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Mix and match: Artonov Festival stages performances in architectural gems

15:24 24/09/2021

Multidisciplinary is the key word for a lot of local productions over the last decade, with live classical music giving dance a new impetus, for instance, or video offers theatre companies more options to transport you to other worlds.

This mixing of artistic disciplines is also at the heart of the Artonov Festival, with the venue itself taking centre stage. The festival hosts visual arts, dance and culinary art – but mostly music – inside some of Brussels’ most outstanding architectural spaces.

While some of these places might be known to you – the Eetvelde house or the Maison de la Poste at Tour & Taxis – others you might walk past every day having no idea of the grandiose beauty hiding behind their simple exteriors.

“The venue really becomes a character in the performance,” explains Vincenzo Casale, artistic director of the festival. “It’s a different point of view for the audience than if they are sitting in an auditorium, another kind of artistic view.”

Max Hallet HouseHear Schubert in the Max Hallet house during Artonov  ©DYOD

The festival launched seven years ago, staging performances in art nouveau and art deco spaces. While these are still central to the festival, it has expanded to include repurposed industrial heritage.

Casale and his team carefully match concerts and other Artonov events with the right buildings. They want the interior itself to have a positive influence on not just the audience but the artist.

“We started out with the concept that architecture has an influence on performance,” he says. “And we chose art nouveau and art deco because Brussels is really the world capital for these styles. There are so many beautiful buildings that can become venues.”

The opening event, for instance, is at the Maison de la Poste at Tour & Taxis, the early 20th-century post and administrative centre for the former transit and logistics hub. One of the larger venues on the Artonov programme, it was deemed as the perfect location for Balsam, a performance that engages all five senses of a mere 20 ticket-holders.

Starting from the music and herbalism of medieval abbess Hildegard Von Bingen, Balsam mixes music, movement and images with culinary creation. The audience will hear Icelandic and Greek songs, feel electricity on their tongues and celebrate the wonders that nature provides.

BalsamBalsam is a wonder for the senses  ©Kathleen Michiels

A collaboration among musical ensemble Zefiro Torna, theatre company Laika and French chef Alexandre Gauthier, Balsam is as multidisciplinary as it gets – and that’s what makes it perfect for Artonov, says Casale.

“It’s kind of avant-garde cuisine with theatre, music and dance,” he says. “It’s really a multidisciplinary production, with a real full immersion of the audience into the performance. It includes them in a totally different way than regular performances. It’s quite a different approach to performance.”

Casale also recommends Forme(s) de vie, a choreography that includes two people who have become disabled – one a former dancer, and one a former boxer. It combines the performance with cinema to look at the choices of when and how to move when every movement is an effort.

“The performance is therapeutic art, and it’s also quite poetic,” says Casale. It takes place in the Centre Tour à Plomb, which dates from 1832.

Cindy Castillo and Pierre Slinckx Duo for Organetto and Computer ©Pietro Castello

Because some of the venues can host only a very limited number of people – a performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Max Hallet House is good for 15 tickets – all Artonov’s events are held more than once. And they are all held in the afternoon or early evening because often natural lighting plays a part. This is certainly the case for C#2: Duo for Organetto and Computer.

Belgian musician Cindy Castillo is a master of the organetto, a portable organ. She collaborates with electronic musician Pierre Slinckx for this show where the Renaissance meets Tomorrowland, complete with special lighting effects.

“It’s in the Atelier Colpaert in the middle of Schaerbeek,” says Casale. “The façade is quite small and plain, so you think, God, what have I gotten myself into. But once you get inside, it’s incredible, there are enormous glass windows and a fantastic view of the back garden. The concerts are early, at 16.00 and at 18.00, so with the autumn light, the atmosphere of each concert will be slightly different.”

Artonov Festival, 3-10 October, across Brussels. Photos top: Urban Beethoven, from an earlier edition of Artonov ©DYOD. Sorry! Our prize giveaway has now closed and the winners have been notified.


Written by Lisa Bradshaw