The Hybridization of Flemish Identity: The Flemish National Heritage on the Contemporary Stage

K. Vanhaesebrouck

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Abstract

At a moment in time when Belgium, both as a signifier of a national identity and as a political construction, is more and more in crisis, a generation of young Dutch-speaking theatre artists, including Ruud Gielens, Raven Ruell and Chokri Ben Chikha, has begun to interrogate concepts of Flemish and Belgian identity by confronting these discursive formations with the hybrid and multicultural day-to-day reality in the country. Their works display attempts to revive - or more accurately, to construct - a theatrical repertoire for a country that, on top of its problematic political identity, does not have a theatrical canon. Their performances investigate the darker sides of Flemish and Belgian history, such as the collaboration with the Nazi-occupation during World War II and the subsequent fierce repression of those collaborators, or the colonial enterprise in Congo. These artists thereby embrace a history that has been (consciously or unconsciously) forgotten. Motivated by their urgent desire to understand the political and cultural complexity of present-day Belgium, they radically expose its gaps and less glorious passages. This article will explore Oom Toon (Uncle Toon, 2007), a triptych directed by Rieks Swarte based on particular events from Flemish theatre history, and Singhet ende Weset vro (Sing and Be Merry, 2006) by Ruud Gielens and his company Union Suspecte, a production inspired by a Flemish songbook of the same name. The two productions disclose their distinct, individual ways of negotiating Flemish history and its mythological afterlife. The article will attempt to contextualize both productions within a longer genealogy and unpack the ways in which they relate to and problematize Flemish heritage and nationalist discourses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-474
Number of pages11
JournalContemporary Theatre Review
Volume20
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010

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