On curating a festival for audiences who aren’t seasoned adepts of the live arts, by Karlien Meganck and Vincent Wilms

deSingel’s BOUGE B was originally founded in 2008, and has since developed from a contemporary dance event to fully-fledged dance and music festival and continues to grow and evolve every year. Combining music and dance to explore new means of presenting differing art forms and thus creating a platform for the audience to fully engage with the experience, this year’s Club Edition is sure to palpitate the senses. Besides our mini-series of Portfolio Reports on various performers and musicians signed up to this year’s line-up, we get up close and personal with deSingel’s curator for performing arts Karlien Meganck (1979) and production manager for performing arts Vincent Wilms (1978) to learn more about the genesis, thinking processes and ethos behind this expansive festival.

Photographer Pieter Dumoulin (c)

BOUGE B festival had its first run back in 2008. It was my first real project as an autonomous curator for deSingel and the result of a longstanding reflection on our future as an institute for the arts. Over the years, deSingel had become a strong reference point for showcasing established artists and large-scale productions, yet there inevitably comes a time where you must start asking yourself, “What’s next? What about the future generation of both artists as well as audiences?” And that pretty much is how BOUGE B as a platform for contemporary dance and performance came to exist, developed by a broad range of young artists with a background in dance.

These founding principles lay at the root of the festival a decade ago, and still drive it today. Since its very onset, it was clear that in order to reach a younger and different kind of public, we couldn’t rely on the same recipes that work for deSingel’s more traditional audience who come to see a show, have a drink in the bar afterwards and head back home. Indeed, BOUGE B’s framework opened up the possibility for us to experiment with nightlife activities. Before Vincent joined the team, I always made sure that there was an afterparty and at least one concert to compliment the line-up of dance pieces and performances, but once we became colleagues and Vincent’s insight into music became more apparent, there was really no reason not to implement this knowledge in BOUGE B’s programming. Together, we aim to put together a programme that speaks to audiences who aren’t seasoned adepts of the live arts, thanks to the atmosphere radiating from the festival.

BOUGE B is one big exercise in finding different ways of presenting art in order to address different audiences.

Whereas at first Vincent advised me on which DJs to invite or what bands to book, we formally decided to take BOUGE B into a different direction three years ago. What if we opened up the programme by adding more musical acts? Would we be able to get the two audiences—of performance art and music—to mingle and check out artistic projects that lie beyond their comfort zone? This played out really nicely last year by simply setting up the concerts and festival bar in the hallways of deSingel, hence leaving the audiences with no other option but to interact. Because yes, even though there are a lot of similarities between both art forms, we noticed that people need a little push to step outside of what they’re already familiar with. The moment it all came together for us was during Syrian superstar Omar Souleyman’s show two years ago. We set him up outside on the patio and asked Amanda Piña, a Chilean choreographer, to create an intervention that would accompany his gig. The energy coming from that unlikely clash of worlds was nothing short of memorable.

For this year’s edition this year, we decided to tweak the concept by radically saying goodbye to the seated audience format. This change of course fits in with what’s been going on in the contemporary live arts scene for quite a few years now, where performance or other stage artists have been creating works that don’t allow itself to be confined to space nor time. Take Miet Warlop for instance, who interweaves music, performance and installation art and never questions whether she’s a choreographer, performer or whatever. She’s an artist, period. To address this zeitgeist, we’ll be setting up a club edition, meaning that instead of having different acts spread out across deSingel, we’re inviting the entire audience and all artists inside one single black box without a stage or any seats. We’re looking to initiate a flow where the boundaries between the various acts, genres and audiences disappear even more notably. I guess you could say that BOUGE B is one big exercise in finding different ways of presenting art in order to address different audiences. What’s striking too is that it generally doesn’t take a lot to convince artists of the relevance of the BOUGE B concept. Many musicians are already associating themselves with the practice of performance, and there’s a lively scene of choreographers looking to transcend the classic “stage in front a seated audience” setup. Positioning ourselves as a festival that can best catch this rising wave is nothing short of amazing.

Music and dance festival BOUGE B will be taking place on 15th and 16th March at Antwerp’s deSingel. The Word Radio will be handling afterparty duties with 2F4F on the Saturday.