‘What else should I do? I can not knit, and macrame does not mean anything to me either. So I got back in my dress and went on stage. ‘
The Flemish actress Vanessa Van Durme (74) can be seen again in the performance with her seven contemporaries – all between 70 and 80 years. Gardenia, now with the addition ’10 years later ‘. This co-production of NTGent and Les Ballets C. de la B. toured the world for a few years from 2010 onwards, from Taipei via Paris to Montreal and Amsterdam. There were 216 performances in 90 cities.
Gardenia is a revue with a dark edge, performed by artists who have had their day but do not let themselves be boxed by it. A show filled with older birds of paradise – transvestites, transsexuals and all varieties in between. But also with a cool dancer in their midst – decay next to strength. The honored idols like Shirley Bassey, Marlene Dietrich, Tina Turner and Norma Desmond. It was not a vulgar cross-dressing show, but an impressive ball mask about transience. A show about the back of showbiz, about putting on dresses and putting on wigs to tackle the gray everyday life.
Gardenia was made after an idea by Van Durme, based on experiences from Compassion and the Spanish film Yo soja somí, on the closure of a tow bar in Barcelona. That the show is now back is mainly due to the high demand for it. In 2019, directors Alain Platel and Frank Van Laecke asked the artists if they had the time and inclination to take the dresses out of the closet again. The answer was universally yes, but when the trip had just started, the corona struck. Meanwhile on tour Gardenia again, this week the play can be seen in Amsterdam.
Vanessa Van Durme: ‘I think performance has improved, precisely because we are older. The older, the more fragile, and the more sad it is. When you now see the old men or the women in those dresses, you might be thinking: stop performing! But we do not do that, and that’s what it’s about: cutting perishability, this performance wants to show that ‘.
Van Durme is best known by the Dutch theater audience for the performances of the Flemish theater makers Alain Platel and Arne Sierens. Her life is special: In her sixties, she went to Casablanca for a sex operation. She worked in prostitution for a while to pay for her surgeries, performed in dingy clubs and later became a famous actress. She created the acclaimed solo show about her remarkable life: Look mom, I’m dancing!†
Van Durme: ‘Gardenia is primarily for me a celebration of life† Celebrate life, whoever or whatever you are, that’s what it’s all about. And about friendship, connection, daring to show who you are, what you are. We’re all between 70 and 80 years old now, though alive and in full vigor† We love ourselves in the glittering dresses, but know that we are in decline and we show it with great dedication. What I notice is that after the performance I am exhausted, completely exhausted. In that respect, the years of going to pubs and drinking together afterwards are over.
‘To Gardenia is such a worldwide success, it’s also because the show is a tribute to showbiz ‘glimpses. But it also shows the downside: We’re a bunch of old variant artists trying to keep performing and lip-sync a bit to Shirley Bassey. In the meantime, we actually feel like Shirley Bassey or Marlene Dietrich, that’s how we are again. ‘
Van Durme realizes that much has changed in the position of transgender people in recent years. In the sixties she had to secretly go to Morocco for an operation, today Ghent University Hospital has a waiting list of 1,300 people who want to undergo a gender reassignment. At the same time, today it is quite sensitive how to call someone, he, she or them.
Van Durme: ‘People have become very careful about naming who or what you are. But we must not exaggerate I do not care what they call me. We’re fine here, are we? You can be who you want to be, you can dress the way you want. We should just stop whining and be proud of our freedom. You do not have to worry about how you will be labeled. ‘
Andrea, one of the artists from the original 2010 version, died a few years ago. Her colleagues now remember her by draping the sequin dress she wore in her Tina Turner act over a chair. A small tribute to the one who was to leave the group first.
Van Durme: ‘It was about replacing her for a while, but it did not feel right. Yes, it’s a loss, and we just hope that no one else falls over soon, because then the show is over. If I’m the last one left, I can always go solo on stage. ‘
Gardenia, 10 years later by Les Ballets C. de la B. and NTGent. From 2 to 4/6 in the International Theater Amsterdam, then tour.
Vanessa Van Durme recently played a role in les tortuesthe new film by Belgian director David Lambert (Between the walls† Other actors in it are Olivier Gourmet (the son) and Dave Johns (Me, Daniel Blake† In the film, she plays a transgender person. Van Durme: ‘It’s typecasting, they will not ask me to play Hedda Gabler or Maria Stuart. But it’s at least something. In America, in the very conservative country itself, you see more and more trans men and women appearing in movies and TV series, and that’s a good development. ‘