This year’s Holland Festival is on the Edges of Europe

Die Stunde da wir nichts von einander wussten Photo: Ene Liis Semper Tickets are now on sale for the Netherlands’ biggest international theatre festival, featuring 45 productions, including 12 world premiers. Esther O’Toole takes a peek behind the curtain.

‘Urgent and political’ is how artistic director, Ruth MacKenzie, describes the 69th edition of the Holland Festival which opens in Amsterdam on June 4. Taking inspiration from the Netherlands’ leadership of the EU this year, the festival is entitled The Edges of Europe and it aims to be edgy in more ways than one.

They are setting the bar high, kicking off with an epic production from Hamburg’s Thalia Theater and Estonian directorial duo Ene-Liis Semper and Tilt Ojasoo. This pair not only hail from the literal edges of Europe but are renowned for their audacious and highly political form of theatre; work that in the past has included setting themselves up as a populist political party.

Modern Europe

The film of that show, Ash and Money, can be seen at the festival alongside this year’s offering – Die Stunde Da Wir Nichts Voneinander Wussten. An updated version of Peter Handke’s original text, it includes dozens of actors, dancers and singers and promises a vivid and visceral look at modern Europe with all its diversity and tension. That’s just the start.

The rest of the line-up continues in this impressive vein. Top international artists, such as the Akram Khan Dance Ensemble, are returning with new work; the Dutch premiere of Until the Lions plays from June 23 and stars the man himself. Virtuoso conductor and composer Issam Rafea leads Damon Albarn and reunited members of the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music at Carré, and Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal are back with Pina Bausch’ classic production, Nelken.

A scene from Nelken. Photo: Ulli-Weiss
A scene from Nelken. Photo: Ulli-Weiss


One must-see highlight for English natives will be Encounter, the new one-man show from the brilliant and enigmatic Simon McBurney, artistic director of the UK’s Theatre de Complicite. Don’t let language be a barrier though, there are plenty of opportunities to catch ‘language no problem’ shows and all Dutch indoor performances will be sur-titled.


All in all the festival will be showing some 45 productions with 104 performances, including 12 world premieres and 41 Dutch premieres.

‘I believe artists can change the world,’ MacKenzie said, announcing the start of ticket sales. Laying out her vision for bringing provocative and innovative performance art to new audiences, she added: ‘We want to show work that helps us look at the world with fresh eyes.’

Unique Dutch Talent

MacKenzie is fully supported in that vision by business director, Annet Lekkerkerker, who pointed to the daring nature of the programming as evidence that the creative team is not afraid of posing difficult questions to audiences, in their quest to ‘stimulate and push unique works of art’.

To that end, in 2016 we will be treated to new digital commissions; a focus on the most outstanding Dutch groups, such as actors’ collective Wunderbaum and De Warme Winkel; and associate artist placements for Olga Neuwith and Kronos Quartet, whose work forms the heart of the music programme.

MacKenzie and Lekkerkerker are also determined to reach as large and broad a public as possible. There will be a wide range of free workshops, meet the artist opportunities and outdoor performances. Museumplein will once again be a focal point for many of these and thanks to a partnership with the Stedelijk Museum you can also see the interactive installation Tomorrow is the Question there, from artist Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Safar Nord Sud Gnawa ensemble. Photo: Christian Menkel
Safar Nord Sud Gnawa ensemble. Photo: Christian Menkel

€10 tickets

Taking inspiration from the London Proms, the HF Proms will be open to everyone from just €10 per ticket and there will also be a large educational component running at the Hyperion Lyceum secondary school. Using Lucas de Man’s performance De Man door Europa as a leaping off point, students in their fourth year of high school will delve into European identity and what it really means for them.

In 2015, the organisers also ran a successful Save the Bassoon campaign, which highlighted the undervalued instrument with workshops, competitions and special related events.

This year, to mark its success, the festival will welcome 100 bassoonists of all abilities who will join each other at the Concertgebouw and take part in a new composition for bassoons by Merlijn Twaalfhoven. This year the focus will be on saving the horn.

For tickets and more information go to

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