Mirroring Mystics – Channeling ‘Het Begijnhof’ through Sound and Body: an interview with Housemaker Margo van de Linde by Lies Mensink
“The world at large is in a very precarious state.” It’s Margo van de Linde’s second time as housemaker at Veem House for Performance within the frame of the 100 Day House #2 – Stay with the trouble where she will perform her new ‘work in progress’ ‘Me, the Beguines and the Communion’ after ‘Improvised Ferminism’ from last year, and she’s staying with the trouble! Margo: “Now more than ever, making work that is honest is how I stay with trouble. I don’t want to get caught up in the ideas of what might ‘do well’. I feel this is a time that needs authenticity, intimacy and truth.”
Margo and I meet in the Veem House for Performance Studio as she is working on her new piece ‘Me, the Beguines and the Communion’. The floor is marked with black tape in a triangular shape. Margo explains: “We are working in this triangle, which could be a courtyard, though somebody commented yesterday that it is a vagina, which I also think is pretty awesome!” The triangular shape creates an acoustic space for Margo to compose in. Sharing the stage with a percussionist she creates an auditory experience: “I can place myself anywhere in accordance to the people, so they can get different experiences of my sound and body in relation to them.”
The main ingredient for the performance is a series of conversations she had with three of her neighbors in Het Begijnhof in Amsterdam. For six years Margo lived in this beautiful courtyard of houses, in which only women are allowed to live. It is a place laden with history, Margo could almost feel the spirits of the women that were there before her: “I remember when I just moved in it was almost too much! Am I allowed to be here? How can I honor this somehow and still be myself?” In her new piece ‘Me, the Beguines and the Communion’, she pays homage to the beguines.
She portrays three of her neighbors in this one woman show. It is an anarchistic quality, a certain stubbornness, that binds the stories of these different women. While one of them has never been married and the other left a life with a husband behind, they all made a specific choice of how to live their lives. “I only met women who have a very clear sense of how they want to practice their life and the rituals they want to create for themselves within that.”
Veem related Margo’s last piece Improvised Feminism to the theme #TheFutureIsFeminist. Her new work is similarly linked to #feministkilljoys. “I like relating to an ironic hashtag, I’m a comedian and there is also comedy in this work.” Margo agrees that it is a feminist piece, “To give a voice and a body to women who are, in my opinion, often not heard and seen is already a feminist act.” In fact, being a beguine is a somewhat rebellious act. Margo: “We call them ‘rebel nuns’ I think people go to beguinages and think ‘oh nuns live here.’ They’re not nuns! I don’t think people realize just how anarchistic a movement it was.”
Before living in Het Begijnhof Margo admits she too had some preconceptions about the women: “them being old and boring, which is totally not true! My preconceived notions about them radically changed and I want to share the women I’ve really come to know with a wider audience.” While she shares the history of the beguines in her performance, Margo wants to move beyond the rational: “I don’t want this to be a space where we sit and reflect intellectually on the concept, but rather a space where we are feeling something in our bodies.” This is why Margo is working with a percussionist: Henning Luther. Margo: “I think drums create texture and rhythm yet also leave space. I wanted the piece to be dynamic and open.” In the piece the two engage in an intuitive dialogue “I imagine he sometimes steers my characters or I influence him in how I’m speaking.” Working with her skills, spoken word, music and acoustics she creates an auditory piece.
Being a theatre maker and trained as an improviser Margo is keen on creating a space where there is a certain looseness, a fluidity. “I want an audience to feel that there may be imperfection, that they could engage in a different way, which is not saying that this is participatory theatre! I’m very bored with full frontal theatre and the strictness that it implies. I don’t want you to be super quiet and not shift your ass when you’re uncomfortable, you know?”
Margo describes improvising as a kind of channeling, and here she identifies with the beguines: “They were also women who -in the most extreme cases- were having very physical experiences of channeling spirits and channeling god.” She refers to the beguines scriptures that occasionally flow in and out of our conversation: “Being a beguine is about emptying yourself out and going through a kind of death: a transformation to have a rebirth. I believe I had this thing.” In showing herself going through this process Margo tries to transport or transform the audience much like herself: “a little bit…”Margo bursts into laughter, “I hope!”
Last Tuesday in Les Spectateurs several spectators were invited in the triangular rehearsal space of Margo. “My last piece Improvised Feminism was constantly made in conversation with an audience, but now after working so intimately, it was a little weird to open the doors. We felt like anything could happen: ‘This could somehow work or this could be an absolute disaster…’ but it somehow worked!”
“One of the ‘spectateurs’ said the performance is ‘like pieces of a mirror that got smashed open, but that you can piece them back together.’ Yeah! That’s what I want: I don’t want to tell you it’s about this, or that. I just want you to feel it and then decide for yourself what it means.” Margo sounds confident: “There’s still a shitload to be done of course, but yeah.. I feel it now.”
Margo’s work is open and honest, “I keep saying everything that I really feel, instead of trying to make art that I think fits in to some kind of fashion. You can relate to it however you want. You can love it or hate it, its fine, but this is my work.”