Claudia at Theater aan het Spui on 18th March

12th – 27th March.

Explore Festival, a series of internationally-acclaimed dance and theatre performances from faraway regions overseas. The stages of no less than 10 different theatres in 7 big Dutch cities are playing host to Explore Festival as it presents a snapshot of leading-edge world theatre, full of surprising perspectives, challenging opinions and crystal-clear vistas, and accompanied by an extensive fringe programme.

SOMEWHERE AT THE BEGINNING at the Theater aan het Spui in The Hague on 20th March.

In this multi-media production, Senegalese grande dame of African modern dance, Germaine Acogny appears on the stage, as lithe and noble as one of those African ebony figures. Her movements are slow, fluid, almost weightless. At first we hear a dialogue between her and her father whose image is projected onto a curtain of ribbons, reminiscent of the kind that might hang in front of an African house. In the course of the performance Acogny, dancer and choreographer, retells the story of her birth, of her grandmother, a Yoruba priestess. She entreats her father to bestow the inheritance due to her – his hunting knives – not for killing, she reassures him. She castigates her father, who has moved to Paris, for exchanging the traditional African amulets for the paraphernalia of the Catholic religion in an effort to seem less ‘African’. Later in the performance we see her furiously drumming his image with her fists until it fades away. When she feels humiliated by her husband’s decision to take a second wife she leaves with her children, only to discover that she has also cast off her homeland, her traditions, her identity. We are reminded of this human and cultural dilemma with a projected film of the current refugees crossing the Mediterranean in overloaded inflatable boats.

The children of her former husband become a burden – she tries to sell them for one euro and threatens to kill them.  In her anger and as a metaphor, she disembowels a cushion, sending the content of its feathers whirling about the stage like a snow storm.

Throughout the performance the projected images serve to illustrate the clash between Europe and the African people, whose culture and traditions have been diluted and often irretrievably altered, if not obliterated, by missionaries or through colonisation. And as I have experienced to my own cost, a culture once forgotten cannot be retrieved. In her performance Acogny rebels against polygamy but laments the loss of magic. Toward the end she awakens from a nightmare, transformed into a giant bird. By casting the bird costume off she expresses her nostalgia. Defeated, she pardons her father for trying to wipe away his and her own identity.

Sébastien Dupouey’s  soundscape, Fabrice Bouillon’s fast-moving visuals and Sébastien Michaud’s lighting accompany the various episodes and conjure up the power of Africa. They are all-enveloping and quite brilliant.

This is a tour de force – seventy five year-old Germaine Acogny  moves across the stage like someone half her age. At her birth she was declared the re-incarnation of her grandmother, the priestess. Throughout the play it is clear that she feels in touch with the magic of her ancestors.

Excellent blending of story -telling, visuals and sound.    Astrid Burchardt, 20th March 2019

You can still catch this show on 24th March in Utrecht, 27th March in Heerlen and on 29th March at the Rotterdam Schouwburg.

CLAUDIA at the Theater aan het Spui in The Hague on 19th March

Every country has its dark history, periods and events which bring shame upon a nation. The variables are time and scale. Events that took place in our own corner of civilized Europe hundreds of years ago, like slavery or religious persecution can easily be ignored or forgotten. When there are people around who can still remember those events it is more difficult to forget.

When the humanitarian crimes were on an international scale, like Nazism and the Third Reich, they will figure much larger than the internal struggles of a country well out of the public gaze in South America. Argentina has a troubled recent history and Claudia deals with the brutal military dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s and its aftermath.

We first meet Mercedes at her sewing machine making a patchwork quilt, finding and joining together worthless scraps to make a new, cohesive whole. She tells us her story. She tells of her happy childhood and good education living in comfort and security provided by her father who is a lieutenant-colonel in military intelligence. Her parents are much older than those of her friends and she is taunted about this and, by the age of eighteen, she is gradually feeling less secure in her environment and has suspicions about her background.

Meanwhile, also in Buenos Aires, another elderly woman, one of the Asociación Civil Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo – The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, is still searching, after nearly twenty years for her lost son, his wife and their daughter, her grandchild. The old woman finds the child, confirmed by the then new-fangled DNA test, and it turns out Mercedes is not Mercedes at all, but Claudia. Her parents have been tortured, murdered and “disappeared” by the regime and she, as an eight-month-old baby, given to the colonel and his wife.

The story was discovered by Carles Fernández Guia and Eugenio Szwarcer who tracked down Claudia Poblete Hiaczik and together they decided to put together this play.

Told mainly as a ninety minute a monologue, in Spanish, by Claudia herself, Messrs. Guia and Szwarcer are always on hand to act as technical stage-management and to provide the odd line by other characters when called upon.

It can be heavy going at times, having to read every word of the surtitles, afraid that one might miss some crucial detail but the story is so enthralling and the presentation so imaginative and effectively done that it is worth the effort.

Multi-media is used throughout with projections and live camera feeds. We travel though the country’s rich and varied landscapes to see the notorious and numerous detention/torture centres that proliferated throughout Argentina for over a decade and we see interviews with locals who had their suspicions about what was going on, though sadly with no survivors, of which there were very few. It is all beautifully done, avoiding the pitfall of being too clever and allowing the hi-tech to dominate proceedings.

Though not an actor, Claudia’s touching simplicity and matter-of-factness are mesmerising and we can hardly imagine the horrors her parents and tens of thousands of others suffered or her trauma on discovering their fate and her origins.

At the end of the play, Claudia returns to her sewing machine, where there are still fragments waiting to be joined together. But now she has a daughter of her own, and the colonels are being brought to justice, so there is some sense of completion.

Argentina may now have cleaned up its act but the dreadful thing is that the horrors continue, somewhere in the world, all the time. It is hard to reconcile a human nature that can be so cruel and yet so kind and forgiving. Makes you think.    Michael Hasted   19th March 2019

This programme is presented by Het Nationale Theater in The Hague in collaboration with Stadsschouwburg Groningen, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, Frascati Theater (Amsterdam), Stadsschouwburg Utrecht, Zuiderstrandtheater (Den Haag), Theater Rotterdam, Chassé Theater (Breda), Parkstad Limburg Theaters (Heerlen and Kerkrade).

STET The English Theatre is for these performances a marketing partner for het Nationale Theater and supports this international performing arts festival with great pleasure!