Liefdesverklaring

The performers’ purity is highlighted, and it’s exquisite *****

from: de Volkskrant 21/11/2014

Breakin'Walls theatre festival for young people has got itself a smash hit: Liefdesverklaring. This ‘shadow version’ of Peter Handkes classic stage text Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience) cherishes its audience, rather than offending it. Six young performers from the Flemish theatre production house fABULEUS have reached the top of their game working with Netherlands-based choreographer Nicole Beutler and writer Magne van den Berg.

In 1966, when Handke was the age of these young adults on stage, he championed a new kind of theatre making and theatre watching. And he achieved his goal, because stage works that make no attempt to create an illusion, and speak directly to the audience, are very common nowadays. And now here we are in 2014, and Handke’s words have been recycled and reinterpreted in a specific way to give them a different meaning.

What Liefdesverklaring is actually saying is, ‘What we’re doing is much more dangerous and terrifying than what Handke did.’ We have become habituated to verbal violence. The challenge now lies in being loving, making contact and placing yourself in a vulnerable position. It may on occasion sound preachy – the texts and diction do reflect the rhythm of prayer – but the total absence of cynicism and reserve is actually Liefdesverklaring’s underlying strength. It highlights the idealism, innocence, and purity of the young performers, and it’s exquisite.

We are treated to a crescendo of love. We are thanked for our presence (no theatre without people) and our willingness to jump in at the deep end with the performers. Important words ('us', and the formal form of 'you') are repeated, slowed, chanted and scrambled into a rap lyric. They also inspire tightly choreographed row dances in a row, personal moves, and freezes. Shifting from the formal to the informal ‘you’, the young people on stage come closer, into the audience, for intimate and impassioned face-to-face monologues (‘I want to stay with you. Will you stay with me?’). And, in the end, members of the audience also get to step onto ‘their’ domain, the stage, when the performers dance for them, one-to-one.

Beutler and Van den Berg’s approach to the texts through music and dance actually sees them reaching for the same goal as Handke’s: audience engagement – a sense of being there. And they succeed magnificently. We’re all on the edge of our seat, thinking about their proposal – one that gains extra potency in these times of digital distractions and arts cutbacks.

© Mirjam van der Linden