At noon on the first Monday of every month, Rotterdam tests its emergency siren. It is a regular reminder of the vulnerability of a city that sits mostly below sea level, but, on a lighter note, the siren has also inspired the Schouwburg Sirene Sale, an award-winning marketing campaign: 100 tickets to a selected performance at the Rotterdamse Schouwburg available at half price for 24 hours from the moment the sirens sound. First come first served, op is op (gone is gone).
The first 2012 promotion was for a performance of Oedipus by Ultima Vez, a Belgian dance and theatre group. Theatre is usually out of my reach here in Holland as I haven’t worked hard enough on my Dutch, but this time, I figured it’s dance and theatre and live music and I know the story and at 50% off, I will only feel half as bad if I come away with nothing… Actually, it was this clip posted on the Ultima Vez YouTube channel that intrigued me.
Admittedly, it doesn’t look like a barrel of fun… but I loved the music.
As it turns out, Oedipus is far more complicated than ‘Oedipus kills his father, marries his mother, and puts his own eyes out in shame,’ and I realized quite early on in the play that I should at least have read a synopsis of the story before the performance. There was a whole narrative line involving a sphinx, an oracle, and shoes that I didn’t remember at all. So, I settled back to take in the dance and the music, hoping it would all come together in the end.
The opening scene where the dancers emerge out of a giant wheel erected on the stage was mysterious and effective, but on the whole, the dance was so athletic it brought to mind the Olympic Games rather than an ancient Greek tragedy. Thinking back, the moment in the play that impressed me the most was when Oedipus kills his biological father, King Laius and his retinue after a chance encounter in the forest. Oedipus faces them down, holding a handful of twigs and every time he snaps the twigs someone dies until the last twig is snapped and Laius lies dead. Simple, effective and immediately recognizable as a key moment in the play.
Still, it was the music and the discovery of another name to add to the list of famous Belgians that made my evening. Roland van Campenhout wrote the music, played and sang live on stage together with two other musicians, and, dressed in a yellow union suit, he also acted the role of King Laius with relish.
Here he is with Steven de Bruyn at Café Carnot in Kruibeke. Just the kind of place where I can imagine spending an evening listening to Belgian blues over a bottle of Kasteelbier, or a Liefmans Goudenband.
Roland is the guy with glasses who sings as if he was born in Louisiana, not the province of Antwerp in Belgium.