A 92-year-old lady, an anarchist, an Afghan refugee, 51 women and 49 men, ánd one dog: ‘100% Brussels’ (Rimini Protokoll)
You wonder how they pull it off. On stage: 100 people, a group that is an exact representation of the city these 100 individuals are living in, Brussels. Women, men, older people (the oldest participant is 92) and children. Belgian citizens and foreigners, and of course a couple of illegal immigrants. (That’s why there are actually… 105 people on stage.) Through the answers all of them give to lots of questions 100% Brussels should teach you a thing or two about Brussels. The performance, by Berlin-based Rimini Protokoll, was one of the opening performances of this year’s Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels).
‘My name is Hassan Wali, and with me 100% Brussels is complete.’ The refugee from Afghanistan is the last one to walk up to one of two microphones and introduce himself. 99 others have done so before him. They’ve all told us something about their lives, what brought them to the capital of Belgium, or about an object that’s dear to them. A camera, a book, a bike, even a dog. It is the simple, charming and often funny opening scene of 100% Brussels: those 100 totally different people, in that big green circle on stage (which is – by means of a camera – also visible on a big screen at the back of the stage).
Rimini Protokoll has done this before, you can tell, from the way this performance is structured. Hundred amateurs on stage, and nothing but a whole lot of questions they have to answer? The Berlin-based trio has developed a smart way to keep this interesting for an audience. By changing the way in which the questions are asked and the participants answer them, by changing the setting, and by adding some music (a live band starts playing, to fire up the performance) and movement (they all dance to Belgium’s new national anthem, Stromae’s Alors on danse).
At first, for instance, one of the participants phrases a question, and the others have to answer it by walking to one or the other side of the stage, thus forming two groups under two large signs: yes or no. Later on they switch to multiple choice questions, and all the participants suddenly carry a paper bag containing large cards in four different colors; each color corresponding to one of the possible answers shown on the video screen. They answer the question by taking one of the cards out of the bag and showing it to the audience.
At an another moment, all the lights are dimmed. Who has tried to avoid paying taxes, had been the question, and only 1 or 2 of them had said yes, while, as everybody in the audience knows, avoiding taxes is a ‘national sport’ in Belgium. The question is repeated, in the dark, and the participants suddenly have a tiny light they can switch on to say yes. They’re able to answer the question ‘incognito’ and so, of course, a whole lot more of them answer yes. More private questions follow: Who has been unfaithful to his partner? and Who is secretly in love with one of the other participants?
Cleverly done, but in the end it can’t mask the flaws of this performance. During the last part of 100% Brussels the questions just keep on coming. The participants are standing on a tribune facing the audience and the ‘yes’-sayers have to form a group in the middle of it. It seems as if even they’ve become tired, hurrying from one of the sides to the middle and back again. By then 100% Brussels has lost its momentum. The questionnaire has become a tiring game (the questions have become less inspired), that has worn you out as a spectator. Simply put: 100% Brussels takes way too long.
In the end I was also wondering if 100% Brussels had really taught me anything about my city. And I’m afraid the answer is no (apart from the statistic facts you read in the lovely book you find on your chair, with a picture and a text about every single one of the participants). Sure, it was funny to notice that only 1 of them has a gun at home, that the majority of them wants Eurocrats to pay taxes too, that very few of them are a member of a political party and that most of them hope that Belgium will still be one country in 10 years time. 100% Brussels also fails to really paint a picture of the participants, cause no matter how you try, you lose track, with hundred people on stage.
What 100% Brussels does tell you, as is makes clear right in the beginning of the evening: every person has a story. A city isn’t a city, it’s a huge collection of lives and stories.