Amsterdam’s location theatre Over Het IJ Festival has “grown up” says Lode van Piggelen as dancers sign with flags from the top of a three-storey high construction made from shipping containers. The festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. For many Amsterdammers it’s an alternative for last month’s Oerol festival on the island of Terschelling.
Over Het IJ is located in North Amsterdam’s Docklands area, the NDSM. The derelict dockyard provides the perfect backdrop for madcap, zany and absurd productions that began back in 1992 with the Netherlands’ best know location thespians Dogtroep. In his opening speech, festival founder Henk Schouten recalls the impact of the group’s production Noordwesterwals, as 1.2 million litres of water from the river IJ flowed onto the stage at the bottom of the huge dry-dock slipway, once the site of spectacular ship launches. The sluice only closed when the waters lapped the feet of the people in the front row.
Since then Dogtroep has disbanded and other location theatre groups have picked up the slack. Over Het IJ is probably the only theatre festival where you could post a sign saying “No Dutch required”. The spectacular scenes speak for themselves, dialogue is usually sparse. It’s the technicians that get to steal the stage. Sometimes literally. Many of the performances are created on site and the festival is exposed to the elements, adding to the atmosphere. When theatre group vis à vis performed their rendition of the Titanic, heavy storm clouds and lightning rapidly approached the improvised ship in peril. The sense of trepidation in the audience was palpable.
The festival has not remained at one location, but has spread over many parts of North Amsterdam and beyond. Before the foundations of the EYE Film Institute were laid down, theatre group De Jongens performed Under Construction on the newly laid sandbank the jutted out into the River IJ. Audiences are regularly bussed to remote spots on the riverbank, fields just outside the city, shopping centres, a local dance school, community centres and even Central Station. The “secret” gardens of the former Shell terrain, the Tolhuistuin, which had been fenced off to the public until recent years, are a perfect second location. And a couple of years ago, the grounds of the former Stork factory further up the river provided the “filmset” for De Jongens slapstick Aktieman (Action Man), while the audience was shunted around in a converted cattle trailer.
This year the festival is focussing its programme on its shipping container productions on the NDSM site. The container productions are traditionally 15-minute performances for just a couple euros often by young actors. Artistic director Lode van Piggelen says, “We had a dream. We saw the NDSM Docklands before us, but not with just 15 shipping containers as in recent years. No, to mark our 20th anniversary, we saw a city rise of 200 shipping containers with performances by theatre makers from over the years.”
At the opening, Lode van Piggelen said the festival stands for “adventure and ambition… solace and new challenges in these hard times”. North Amsterdam alderman Rob Post hesitantly copied dancers from the Dansmakers flag “forgotten signals” from the top of the containers, while the audience tried to figure out this year’s motto: Clean up, Think new.
This year’s container productions promise to amuse the audience with “3-100 minutes of creativity and imagination”. It is an apt theme especially as a large container student village is right next-door and the area’s most recently opened restaurant Pllek is exclusively built from shipping containers. The festival heart has been designed to look like “a three-dimensional draughts board”. It may also come in handy if the weather threatens to ruin what is otherwise guaranteed to be a great evening out.
Over het IJ festival
5 July – 15 July 2012