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Holy trinity: Brussels' biggest theatres collaborate against all odds
Anyone who’s lived in Brussels for more than 10 years can attest to the changes in the capital when it comes to language and culture. An influx of newcomers has helped to soften the divisions among French and Dutch speakers as well as to create a wealth of diversity that cannot be ignored.
And this has in turn had an effect on political and artistic divisions. Both come together in the capital’s three biggest theatres: Théâtre National is funded by the French-speaking community, KVS by the Dutch-speaking, and La Monnaie is a federal institution.
The three have just launched a new programme to get their visitors moving from one to another. The cleverly titled Troika is an extension of years of collaboration among the houses to the public.
“Troika makes people more mobile; that’s what we want,” says Peter De Caluwe the general director of La Monnaie opera house. “We want the public to really visit different houses. With Troika, the starting point was that we are all representing a different side of Belgium: The Flemish, Francophone and federal communities.”
And it’s time those communities came together. “There is an aesthetic, artistic and political comradeship in our programmes,” says Théâtre National director Fabrice Murgia. “This has existed for years, this collaboration, but now we are making it visible and saying to our audiences, go to those theatres, they are yours as well.”
In practical terms, Troika is a programme of 25 performances, with some of them happening at KVS, some at Monnaie, some at National. Season pass holders to any of the three get a Troika card for free; otherwise it costs €9.
A Troika card gets you into any of those 25 performances at a 20% discount. The prices concession is a motivation for the customer, but, for the three directors, it’s more about breaking down psychological barriers. Three institutions under three political and two language systems presenting a single programme.
“We three have been getting together regularly for three years,” says Michael De Cock, artistic director of KVS. “We talk about what it’s like to run a house, to run it in this city, about different artists. And about why which public comes to visit us. We have been working together, and so have our theatres and artists.”
So the time has come to extend that to the beating heart of their organisations – the audience. De Cock: “We thought, how can the public benefit from this exchange? And very organically, through discussions with our staff and artists, we came up with the answer.”
They have also been pragmatic in the approach: Realising that the Théâtre National public might be avoiding KVS – and vice-versa – because of a perceived language divide, the Troika programme is made up entirely of dance. No language, no divide.
“This is also very inviting to people who don’t speak French or Dutch,” says Murgia, noting that Troika – which will launch in September with the new cultural season – “resists everything else that is happening in the country”.
And while dance avoids the language situation, all of the theatres have been doing that for a few years now anyway. They all provide surtitles in one or two other languages than the one you hear spoken on stage.
“Languages are coming closer together,” says De Cock. “It’s also in the streets, among the public. There are so many young people who navigate between languages – French, Dutch, English Arabic, Spanish. When we have a performance, you hear all of those languages in the audience. That’s a very big evolution that we’ve seen over the last 15 years.”
De Caluwe takes the thought a step further. “In previous generations – and that includes mine – there were a lot of egos. Egos try to defend their territory. And that’s changing with the new generations. They will be the winners. Those opening up to collaboration will be winning. It’s the only way to do it.”
Photo, from left: Fabrice Murgia of Théâtre National, Peter de Caluwe of La Monnaie and Michael De Cock of KVS