Oerol – a festival in the heart of nature
2019-06-05 | By Geetanjali Gupta
One of Europe’s foremost performing arts festivals, Oerol is as unique as its UNESCO World Heritage Site location. For ten days every summer, the festival transforms the island of Terschelling into an alternate world that pushes visitors’ senses into overdrive.
Oerol–meaning everywhere in the Terschellinger dialect–celebrates art and performance against the distinctive island landscape, by accentuating the topography, showcasing unique artistic expression and making topical commentaries.
The Oerol festival comes alive for ten days and the island of Terschelling evolves into a throbbing party zone with a difference. Acts, performances and activities spring up across the island, changing it into a work of art. The island’s beaches, dunes, dykes, woods and towns serve as perfect performance venues.
Dramatic landscapes and performances
Terschelling, in West Friesland, one of the five islands collectively called the “Pearls of the Netherlands,” juts out of the Wadden Sea, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s largest tidal flat system. The daily ebb and flow of water from the North Sea serves as an intense backdrop to the island’s already dramatic landscape.
Running this year from 14 to 23 June, Oerol is an annual event that converts the whole island into a natural stage for theatre, dance, music performances and art installations. The organisers are also dedicated to integrating aspects of art with science and nature.
Terschelling’s landscape enhances each event’s drama. The dunes backdrop acrobatic spectaculars, mime shows and theatre performances, the expansive beaches frame art installations, and winding footpaths lead walking expeditions through hidden installations and exhibitions. A step off the beaten path often leads to the discovery of something surprising.
A passion for nature
Started in 1982 as street theatre, today this vision of founder and former director Joop Mulder ranks highly among global annual festivals. A passionate love for nature propelled Mulder to realise a festival with harmony with the environment as its essence. Oerol draws attention and appreciation to the unique island while adding to the Terschelling economy.
The festival’s soaring popularity brings an increasing number of visitors to Terschelling, with around 55.000 visitors and 140.000 tickets sold last year, and national and international artists consider it a privilege to receive an invite to showcase their work.
Perhaps the festival’s unique angle is that it is not only a sensory treat but also an opportunity for introspection. This year’s theme of “Changing Perspectives” will investigate society, nature and culture, and Wilco Admiraal, a member of the Oerol marketing team explains, “the theme is very broad-based with a variety of programmes to bring forth current global challenges like racism, gay rights and climate change. We are not looking for solutions but rather providing a safe space to open discussions and start a thinking process.”
The Oerol programme promises something for all. Out of 35 theatre shows, 15 will be national premieres and three will be world premieres. With dozens of pop-up performances, 16 expeditions and more than 50 live music acts, there is no dearth choice. So if you are up for adventure, exploration, art and fun–get, set and go Oerol!
Already broad-based to engage visitors of all ages–kids, teens, adults and even grandparents–the organisers are taking cues from the changing visitor profile to become more inclusive. “Most of our events are language neutral: Mimes, music, art display, we even try to schedule two to three shows per day in English,” explains Admiraal. This has been reflected in the rise in popularity of Oerol with both non-Dutch performers and visitors.
Non-Dutch speakers won’t want to miss:
Lost Tango is a multidisciplinary spectacle about a cruise ship where the crew is keeping up appearances while the ship seems to be sinking. Brought with the cooperation of Via Berlin (with famous actor Merel Polat) and the Ragazze Quartet (originated by piazzola player Carel Kraayenhof), Lost Tango looks to be a theatrical treat.
Another crowd puller will be a maritime opera based on the novel by Carsten Jensen, Wij, de Verdronkenen / Vi, de druknede / We, the drowned. The Antwerp-based crew of Walpurgis and the musical magicians of Bot join forces to bring a surprising soundscape filled with stories from long-lost and more recent times.
An expedition project curated by Eindhoven’s Atelier NL and executed by Maarten Kolk and Guus Kusters showcases a giant kite that resembles a flock of geese and aims to address the problem that the overpopulation of geese is currently causing in the Netherlands.
Look out for the Mezrab storytelling company with its own storytelling arena in the village of Hoorn and casual performances in Betonning.
The Secret Garden Sessions is a series of neo-classical concerts that will take place in the idyllic surroundings of a flower garden, where visitors can pick fruits and notes and seek inspiration from music made by, amongst others, the violinist Sarah Neufeld and catch a special performance by Orpheo McCord.
The festival’s music program is a tour around the world in ten days with Fogo Fogo, Conjuto Papa Upa, Turboguru and a selection of Dutch Artists: HAEVN, Thijs Boontjes, Karel, Jay-Way and many others.
Tickets and festival
Visitors can make it a day trip or stay for a few days to imbibe the spirit of the festival. There are hotels, holiday homes, caravans and campsites to suit every pocket. While a high budget will get you a luxurious hotel room, a medium budget is good for nights on a boat or B&B. Going low budget with a campsite can actually be a more-for-less opportunity to make new friends. Bring in your own tent or rent-a-tent. But once again, it is important to reserve your choice well in time.
Biking is the preferred mode of transport at Oerol and increases the chance of running into more spontaneous performances and artwork while traversing across the island. Visitors can bring in their own bikes or can rent from any town on the island, but it’s advisable to reserve a bike in advance.
Given Oreol’s increasing popularity, it’s a good idea to buy tickets online in advance. But late deciders need not lose heart, as around 30 percent of tickets are reserved for day sale at festival sites. The convenient All-in package, starting from €139 per person includes boat tickets, a rental bike, a camping spot, two theatre tickets per person and a festival wristband.
About the author
Geetanjali Gupta is a freelance writer and a volunteer at ACCESS and has been in the Netherlands for little over a year and she is busy exploring Europe and learning Dutch.