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Guide to 2017 Summer Festivals 0, in cooperation with

As summer unfolds, European cities are entering a season bursting with performances of opera, theater, dance and music. Both newer and more traditional festivals enhance their programs with select visual arts presentations which are often linked to the global issues at hand. For instance, this year the Holland Festival has a much more political-tinged flavor than ever before, as the visual arts program is being led by the artist collective åyr, who will reflect on the current housing and shelter crisis through their 3D architectural objects scattered throughout the urban landscape. Similarly, the Greek Festival’s art program will contain a large-format video work by South African artist William Kentridge – about the road to an uncertain future and the political changes taking place. Yet another project reminding us of the pain and suffering that others are going through right now will be presented at the Berlin Performance Art Festival – its director, Daniel Wetzel, has prepared a sound-listening theater/installation which he created together with refugee children in Greece.

Although some of the summer festivals are still fine-tuning their program schedules, has put together a select guide of Europe’s biggest, and not-so-big-but-still-intriguing cultural festivals – in Athens, Amsterdam, Aarhus, Hamburg, Vienna, Latvia, and even north of the Arctic Circle. 



Theater der Welt. Thalia Zelt. Photo: Peter Bruns

The international theater festival Theater der Welt offers exactly what its name implies – world theater. It brings to the forefront the thought processes of today’s theatrical artists hailing from almost all seven continents, highlighting how their geographic locations result in differing points of perspective and artistic signatures. The breadth of diversity is spectacular, featuring works from New York, Rio de Janeiro, Damascus, Sydney, Cairo, Barcelona, South Africa, China, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Belarus, Palestine, Lebanon, France and the Netherlands.

From the farthest-flung countries, we recommend you definitely catch the showing of “Children of Goods”, by New Zealand director Lemi Ponifasio and the artist group MAU. This is a case in which a production’s combination of images and sound exceeds all expectations for what theater can be.

South African artist Brett Bailey is a specialist in provocative works that focus on the themes of racism and colonialism. Bailey has the ability to maneuver them into such a conversational stream that, to the eye of the viewer, these subjects are transformed from theoretical discussion points into powerful and direct human intercontact.

The Barcelona artist group La Fura dels Baus has created a new joint work especially for Hamburg, in cooperation with one of today’s most radical and discordantly received directors, the Hungarian artist Kornél Mundruczó. 


Wiener Festwochen. Daniel Lie's interactive installation Death Center for the Living. © Vanessa Bohn

One of Europe’s oldest and tradition-rich theater and music festivals, this year’s Wiener Festwochen is turning a completely new leaf in its attempt at joining the ranks of the world’s most contemporary cultural events. Namely, the programs created by curators have conceptual and intellectually active paths connecting them to other parts of the festival, which thereby exhibit a reflective discourse with programs created by other curators, and as a result are, as a whole, much more important than each individual festival unit in itself.

Along with its regular audience, this time around the festival wants to win over new prospective adherents, which is why the event program is not only modernly discursive in its format,but also features 16 events completely free of charge. In addition, the tone of the events covers quite a broad range – from tactlywactuallyhave your hair cut by a child in Vienna), to the lecture “The Courage of Hopelessness” by Slavoj Žižek.


William Kentridge. More Sweetly Play the Dance, 2017. The Athens & Epidaurus Festival

Just a mere five years ago, this Greek festival – which is actually two festivals combined, the Athens Festival and the Epidaurus Festival – was considered one of the most influential summer cultural festivals in the world. But, alas, the poor state of the Greek economy in recent years has drastically curtailed the size of the festival’s events program, which is why this year the focus will be put on works by local artists and international acts who don’t require much more than “an actor and a mat”.  

Scheduled to perform is the British avant-garde group Forced Entertainment, who, with just the aid of a simple kitchen table and a few objects from daily life, use their excellent acting skills to provide their audience with, quite possibly, the deepest and truest contact with a William Shakespeare play that they have ever experienced. Also worth noting is Frank Castorf’s production of “The Gambler”, which features outstanding actors supported by especially powerful video effects.

VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM The Festival’s visual arts program will include the Museum of Photography Thessaloniki, which has organized an exhibition featuring the works of 26 photographers (most are photojournalists) on the subject of refugees; due to Greece’s location, this has always been a topical issue for the country.

A second noteworthy visual arts project on the Festival’s program is the large-format video installation by London-based South African artist William Kentridge which depicts buildings marching like people to the music of a brass band. Even though the piece is reminiscent of a danse macabre, theoretically, this work is also tangential to the topic of refugees as it symbolizes the road to a future of uncertainty, movement, migration, and political change.  


Åyr. I’d Rather Be Outside, 2017

One of Europe’s oldest international theater and opera festivals is presenting itself with a more political character than usual this year. Namely, London’s National Theatre will be taking to Amsterdam its production of “My Country; a work in progress”, a play giving insight into the hearts and minds of the British population after 52% of voters declared that they wish to leave the European Union. Master of metaphysical theater, Italy’s Romeo Castellucci, has created a new performance specially for the Festival. A poet of fascinating visual landscapes who has the ability to sense the world’s irrational vibrations, this time Castellucci has concentrated on the timely issue of democracy in the USA. Inspired by French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 treatise on the young American democracy, Castellucci has put together a deliberately polemic and provocative theatrical work.

VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM  Since 2015, the Holland Festival, in cooperation with the Stedelijk Museum, has also put together an expansive visual arts project, “Museumplein”, in the museum’s square. Three years ago, the mile-long green square was lined with the environmental installation “All-Imitate-Act”, by British artist Liam Gillick.

The following year, Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija presented his work, wheareas this year, the London-based artists group Åyr will be showing their series of full-scale, 3D-printed, domestic “rooms”, which will be scattered throughout the square’s territory. Titled “I’d Rather Be Outside”, it will be accompanied by Martha Rosler’s animated piece “Housing Is a Human Right”, which premiered in Time Square in 1989. Both works approach questions related to the global refugee and housing crisis, homelessness, and the relationship between what is considered public and what is considered as private. 


Evros Walk Water 1&2 (Rimini Protokoll). Photo: Rimini Aparaat / Daniel Ammann

For the second year now Berlin is organizing its Performing Arts Festival, giving visitors an almost-week-long chance to become acquainted with the city’s “free stage” or “OFF art” variety of ideas, thinking, and poetics. Almost 60 venues will feature about 120 performances in the broadest array of genres. Most anything you can think of can be found here: theater, dance, performance, puppetry, site-specific projects, installations, musical theater, staged expeditions, anatomical animal theater, seminars, and more.

VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM  The sound-listening theater “Evros Walk Water 1&2”, written and directed by Daniel Wetzel (from the renown three-person team of author-directors, Rimini Protokoll), is partly also a visual experience. Created with refugee children in Greece, the work is a production of American minimalist John Cage’s composition “Water Walk”, which premiered on television in 1959. Wetzel’s piece touches upon the sensitive issues of today’s world.

Another intriguing installation in the program is “AUSDRUCK-MOBIL (MS Schrittmacher)” which, in the form of an auto caravan, tells the story of the early-20th-century dance movement Ausdrucktanz, and how the dancers had to flee to save themselves.


Lili Marleen. Hanna Schygulla, 1981

Founded in 1986 by the acclaimed Finnish film directors Peter von Bagh and Mika Kaurismäki, the Midnight Sun Festival in Lapland is, in terms of atmosphere, one of the most unusual film festivals out there. 120 km above the Arctic Circle, where the summer sun never sets, the 24-hour film marathon attracts not only locals, but also an international audience including directors and both new and established talent. This year’s guests of honor are German New Wave legend Hanna Schygulla, and Spanish film director Carlos Saura. This year’s program has a special focus on the golden age of Finnish silent film.


This summer the Cēsis Art Festival is presenting as its special project the film program Upe (“River”) – screenings on the banks of the Gauja River by the Ērgļi Cliffs. The Festival’s musical program promises surprises with experimental shows by esteemed Latvian pianist Reinis Zariņš and Dutch painter Maryleen Schiltkamp, the percussion group Perpetuum Ritmico, and a collaboration between the young Latvian organist Liene Andreta Kalnciema and the clarinetist Mārtiņš Circenis.  Theater lovers, as usual, will be able to watch as the best plays of the previous year are staged again in Cēsis. After an absence of several years, the ballet will return to the Festival with Aleksejs Avečkins’ Star, while the Cēsis Castle Park amphitheater will host a truly unique event – a production of the flamenco opera Ainadamar by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov, who has also written the score for several Francis Ford Coppola films.

VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM  Contemporary art will be presented at this year’s Cēsis Art Festival in the form of lectures held in the cinema of the Cēsis Concerthall. This specially-created sequence will present festival-goers with a fascinating and professional look into the processes of contemporary culture, as well as an informative introduction to its most prominent figures. The following luminaries from the art world will be giving talks: Inese Baranovska, art scholar and curator; Vēsma Kontere, Norwegian-based architect and professor at the Westerdals School of Communication; and Kaspars Vanags, curator and visionary for the nascent Latvian Contemporary Art Museum. Under the auspices of the Little Contemporary Art School, the documentary film Laikmetīgā (“The Contemporary”), by Director Dainis Kļava and VFS Films, will see its premier.

A very special part of the Festival is the film program Upe, organized by film scholar and director Jānis Putniņš, and its screening of the 1934 Latvian documentary film Gauja, which has been digitally remastered specially for this project. The film will be projected onto the riverside cliffs, thereby creating an exceptional audiovisual effect.

The film program will continue every weekend during the Festival with screenings on the riverbank. Also on the program’s schedule is The Night of the Hunter (1955), the only film directed by British actor Charles Laughton, as well as the Werner Herzog film Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), about the Spanish conquistadores’ expedition down the Amazon River in search of gold and treasure. Completely different than the former two is The Margin (1967), by Brazilian director Ozualdo Ribeiro Candeias – a work that balances somewhere between a feature film, a cinematographic experiment, and a documentary.


Jakob Lenz. Photo: Bernd Uhlig

The rather gruesome name (meaning “infection”) notwithstanding, the German theater festival Infektion! is actually one of Germany’s most interesting festivals for new musical theater. The name comes from the hope of creating long-term interest in composers for the creation of new operas.

For quite a while now the Berlin State Opera has been promoting new music alongside its repertoire of classics. Consequently, they have opened a new stage called Werkstatt, or workshop. It is a place for unprecedented artistic endeavors of the kind usually found in the realm of avant-garde or OFF theater companies, and not in large state operas. Werkstatt produces both completely new works and already well-known pieces reinterpreted and staged in different – usually experimental – manners.



Philippe Boesmans: “Pinocchio”. Opera on a libretto by Joël Pommerat inspired by Carlo Collodi. Commissioned by the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence

One of the most beautiful, high-quality and romantic opera festivals in Europe. Performances begin at sundown and take place out-of-doors – for as they say, it never rains in this small French town.

This festival in Aix always premiers a brand-new, just-written opera. This year it will be “Pinocchio”, by the French composer Philippe Boesmans, with a libretto by the adventurous French playwright and director Joël Pommerat, and based, of course, on the Carlo Collodi fairy tale about the wooden marionette and his foray into a world of excitement and peril. Pommerat already has a wonderful production of “Pinocchio” at Paris’ Odeon Theater, in which the constantly changing audience perspectives keep children riveted to their seats, while the clever and charming associations woven throughout leave parents entertained as well. Pommerat worked closely with the composer throughout the opera’s creation, and is also responsible for its theatrical staging. 


Work by Ronan Barrot

The Avignon Festival is one of Europe’s oldest and most respected theater festivals. As it concentrates on French theater specifically, festival-goers should be well-versed in the French language. In this theater, great emphasis is placed on the text and the myriad ways in which it can be artistically and engagingly expressed, leading to a truly broad array of opportunity to experience modern French theater craft.

The Festival does keep the international theater-goer in mind, nevertheless, which is why in addition to the rich French program, a number of international artists are invited to perform more visually-based rather than word-based works. Among these are the works of New Zealand director and choreographer Lemi Ponifasio and his group MAU – a combination of ritual, theater and dance that supersede any preconceived notions one might have of how theater should look and sound. Similarly surprising is the work of British director Katie Mitchell, who has been presenting and simultaneously creating her so-called “live films” on theater stages for over a decade already.

VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM  For lovers of the visual arts, the Festival offers up a show of works by French painter Ronan Barrot at Avignon’s Église des Célestins, a 14th-century church. In his particular manner, Barrot plays on the venue’s paradoxical nature – although it no longer operates as a church, the building still contains the memories of those times and a sense of taboo. Barrot does not deny religious iconography, which has played a huge role in the history of fine art painting, yet he allows Biblical elements to enter his worldly vignettes. Also scheduled on the program is Katie Mitchell’s video installation in which the director studies 20th-century theater through the mythical Ophelia of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. To wit, contained in a black cube, one scene from “Hamlet” interprets the works of Konstantin Stanislavski, Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski, and Peter Brook.


Performance with Jan Fabre and Marina Abramović, Musée d'Art Contemporain Lyon Collection: M HKA

The Viennese dance festival ImPulsTanz is one of the biggest and influential of its genre in Europe. Established in 1984, today it has become the largest modern dance platform in Europe, and is of great interest to not only its viewers, but to dance artists as well. The program for ImPulsTanz is a compilation of distinctly diverse understandings of movement in modern-day works.

This year’s festival highlights the oeuvre of the controversial and radically polarizing Belgian artist Jan Fabre.

VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM  The specially organized exhibition “Stigmata. Action & Performances 1976-2016”, at Vienna’s Leopold Museum, presents the development of Jan Fabre’s creative signature over the last forty years. 



MAREUNROL’S and Shipsea. “Tālavas taurētājs”. Photo: Gatis Priednieks-Melnacis

This urban theater festival was founded just last year, and offers viewers unique productions created for specific venues. 2016 saw the joint production of Rainis’ “Spēlēju, dancoju” by Mārtiņš Eihe and the post-folklore musical group Iļģi, in one of the outbuildings of Valmiermuiža Brewery, as well as the presentation of a fashion/sound poem based on Rūdolfs Blaumanis’ “Tālavas taurētājs” – a cooperative effort by the fashion label MAREUNROL’S and the musician Shipsea, which was performed in the historical narrow-gauge railway depot.

This year the Festival has decided to turn its sights on family, children and youth audiences, while still keeping last year’s successful formula of creating productions for specific venues and spaces – which also encourages people to discover the city of Valmiera from a different viewpoint. Also scheduled are open-air film screenings, lawn games, gastronomic experiences, and discussions for both professionals and children on the content, quality, and accessibility of the productions that were designed with them in mind. A part of this year’s program will be carried over to the 2018 Festival, which will be an official part of Latvia’s centennial celebrations.


Godfried Willem Raes. The robot orchestra

Liepāja Art Forum will be taking place for the third time this summer – a modern-day art festival that invites everyone to take down the borders between “mine” and “yours”, between the usual and the unusual, between various art genres and mediums, between art and technology, and between the local and the global.

The Forum will open with a contemporary art exhibition and the Latvian premier of the sound installation “Amber Diptych”, followed by a lecture by Professor Godfried Willem Raes from Belgium, who has created his own robot instrument orchestra. Austrian choreographer Tobias M. Draeger will present the dance performance “Daily Madness”, and Spanish percussionist Roberto Oliveira will perform a program of pieces by a new generation of composers featuring percussion, electronic music, and synchronized visual art.

The Forum will close with two-part performance by Francesco Tristano from Luxembourg: the first part will feature improvisations for piano, whereas the second part will be a techno-music dance party.


The scenic Leigo Lake Music Festival in Estonia is a unique phenomenon on the European music scene – it brings together classical music, chamber music, rock, jazz, and even pop music, all in one place. Concert stages are located on the lake, while the audience watches from seats placed on the gently sloped lake shore. An essential role is played by the multitude of burning candles set out throughout the venue.

This is the 20th anniversary of the Festival, and in honor of the occasion, the Estonian State Symphonic Orchestra will perform under the direction of its artistic director and head conductor, the world-famous Neeme Järvi. At the close of both Festival days, a firework extravaganza will light the skies above the lake. 


tARTuFF is the Baltics’ largest open-air film festival, and is held in Estonia’s second-largest city – Tartu. A selection of films from various genres is screened in the atmospheric Old Town, including documentaries, all with the theme of love. The program’s film schedule is still being put together, so be sure to check the Festival’s homepage as August nears:


WHS. Départ. Publicity image

The international contemporary circus and street-art festival Re Rīga! has been taking place since 2013, having brought to Latvia more than 70 artists from 14 countries, and attracting 25 000 audience members. The selection committee for this year’s festival has chosen to focus on artists from Sweden and Finland – two countries where contemporary circuses have seen a boom over the last decade, this development illustrating that it is indeed a complex art form, but also a very open one.

Finland’s circus culture will be represented by the troupe WHS and their performance called “Départ”, in which new magic is combined with theater, dance, visual art, and unique costuming; as well as by the duo of Kate and Pasi and their original and humor-filled street show “Suhde”, which features acrobatic elements and juggling with feet. In the performance “100% Circus”, by French artist Julien Auger and Danish artist Mikkel Hobitz, one can expect clever maneuvers and aerial acrobatics done while hanging by a braid of hair, balancing on one finger, Chinese pole tricks, a musical act played on an aluminum pipe, and other gimmicks worthy of the lads from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The fact that the contemporary circus can also ask serious questions, and seek their answers, will be illustrated by the extravagant and currently one of the hottest troupes out of the USA – Ricochet, and their show titled “Smoke and Mirrors”. Viewers will be invited to view poetic acrobatics and follow along with intensive searches for the uncompromising truth.


Held for the first time in 1965, the Aarhus Festival is the largest multicultural festival in Scandinavia. This theater festival features both local and international artists and theater troupes. On the program of events you’ll find a variety of art forms – dance, theater, exhibitions, operas, children’s events, and a mixture of musical shows. This year Aarhus is the European Capital of Culture, which means that one can hope that the upcoming program will be especially memorable, so again, be sure to check up on the Festival’s homepage as August approaches: