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Each spring, the Holland Festival looms large over the Amsterdam arts scene, and for good reason. The three-week-long festival was founded in 1947 as an attempt at cultural revival in postwar Europe, and has since become synonymous with cutting-edge Dutch arts programming. Artistic director Ruth Mackenzie is well aware of the score, and the stakes. “The Holland Festival should be as urgent and political today as it was in 1947,” she said at the UK press launch. “We hope that we can show that world-class art can change the world, or at least change the way we look at the world.”
This year’s festival, christened Edges of Europe, doesn’t disappoint. The program brings in local and international artists to shine light on cultural dialogue, in Europe and elsewhere, confronting big-news issues in ways that hit home. Here are our picks for must-see events at the festival this year.
Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten: June 4-6
To open the festival, Mackenzie has brought in Estonian director duo Ene-Liis Semper and Tii Ojasoo, for a re-imagining of Peter Handke’s Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten. A series of short scenes consisting almost solely of stage directions, the play promises a diverse look at the changing face of the European continent. Details here.
Gardens Speak: June 16-19
“All over Syria, people have been buried in gardens.” This is the starting premise for Tania El Khoury’s sound installation at Theater Bellevue, which documents stories of resistance against Assad’s regime in Syria. The piece is immersive and intimate—only ten people can experience it at a time—and seeks to highlight the ordinary, human side of political tragedy, often lost in media coverage of the scope of war. A limited number of tickets are left; more info here.
Tanya Tagaq: June 20
Born in Canada’s far north, Tanya Tagaq has quickly become recognized as one of the country’s leading vocalists — and lives up to the hype. The musician is a self-taught katajjaq throat singer, blending Inuit vocal techniques with everything from jazz to heavy metal. Tagaq is a fiercely talented performer, and a powerful voice on issues faced by Indigenous communities—so when she headlines a show, it’s typically best to listen. She performs with violinist Jesse Zubot and drummer Jean Martin at the Bimhuis on June 20. Details here.
Holland Festival Proms: June 25
It wouldn’t be a proper festival without a grand finale. The Holland Festival Proms features six back-to-back concerts at the Concertgebouw, beginning at 15:00 and running past midnight. Standout acts include the Kronos Quartet, known for their powerful interpretations of contemporary classical music, and Terry Riley’s In C Mali, a trans-cultural take on Terry Riley’s world-famous minimalist masterwork. Details on day passes, as well as tickets for individual shows, here.
True to form, the 2016 Holland Festival promises powerful, politically-urgent performances, and it delivers. When it comes to creating art that touches on issues that matter, we could all do with more projects like this one. In the meantime, the Holland Festival remains a touchstone of what large-scale arts organizations can do — and a leader by example of what relevant programming can look like. See you there.
Feature image by Ene-Liis Semper, photo by Jesse Hunniford.
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