You can’t escape The Golden Age at the moment. To coincide with the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death all the stops have been pulled out to celebrate and rejoice in the time when Holland was a world power politically, commercially and, not least, artistically. There are major exhibitions and events throughout the Netherlands to confirm and applaud this.
But Molten Gold, created by Merel Franx and presented by Delft Fringe Festival, peels away the layers of the golden orange to reveal and explore the less attractive, less palatable side of this glorious era. The wealth of most of western Europe, especially Holland and England, was inexorably linked to slavery. Two commodities formed the basis of that wealth – tobacco and sugar. So the venue for tonight’s performance, the Sigarenfabriek, an old Delft cigar factory, was a nice touch.
Slavery was more of an abomination, more of an affront to humanity than the Third Reich, Stalinism, Pol Pot, along with anyone else you care to mention, all lumped together – and covered a much longer period. The difference is that it was us and we are the good guys plus, it was a long time ago. Or was it? Anybody been to the Tate Modern in London or Tate Liverpool? Both were created in the past couple of decades or so. The name Tate becomes more significant when coupled with that of Lyle. Although Henry Tate formed his sugar refining business twenty-five years after slavery was abolished in the UK, the legacy remained.
The wealth based on slavery is still with us today and is just as powerful and Ms Franx’s powerful dance piece sheds some light on the poor souls whose bodies were the foundations on which great empires were created. To begin with the six dancers moved slowly forward in silence driven by some unseen force to an unknown destination. They stop, walking on the spot until gradually their repetitive labours start – grabbing, lifting, pulling, carrying.
Moving mostly in unison to Jeske de Blauw’s incessant, hypnotic soundscape, the movements become more frenetic, more obsessive until finally some sort of liberation is achieved. The movements toward the end were almost out of control – the dancers could easily have been at a gig by the Sex Pistols or the Clash in the late 1970s. The sweat-soaked sextet paused only at the end for group hugs and to lie momentarily snuggled-up on the floor until finally they rise, making a headlong dash into the sudden darkness.
But is it lasting liberation, will they ever be truly free, will the shackles ever be gone?
I guess it is some sort of latter-day ironic justice that the public has developed a resistance, a contempt even, for tobacco and sugar. Too late mate, the money is already in the bank. Michael Hasted 18th October 2019