EuroReview 1. De Bovenkamer
Amsterdam: “De Bovenkamer” (The Upper Room)
DansSpelFilmensemble Meli Kuhn “DE BOVENKAMER”. Sept. 2015
Recently, while going through my things in preparation for moving across the country, I uncovered a small series of performance reviews I wrote while in Europe in 2015. Being that somehow I happened to pair my timing perfectly with the end of summer/early fall season - when all of the slumbering arts were beginning to wake with a fury - I stumbled upon some of the most interesting installations, spoken word and theater nights, interactive gallery events and just plain ridiculous talent and complete openness to expression through the arts. This is the first of 10 stories which I will call reviews.
“A theatre performance by DansSpelFilmensemble Meli Kuhn (DSF Meli Kuhn). September 4. 2015 at the Amsterdam Fringe Festival at the Mozaiek Theatre. “ - Meli Kuhn Youtube. All images in this post are screenshots also obtained from this source.
De Bovenkamer was an experimental piece that utilized movement and choreography as a main source of communication in addition to Dutch which I did not understand. It was played by a cast of six people - three males and three females, and this focus on balance (or imbalance) in this partnering was a recurring theme cycling throughout the entirety of the composition.
Though staged more as a piece of contemporary dance than a play, De Bovenkamer certainly had its theatrical elements. But when the men began covering the entire floor in newspaper while the women repetitively poured milk down their heads and bodies, it was unclear whether the ultimate aim was to shock or inform. Maybe both? The gradual change in the music from an eerie collection of sounds and overlaid classical and experimental compositions to a wonky circus rhythm would support a change from seriousness to a question of illusion- before reverting back to a somber orchestral creep-up tune with a two note rhythm accented on the first beat.
The different ways people perceive such performances is quite intriguing, particularly when you don’t understand the language and rely purely on the visual language that the theater portrays to complete the story for yourself. From my perhaps narrow perspective, I received the piece as a modern take on Dada. Of course all of these elements have been done - from the tradition of partnering in dance to the opposite side of the spectrum of incorporating shock into play. However, no matter how many times it’s been done or by whom or how cliche it has become as the discourse in the modern dialogue moves on… (blah blah blah)… in the end it’s art and it’s about a feeling. Sometimes you can leave your academic brains behind.
I attended the performance with my couch surfing host Salvador, a fellow artist and dancer I met through him the night before, Sophie, and another friend of his whose name I cannot recall. At the end, I was curious to hear their thoughts. What stood out to me was the girl whose name I can’t recall scowling, “I don’t think it was original at all. it’s like they just threw together all of the ingredients for a generic modern play complete with nudity and milk. Kind of basic.”
I love this for two reasons.
The first: This is so European! The fact that this sort of performance is typical to a certain area is fascinating because I for one can vouch that de Bovenkamer would never fly in Greenville, South Carolina. Of course, Amsterdam and Greenville might be a bit extreme to compare. But even with all of the rich history of artistic expression through historical movements in cities like New York which revolutionized performance, installation, and incorporation of our primal, sexual beings, I would still say that our country (while getting there!) is still not 100% as open to full artistic expression as other countries in Europe seem to be.
The second reason: I loved that she had this opinion because, while it was quite different than mine and could have come off snooty or pretentious, I low-key love when people have these kinds of strong opinions about art because it shows they care, or at least know what they are talking about (sometimes). I know art school made me a bit of an art snob and I’m not ashamed because I LOVE diving into rich visual language and debating about art for hours. I will admit that my perspective comes from a strictly visual arts background when it comes to how certain movements (i.e., Dada) influenced the arts. I was never given a technical education in theater or dance, so I don’t claim to know the depths of the progression of themes + groundbreaking shifts in conceptual thinking in these areas. I love that to her, this was basic. Where I come from, basic is Ugg boots and pumpkin-spice lattes, not experimental “wanna-be” avant-guard movement plays.
Overall, although very ambitious in boldness and blocking (with some lovely moments of movement and play), I did feel it wasn’t actually that pertinent to story-line in any other way than shock when the clothes began to come off. Maybe it was because I felt the poetic element of the point was already very strongly made with the repetitive pouring of the milk and ripping of the newspaper, and all of the other sequences of decisions (like throwing crumpled paper balls while walking backwards) but cramming something else so raw at the very end felt like it took away from the previous scenes. Like a “JUST IN CASE” you didn’t get it, “take this!” kind of moment. We got it!
I am not a prude when it comes to theater. I just think that the body - like all other elements in art that become materials or conductors - is an element that needs to be used in a smart way, just like any element of a simple collage. Nudity in art is a fine line because on one hand the body IS art and we should be free to accept this. On the other hand, like anything else used in art, you have to ask yourself WHY? What is the purpose of incorporating this? What is the message? When used too flippantly, things tend to lose their sense of soul, their potency. The body is no different.
I will admit that De Bovenkamer’s combination of all of these elements did give it an air that they were really trying to hammer the point home by taking everything that was “Wow” and mashing it all together. (With the result being a bit confusing, albeit entertaining). But! The experience of seeing all of these things still being done on stage, and knowing that it is “typical” and seeing that people still take the time to write, rehearse, dance, publicize, and attend art like this make my heart sing and swell with joy.
Who cares if its been done- it’s all been done! Write your plays, try those things you’ve always wanted to see on stage - people will always have opinions. Years later someone might write a review that nobody reads just because your play crossed their mind AGAIN. For better or for worse, putting your art out there is the only way to let it grow and may be the only time that somebody gets a peek into the conversation that your work is streaming off of. People will talk shit. Maybe your work is shit! (We’ve all been there.) But you HAVE to keep making and in the end it will all make sense.