How To Connect Across Many Generations?

by Barbara van Lindt, general and artistic coordinator

"Who are the ancestors that shaped you? To whom are you indebted? Are they alive or not, are they people who belong to your family circle, or not?" These are the questions that writer Layla F. Saad asks every time she starts a conversation with guests in her podcast Become a Good Ancestor

Saad's goal is to bring out emancipating life stories and practices, lore and experience of people of colour that can inspire transformation and healing. She invites us to reach beyond the 'now', and bridge the gap between past and future.

Kaaitheater: a tradition of innovation. Since the innovative Flemish wave in the ‘80s, Kaaitheater has followed artists from those early pioneering years, as well as successive generations of creators who each in their own way added something to the exciting development (and emancipation) of the contemporary performing arts. Today, after more than 45 years of Kaaitheater, our programme contains, as a matter of course, artists representing many generations. That includes the 'next generation'!

Kaaitheater stands for intergenerational encounters and connections. The January-June 2023 programme is bursting with them. Why is this so important to us? 

Because this broad spectrum reflects the vital dynamics of the arts field,  because by doing so, we contribute to the sustainability of that field and because this is also how we build a bond with our audience; we like to welcome new and familiar faces, again and again, every time.


Some of the listings for Jan-June 2023 include familiar names such as Rosas/Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker with one of her repertoire pieces, as well as Kris Verdonck and tg Stan.
Thomas Bellinck brings #7 in his series SIMPLE AS ABC.

Notable are the new Next Generation creators, all worth discovering: Mario Barrantes Espinoza, Lydia Mcglinchey, both trained at PARTS, as well as Louis Janssens, Milo Slayers, Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe, Dina Mimi, Jolie Ngemi, Thibault Lac & Bryana Fritz... all at the beginning of their career as artists and many of them already have a lot of experience as performers, dancers, visual artists.


Sharing the scene. Difference in age sometimes does appear to exist or matter and sometimes, they are the focus of the collaborations. Established, firmly in the saddle or just starting out: creators often seek mutual influence, working with older or younger colleagues. Reference frames are broken open and enriched, ingrained power relations are challenged. More relevant differences come into play in collaborations than just age and experience: class, ethnic background, physical ability, gender and sex... Mirroring each other and complementing each other, the friction, the clash and the distance: these are all such powerful creative engines.


A selection from the programme for January to June 2023: Having multiple generations on stage was a conscious choice for tgStan, Louis Janssens and Willem de Wolf to thematise their intergenerational encounter as ex-students and ex-teachers. Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker shares a creative process with young singer songwriter Meskerem Mees and old hand Jean-Marie Aerts. Salva Sanchis and Alma Söderberg worked with a group of students and show the result of that transmission, that dialogue.


New narratives, (not) a same old story. Stories that span long lives, stories told from the perspective of children, stories that hark back to grandparents and ancestors; these are stories we keep longing for, stories that talk about something essential. Whether Great, Ancient, Forgotten or Current Literature, personal and documentary stories, oral history. Whether family sagas or tales of other kinds of relatives. They often bring together the personal and the political, the 'big and small dramaturgy'. 

Artists today also bring narratives like these to the stage. They establish new connections and new links. They do that with all sorts of building blocks (image, movement, language, music, technology,...) and in all possible combinations. 


A selection from the programme for January to June 2023: Berlin draws on the unlikely life story of one man where Sidney Leoni delves into the history of ballet icon Nijinsky. Phia Ménard works around the contrast between elder and adolescent in her adaptation of a classic. Lisaboa Houbrechts performs epic musical theatre about family trauma.


Which ancestors? Any canon , including the Western one, is a product of selection and hence exclusion. Cultural historiography also bears the marks of colonialism, sexism and many other systems that rendered large sections of the population inferior and invisible. Artists today – and especially queer and people of colour – engage in rehabilitating their biological, cultural or artistic ancestors by working with their legacy, or by working in its spirit. 


A selection from the programme for January to June 2023: Amanda Pina brings successful but forgotten 20th century 'exotic' Variety dancers back to life, Sarah Vanhee evokes the ghost of her two grandmothers, Dina Mimi investigates the death of her grandfather. Jolie Ngemi Ngemi works based on an age-old Congolese taboo, also superpower, Rébecca Chaillon invites eight female performers to appropriate their own history as black women. Ahilan Ratnamohan teaches himself his mother's mother tongue – a language his mother never spoke to him.


What future? According to philosopher Roman Krznaric, we have never been more concerned about our future on this planet earth. At the same time, we are seemingly failing to take responsibility for that future, to act from a long-term mindset. While intergenerational solidarity is crucial, our short-term thinking from individualism poses an obstacle and may result in future generations being powerless to address the damage our generation has done to their environment. Krznaric therefore invites us to train ourselves in long-term thinking. The question "how can we be a good ancestor?" is a start. 

As a cultural institution, we choose the path of imagination, wonder and reflection to make these questions tangible and bring them to life. In stories and conversations, even as poetry and abstraction.  


A selection from the programme for January to June 2023: Vania Vaneau explores futuristic landscapes and materials in her sculptural dance solo, Kris Verdonck puts three generations of women on stage with the provocative question of ‘what if we see humans as food?’. With the third series of More Than Human Encounters we continue the exploration of what goes beyond the distinction between human and non-human, and question humans as autonomous self-determining beings on our planet.... An exercise in modesty and ... long-term thinking.


What is our own answer to Layla F. Saad's question? Dramaturge Marianne Van Kerkhoven (1946 - 2013) was a a defining voice for Kaaitheater. She spent many years working as a dramaturge based at Kaaitheater, with many artists still on the programme today. She was deeply connected to the field by publishing regularly but also with her many performances in many different locations. Recently, the theatre studies journal Documenta devoted an edition to her work and its significance for current practices and trends. This is available for free.  


Welcome to Kaaitheater!


PS: one system, for any age.  Starting with our central question How To Be Many? we try to make our programme as accessible as possible to a more diverse group of people. Our Pay What You Can System is part of this. Regardless of your age, you choose what price you pay for your ticket.