KFDA Coming of Age

Many commentators and critics are saying that KFDA, now in its 18th year, has come of age. It was initiated originally to build a bridge between the two communities co-existing in Brussels (Flemish and Walloon) and is now an international and multidisciplinary event with a network of associate festivals, theatres and funding bodies that stretch out over Europe to facilitate co-production and co-funding.

Personally, and I’m not alone in this opinion, I think it came of age several years ago. As long as I have been coming to Brussels, the quality of the programming has show that the festival has a determined sense of direction; it exhibits confidence in its choices and the willingness to broach some of the big issues affecting us. It has taken risks and nurtured young performing and visual artists in the process of exploration, of finding their voice.

KFDA has never been like the Edinburgh festival, an event that illustrates the social divisions existing in the UK. The Official Edinburgh Festival caters to the well-healed classes with conservative tastes, even though from time to time they might enjoy the frisson of horror when a show from Europe by Pina Bausch or Carlos Santos or Robert Wilson shakes their middle-class sensibilities and offers them the opportunity to complain.

On the other hand, the Edinburgh Fringe has been commercialised. It is not the festival I remember from my (ill-spent) youth. And most ironically, the Official Edinburgh Festival receives both public funding and corporate sponsorship, in spite of ticket prices too high for most people.

Increasingly, the Official Edinburgh Festival offers music, classical music, something safe. The KFDA refuses to play safe. The ticket prices make this festival assessable for all.

This year, when it is obvious that our contemporary malaise is global and enduring, I set out to look for signs that the performing arts are able to garner the energy, creativity and imagination to deal with the crises of our present age and the transition we will have to make to an new age – The Age of Scarce Resources. What I have found has been heartening.

To start with, a fruitful collaboration abounds at all levels proving that the neo-liberal cliché about competition is a delusion.

I’ve seen works exhibiting a wide range of concerns broached in ways that genuinely solicit a response from spectators, dealing with fear and alienation, our defunct political system, our impact on the planet. These are mature, intelligent and imaginative responses, devising forms that meet the requirements of the material.

Among the people working in the performing arts, I’ve found people who are bewildered by complacency; people who feel the need to expose the truth hidden behind political and media mendacity; others who investigate the ways technology mediates the truth; some are angry; others expose the roots of fear and the need for us all to accept responsibility and act. I’ve discussed this work in my four features and the article on the Tok Toc Knock Festival.

It’s tempting to round off with that quote from Tony Judt: “What comes next?” But I’d prefer to use a quote from the Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula, whose work has inspired me for several years:

“You have to keep dreaming, even when you’re up to your knees in shit”.