The Congo Project is very much part of the artistic course the KVS plotted several years ago. Flemish theatre is becoming increasingly ‘internationalised’ and in its international operations the KVS is opting decisively for projects that are also relevant to the local Brussels context. After all, Brussels is not only Flanders, Belgium and Europe but also, and to a considerable extent, Africa.
The first steps…in Brussels
The first steps towards the Congo were taken in Brussels. Het leven en de werken van Leopold II (La vie et les oeuvres de Leopold II), the KVS production that Raven Ruëll based on Claus’ work, signalled that the artistic world too realised that the colonial hangover had not gone away (around the same time Luc Tuymans presented his famous Mwana Kitoko series). At the same time steps were taken to develop a common project with African artists who are permanently based in Brussels. This became the Green Light story. Seen from this perspective, going to the Congo was simply a logical next step. Since 2005, the KVS has created a solid foundation for cultural exchanges based on a new model...
Going to the Congo
Between 2005 and 2007, various performances were staged in Kinshasa: Martino, Gembloux, Spiegel and Het leven en de werken van Leopold II. Each time we opted for a short tour and performances in several locations in various boroughs in the city. Kinshasa is not only a very large and extensive city, it is also not easy to travel on public transport from one part to the next, especially at night. Simply settling down in one spot and expecting the audience to come to you is not an ideal option. These performances were always linked to periods of work that did not so much have education in mind as encounter. Our main aim was to create the ‘mental space’ in which Belgian and Congolese artists could peacefully work together and exchange ideas and experiences. And so Raven Ruëll, Johan Dehollander, Thomas Steyaert, David Van Reybrouck, Dirk Verstockt, David Bovée, Fabrizio Cassol and others became actively involved in the Congo Project.
2008 and 2009 saw greater investment in longer, in-depth working periods and less in the staging of performances. Johan Dehollander and Geert Opsomer set to work for a whole month and took Nico Boon along with them. Johan and Geert later also went together for another month, this time with Koen De Sutter. Thomas Steyaert also went to work in Kinshasa for a month and in the summer of 2008 he, Raul Maia and 8 dancers left Kinshasa and headed eastwards for Kisangani, Goma and Kigali, where they had a residency at the FESPAD international dance festival.
These longer working periods resulted organically in works created jointly by Flemish and Congolese artists. Thomas Steyaert, David Kazembe, Didier Ediho, Ambassa Mimani and Jolie Ngemi created the performance Mist together with Ultima Vez. Rodriguez Vangama and Brecht Ameel were asked to come up with the music for the production. It was the first time that a musician from Kinshasa had been asked to compose music for a dance performance. Mist premiered in Kinshasa in July 2009. A new version was performed at the KVS < > Congo festival. A l’attente du Livre d’Or, a theatre performance by Johan Dehollander, Papy Mbwiti, Starlette Mathata, Roch Bodo, Jovial Mbenga, Nico Boon and Geert Opsomer, was produced in collaboration with Campo. The sisters Barbara and Stefanie Claes had a prominent role in the performance. The series of performances in Ghent and Brussels were rewarded with selection for the Dutch Theatre Festival.
The ‘new model’ on which the cultural collaboration with Congo is based also involves reciprocity. The intention is not just for the KVS to go to Kinshasa, but also for Kinshasa to come to the KVS. Witness the intense collaboration with Faustin Linyekula and Studio Kabaka which has already resulted in two co-productions, The Dialogue Series III. Dinozord and more more more... future. The latter had its world premiere at the KVS in May 2009 as part of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts.
Reciprocity was also a central feature of KVS programming in April 2010, in the form of KVS < > Congo, which featured the productions by Faustin Linyekula, appearances by Lokua Kanza and Konono N°1, book presentations by Koen Vidal, Stefan Vanfleteren and David Van Reybrouck, a great Congo debate and two products of the Congo Project: A l’attente du Livre d’Or and Mist.
Festivals in Kinshasa and OSTEND
Since we have been investing more in working periods since 2008, the visibility of the Congo Project in Kinshasa was limited to just a few performance events. We continued to believe in the importance of giving performances for the Congolese public and, together with Les Ballets C de la B, the idea developed of taking pitié! to Kinshasa. Because, as we discovered, this performance resonates in the Congo and also because, although the young Congolese countertenor Serge Kakudji was making an impression throughout the whole world, he had not been seen in Kinshasa. It was to be a huge undertaking, but it succeeded and we decided to organise a five-day festival around it in July 2009, the First Platform of Contemporary Dance. The festival was a great success. It was clear that Kinshasa needed a truly international festival.
In July 2010, we were able to stage a second festival, this time focusing on the performing arts, ten days long and with productions such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Drumming.
The third edition took place in July 2011. See the programme here. The Connexion Kinfestival was on for the 4th time in Kinshasa at the end of June 2012. Jan Goossens reported on it for De Morgen and Brussel Deze Week also sent a reporter to the Congolese capital. The first Bato Congo, a joint venture by the KVS, 11.11.11, TAZ and VAIS, was on during TAZ (Theater aan Zee) in Ostend from 26 July to 5 August. This project, which involves Congolese photographers, musicians, theatre-makers and authors, was immediately given a bronze medal by De Standaard.
And what else?
In the Congo Project we have so far achieved a great deal upon which we can build in the future. However, we will also be placing new emphases by means of new choices, funds and resources permitting. We see a clear end to this project, but there are still several years of intensive work ahead of us. In any case, it’s a story to be continued... You can read the vision of Paul Kerstens (Africa coordinator) for the future of the Congo project here.
Jan Goossens was invited by Eurac / 11.11.11 to be part of an observation mission in the context of the presidential elections in the Congo on 28th November. During this turbulent period he kept a diary until his departure the day before the results were announced. This is his report.
Connexion Kin, the anual festival by KVS in Kinshasa will be taking place from june 7th until june 16th. With premières by Faustin Linyekula, Dieudonné Niangouna, Brett Bailey, Boyzie Cekwana and others.
On the 4th December a debate took place in KVS on repertoire in theatre, with guest speakers Guy Cassiers, Faustin Linyekula and Amir Nizar Zuabi. As an introduction Jan Goossens, artistic director of KVS, wrote the following text.