So provocative were those first performances – and so unsuspecting was Ostend – that one of the artists was arrested for disturbing the peace. There have, however, been no arrests registered in recent history. The festival has instead succeeded in becoming an Ostend institution. It has broadened its scope to include music, film and other art forms, and is organised these days less around themes than personalities, specifically those of its guest curators.
This year’s curator isn’t a single person but, for the first time, an entire collective: Leuven’s Braakland/ ZheBilding. The building in question is the old customs warehouse at Leuven’s canal port, a neighbourhood currently undergoing a full post-industrial transformation, and it is home to an alliance of four contemporary arts organisations sharing several converted spaces for performances and exhibitions, as well as a permanent on-site cafe. As a collective, BZB was last year awarded the Prize for Performing Arts by the Flemish culture ministry.
The collaboration between BZB and TAZ is a natural one. The former’s focus on contemporary creation, be it theatrical, musical or visual, is completely in sync with the festival’s founding principles. The latter has been purposely recruiting guest curators from different Flemish cities every year. Last year’s creative axis, for example, was Ostend-Brussels.
There is an important international dynamic to the festival, too. The Bato Congo programme, conceived in collaboration with Flemish activists 11.11.11 and international cooperation agency VAIS, explores the difficult post-colonial relationship between Belgium and its former holdings in the Congo.
Congolese artists are invited not just to perform but also to enter into dialogue with their Belgian counterparts. So Bato Congo includes much more than simply performances, concerts and exhibitions. Workshops, debates and even a football match are all on the agenda. Two Congolese bloggers also join the TAZ community, reporting daily in the festival’s bulletin, the TAZette.
Another of the festival’s objectives is to support arts education, to encourage young performers to get involved, often through collaborations with schools and cultural centres. TAZ’s Jong Werk programme presents the fruits of these collaborations. This year sees a former TAZ protégé graduate to the major league. Dutch performer Nick Steur’s FREEZE! won last year’s youth theatre prize. Now he is premiering his new installation/performance, TRIP!
TAZ’s Familiepark is a perennial favourite for festival-goers, especially those with small children. Ostend’s Leopold Park is transformed for the duration of the festival into a wonderland, complete with authentic circus caravan. Activities including concerts, story-telling and workshops run daily from 11.00 to 19.00. Most events here are free and suitable for toddlers, and there’s plenty of space for a picnic. Finally, don’t worry, parents: There are self-service facilities available for all your baby-care needs.
Various locations, Ostend
House On Mars: Pixel Rave
Jong Werk invites Toneelacademie Maastricht’s six-man performance troupe Urland, led by TAZ veteran Thomas Dudkiewicz, to stage a curious production. It’s a straightforward story of sibling rivalry inspired by such archetypal pairs as Romulus and Remus and Cain and Abel, but the setting has changed. Indeed, the title House On Mars is meant literally. Urland’s feuding brothers are space explorers whose costumes and mannerisms are modelled on the gloriously bad B-movies of decades past. Of course, that’s the point. The deliberate kitsch of this “techno-science-fiction operetta” is a medium in itself. In English.
26 July-28 July, 22.00, VTI, €7/€8
Rencontre au pluriel
Toto Kisaku’s Rencontre au pluriel, presented in the context of Bato Congo, is somewhere between dramatic monologue and stand-up comedy. Accompanied by a trio of musicians, the Congolese performer narrates his early life and training as an actor in the capital of the DRC. The one-man show is suffused with wit, irony and a strong sense of the absurd, all of which are kicked into overdrive when Kisaku describes the young African performer’s first impressions of Europe. In French, with Dutch subtitles.
29 July, 17.00, 30 July, 17.00 & 20.30, Club Terminus, €10/€11
Before becoming an acclaimed harp virtuoso, Andrea Voets was a student at a Bruges high school. Before becoming a world-famous calligrapher, Yves Leterme (not to be confused with the former Belgian PM) was a classical languages teacher. Chance had placed them several years previously in the same classroom, and Voets would remember the encounter. Years later she would invite her former teacher to collaborate on a multimedia performance, joining live musical performance and calligraphy. Latin Lovers incorporates Ovid’s Art of Love and R Murray Schafer’s Crown of Ariadne. This is not Voet’s only appearance at TAZ. She also performs a solo programme of 20th- and 21st-century compositions earlier the same morning (11.30, to be specific) at Fort Napoleon.
3 August, 15.00, Cafe Koer, €7/€8
Hitler Is Dood
A courtroom drama with a contemporary twist. Using the historical Nuremberg trials as a backdrop, Flemish writer/director Stijn Devillé makes a complex statement about crime and punishment. The usual suspects – Goering, Speer, Von Ribbentrop and the gang – are joined by four characters from the Allied side. These four have different roles and different perspectives, but all are trying to make sense of the destruction around them and make sure it doesn’t happen again. An electronic soundtrack adds another contemporary touch. It’s often creepy and gives the production an unsettling, anachronistic feel. In Dutch. 3 August, 19.00, Loods NMBS, €14
Flemish musician Luc Van Acker got his start as a studio player for well-known Belgian chart acts. In 1984 he cut a legendary album of his own. The Ship featured collaborations with several New Wave celebrities, including Anna Domino (whose duet with Van Acker, "Zanna", was a hit) and Tuxedomoon’s Blaine L Reininger. EMI’s re-release of the album this year has prompted Van Acker to return to the stage for a series of reprise performances of The Ship across Belgium.
4 August, 21.00, Cafe Koer, €12/€13