Still under strict one and a half meter protocol, the Amsterdam Fringe Festival started again last weekend. The festival offers the ideal opening of the season after a year and a half full of lockdown periods, online theater and halls with a maximum of thirty visitors: at Fringe the fun of making theater and the endless possibilities of the art form are central.

In addition to the reopening of the theaters, there is another news fact that makes this edition of Fringe special: it is the last year of director Aukje Hoogte, who will leave on 1 October. Under the inspiring leadership of Hoogte, Fringe has grown in recent years into an even more exciting festival: the average quality of the performances has increased, while the focus on experimentation, adventure and challenging the norm has been maintained.

Strange creatures
That focus is immediately evident in the first performance I visit. In her diptych Pang & Ping , theater maker and scenographer Daphne Karstens introduces the audience to strange creatures that come to life through her 'wearable sculptures': special creations that lie somewhere between costume design, visual art and architecture.

Especially in Pang , the latest performance, Karstens, in collaboration with performer Lorraine Smith, creates a fascinating encounter with unknown life forms. The three different 'characters' seem to represent stages in an evolutionary process: the first figure moves angularly, awkwardly, and barely manages to get up; the third figure eventually stands up completely and walks out of the room. In contrast, Ping is clearly a first attempt: the costume is more humane than the creations in Pang and thus does not achieve the alienation that makes Pang  so impressive.

The diptych is a fascinating experience, especially at the visual level. In Pang, the reflective surface reflects the light in all directions; Smith's movements create a dynamic mosaic that evokes the feeling of a cave or an underwater world. However, in both performances the soundscape (by Sóley Sigurjónsdóttir and Nik Kennedy respectively) is a bit too prominent: the performances become top-heavy due to the artificial tension because the music suggests a meaning that only distracts from the aesthetic experience of the images.

Men's relations
Last year, Together by Donna Chittick was one of the highlights of the festival. The dance performance focused on the tension between individuality and collectivity, and offered a beautiful picture of a female group dynamic. In its successor ALPH  , Chittick now focuses on the social codes in male relationships, and the way in which the tension between individual and group manifests itself there.

ALPH starts off infectiously, with a wonderful camaraderie between the four dancers in a unison opening choreography full of mutual pleasure. Just like in Together , the individual strengthens the collective and vice versa: new phrases introduced by one of the dancers are accepted by the others in a feast of exuberant experimentation. Chittick also manages to capture the downside of that focus on joint invincibility: if one of the dancers adopts a more vulnerable position, the others don't give in. The tragedy of the male inability to deal with 'weakness' is poignantly felt.

However, if that mechanism subsequently leads to aggression and violence, ALPH lapses into extremely clichéd visual language. The stupid machismo that the men first jointly aim at the outside world and then at each other may be realistic (think of the recent case of the Gooise 'head kickers' for just one example out of thousands), Chittick fails to do anything original with it. to do. For minutes the men beat themselves on the chest in their cockfight and they fly at each other's hair and at no time does ALPH threaten to come up with a new insight into male aggression.

It is only in the final image that Chittick resumes, in a choreography in which the men simultaneously fight and hold each other up. It is a layering that takes too long, however.

New realities
Theater makers Just van Bommel and Kiriko Mechanicus take image clichés as the starting point for their performance Thank you for your beauty .  In successive scenes, they use light, camera and projector to dissect how new realities are created in film and TV and how the emotions of the audience are manipulated. Mechanicus steps across the stage acting as director and director of photography; with a clear 'cue!' she instructs the technician when to turn the light on or off (given the circumstances, it might as well have been 'action!' and 'cut!'). Van Bommel is Mechanicus' muse: in every scene he is the only performer.

Samen nemen de makers je mee langs een reeks archetypische scènes. Van Bommel memoreert in zonnebril en smetteloos wit een melodrama over een verweesd hondje en een stervende man. Terwijl hij met neutrale intonatie vertelt hoe zeer de film hem aangreep lopen er in close-up tranen over zijn wangen. Even later duikt hij zijn hoofd in een emmer water ter voorbereiding van een scène waarin hij in een onweersbui verzeild is geraakt; door middel van lichtflitsen en schokkerige camerabewegingen creëert Mechanicus met minimale middelen een filmische werkelijkheid.

Thank you for your beauty may be somewhat non-committal due to the modest approach, but the light touch with which the makers take you on a journey in the world of cinema is contagious. The final scene is beautiful: while Van Bommel performs an over-the-top crying fit, Mechanicus creates a droste effect with her camera by including the projection itself in the image. With every emotional swipe, infinite Van Bommels move with him with a delay of a quarter of a second, creating an absurdly dramatic and yet moving choreography. In their search for the power of cinema, Van Bommel and Mechanicus develop their own visual language that makes them curious about the duo's future work.

Photo: Thank you for your beauty  by Just van Bommel and Kiriko Mechanicus, Annelies Verhelst