No cultural institution will emerge from this corona crisis unscathed. But while most are focusing on the restrictions, some see new possibilities. The latter is the case with Karavaan. Run by artistic director Ilse van Dijk, this foundation focuses on site-specific performances. The annual Karavaan Festival, which was supposed to run from 29 May – 7 June, had to be cancelled, but Karavaan hasn’t remained idle. From scratch they made Brandstof, which premiered Thursday 4 June, a corona proof theatrical drive-through experience held at the former printery of Telegraaf Media Group in Alkmaar.
The overall staging is a unique experience in itself. The performance runs continuously, with six cars starting every fifteen minutes. The cars assemble at a car park, where each is assigned a number (from one to six). At the designated time, a heartfelt welcome can be heard over the speakers (all texts are in Dutch). The recording also lists some ground rules, which makes it feel as if we are about to embark on a safari cruise. No honking is allowed, as it would disturb the other scenes. But most importantly: everyone has to stay inside their own vehicle. At all times. ‘Are you ready? Start your engines, get set…and go!’
In a column we enter the building, where stewards expertly escort us to our allocated slots, all at least 1.5 meters apart, as if we were waiting in line at a high-end theme park. This will be the first of five stops: five solos by five performers. All five artists and director Jos van Kan were slated to attend the original festival. Each of the solos touches on the idea of fuel – the ‘Brandstof’ in the title. What do you do when you are running on empty, figuratively speaking? What do you do when you are being, and/or feeling, stalled?
A woman (Nynke Heeg) enters on her motorcycle and starts to recount a surreal spectacle she encountered one day on her bike: the sight of a set of car headlights shining from beneath the water’s surface.
In the next space a man (Dennis Tiecken), offers a wordless performance, performing an anguished duet with an emergency telephone. The sound design by Wiebe Gotink) reveals a disembodied female voice among a collage of sounds, speaking wistfully of an extinguished love.
Next is a blind-folded man (Lourens van den Akker) standing on top of a car, practicing his boxing moves while reminiscing about the time he almost drowned. In room number four we meet a woman (Marlies Bosman) balancing precariously on a ladder. She is the owner of the disembodied voice in solo number 2. Our final solo takes place outside, where Lusanne Arts reveals she has a connection with all the soloists who have come before.
As far as the format is concerned, Brandstof is truly inspiring. The experience of driving through an abandoned factory from one solo to the next feels both intimate and slightly claustrophobic. You are literally in a box inside a box, manoeuvring carefully from one scene to the next. At one point, Van Kan even recreates the experience of being inside a carwash, with large amounts of water pouring down from the ceiling. Logistically, everything is well thought out: from providing every car with decent sight lines to making sure no cars ever have to back up to get to the next spot. Even though the spaces are huge, there is a sense of intimacy, especially since the five performers all take great care to establish eye contact with every visitor during the performance.
Did the five solos need to be tied together quite so neatly? Beyond the common theme of needing to refuel, I am not so sure. Some connections feel a little forced, some monologues slightly too on the nose. ‘Now you are parked here, soon you’ll be gone.’
But as a concept, Brandstof offers a powerful symbol of perseverance and resilience. It really embodies the essence of what the project is all about: of finding (new) ways to keep on keeping on, even if the world around us has seemed to come to a standstill.
Photos: Moon Saris