration project. Based in Brussels in 2012-13, she continues in this role from Melbourne, Australia. Sophie is an experienced international performing arts producer, originally from the Uk, but based in Australia for over a decade. She was one of the co-writer of International Co-Production Manual, which is published by KAMS and IETM in 2011.

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