William Kentridge and Faustin Linyekula © Jochem Sanders
William Kentridge and Faustin Linyekula
© Jochem Sanders

All you can expect at the Holland Festival is the unexpected. This leading arts festival in the Netherlands has been running since 1947, packed with contemporary work and innovative programming in music, theatre and dance. The 2019 festival – the 72nd edition – is no different, continuing to push boundaries and challenge expectations. For the first time, two associate artists have been appointed – South African William Kentridge and Congolese Faustin Linyekula – and the festival explores their work and the sources of their inspiration.

A new music theatre production by Kentridge opens the festival. The Head and The Load takes its title from a Ghanaian proverb: “the head and the load are the troubles of the neck”. The work features the plight of some two million African porters used by British, French and German troops during World War 1, many of whom were killed. This is a story Kentridge feels compelled to tell. With a score by Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi, and choreography by Gregory Maqoma, Kentridge brings together a large cast to fill the 50-metre wide stage of Amsterdam’s Zaantheater.

Paper Music © Christopher Hewitt
Paper Music
© Christopher Hewitt
Another Kentridge creation with Philip Miller is Paper Music – a “ciné-concert” combining opera, film and vaudeville – presented at the Muziekgebouw. There are political undercurrents as it links the theme of colonialism to relativity theories and a vast “breathing machine” which sees vocalists imitating musical instruments alongside silent animations.

Africa is also the inspiration behind a double bill of Enyangeni and Ursonate. Enyangeni is a Zulu word referring to the moon, meaning “ascending”. South African composer and choreographer Nhlanhla Mahlangu directs his dancework before Kentridge’s response to German poet Kurt Schwitters’ 1932 sound poem. The Eye Film Museum also screens Kentridge’s Ten Drawings for Projection, an exhibition featuring his acclaimed short films.

Dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula presents Congo, his response to the claim made by one of Éric Vuillard’s characters in his novel Congo that “Congo does not exist. It is only a river and the big forest.” This new work presents Linyekula’s poetic representation and exploration of his homeland through dance, text and sound. His powerful work Sur les traces de Dinozord is staged at the International Theater, while Not another diva is based on Hlengiwe Lushaba’s song cycle. On 2nd June, Kentridge and Linyekula discuss their work in conversation, comparing their experiences in living and working in postcolonial Africa.

A big draw for music fans is provided by aus LICHT, avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s epic cycle of seven operas, one for each day of the week. The Holland Festival, in collaboration with Dutch National Opera, the Royal Conservatoire The Hague and the Stockhausen-Stiftung für Musik, will stage three episodes: DONNERSTAG aus LICHT, SAMSTAG aus LICHT and, in the third part, highlights from DIENSTAG aus LICHT, MITTWOCH aus LICHT and SONNTAG aus LICHT. Fifteen hours of music, spread over three days, should satisfy the most voracious of Stockhausen fans. One of the most anticipated parts is a rare performance of the HELIKOPTER-STREICHQUARTETT, with four string players each performing in their own helicopter, flying above Amsterdam’s iconic Gashouder.

Gidon Kremer © Angie Kremer Photography
Gidon Kremer
© Angie Kremer Photography

Dutch National Opera always presents a new production at the festival and this year it turns to Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy’s enigmatic opera cloaked in a veil of ambiguity. Based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist play, it tells the tale of a thorny love triangle between a woman and two brothers. Stéphane Denève conducts Olivier Py’s new production, which features tenor Paul Appleby as Pelléas and soprano Elena Tsallagova, who famously sang the role in Robert Wilson’s production in Paris. American baritone Brian Mulligan sings Golaud, the brother who discovers Mélisande lost in the forest and who brings her back to his castle in Allemonde as his bride.

Opera lovers will know Puccini’s Turandot. But what you may not know is that the cruel princess who has her suitors beheaded if they fail to solve three riddles is not Chinese. According to the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, she was Queen of Turan – literally Turan Dokht (Daughter of Turan). Iranian-Dutch composer Aftab Darvishi and Dutch director Miranda Lakerveld return the princess to Persia, in an “intercultural rewriting” of Puccini, featuring new music influenced by Iranian flavours.

Other musical highlights includes Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, who has long championed the music of Mieczysław Weinberg. At the Muziekgebouw, he and his chamber orchestra Kremerata Baltica focus on Weinberg’s music.

The Six Brandenburg Concertos © Anne van Aerschot
The Six Brandenburg Concertos
© Anne van Aerschot

Dance highlights include Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker and her Rosas company, who present The Six Brandenburg Concertos, embracing Bach’s masterpieces, played by Amandine Beyer and the crack Baroque band B'Rock. De Keersmaeker choreographs sixteen dancers from Rosas, past and present, the largest ensemble she’s worked with. Dutch National Ballet also presents a special triple bill featuring three generations of choreographers – Juanjo Arques, Pas/Parts by William Forsythe, and Hans van Manen’s Kleines Requiem.

From Ghanaian proverbs to the Persian origins of Turandot via a string quartet in helicopters, the Holland Festival really does challenge audience expectations.


This article was sponsored by Holland Festival.