On 10 June, armed with my Corona-test QR code, I enter the International Theater Amsterdam after over a year. This year’s Holland Festival is taking place live, with some online components, and it feels special. Despite the empty feeling in the theatre, sitting in the Grote Zaal among 29 other lucky ones feels like a true privilege. That evening, I watch Mailles by Dorothee Munyaneza.

The stage is brightly illuminated. On the right side, we see what could be dresses or pieces of fabrics hanging from the ceiling. Opening the work, a group of black women enter the stage with bells. As the performers chime their bells, their physicality follows. Using their whole bodies to engage with the bells, the women seem incredibly concentrated, as if performing an important task.

While the space is submerged by the sounds, the striking performer Yinka Esi Graves steps onto a low platform present on stage. She proceeds with a bout of impressive flamenco footwork. The dancer moves with sharpness and fluidity, the ruffles of her glittery-black bodysuit harmoniously accompanying the movements. At a certain point she picks up a big, heavy-looking bell. She switches between modes of interaction with the object: dragging it, holding it with preciousness, handling it like a weapon, or even carrying it with adoration.

Mailles © Bart Grietens (42)
photos: Bart Grietens

This mesmerizing solo is followed by a dynamic flow of entrances and exits of the performers that lasts for most of the piece. Each artist brings a craft, a language, a story. Munyaneza herself sings beautifully; she sings about carrying a home within your body, and how to return to that home. Recurring topics are addressed through movement and sound: belonging, migrating, being in exile, longing for a home even while being at home. Spoken word artist and poet Asmaa Jama powerfully narrates tales and recites texts about immigration.

Costume designer Stéphanie Coudert has cleverly built a visual thread through the performers’ attires. With combinations between royal blue and bright orange accoutrements, the costume changes happen seamlessly, subtly indicating the different tableaux. 

Throughout the work, the women dance, sing, and recite. At times, all simultaneously; at others, giving the spotlight to one of them. Like its title indicates, Mailles (French for mesh, weave) interweaves the backgrounds of these women. Each voice tells a story in relation to their afro-descendence, their languages, family histories and backgrounds. The piece unites voices that generously share their experiences with oppression and cultural diversity. Despite the hardships implied in their experiences, what prevails is the strength and joy of life that seems to unite this cast of incredible performers. Their internal odysseys come together to weave into a new one.

The beautiful piece is effective in its theatrical composition, especially because it is carried out by a group of talented artists. My only point of criticism would be that was insistent in its narrative content at certain points, which unnecessarily stretched the work. 

Holland Festival