In the area that became the nation of Belgium in 1830, there existed since the Middle Ages a rich theater tradition from liturgical drama, the troupe of St. Peter’s Abbey in Ghent in the 9th century, to the common Dutch shipowners who were the performers of morals and high-profile games in marketplaces at associations of actors from different social teams. Allegorical tableaux were displayed on wagons, such as Spiegel der Salicheit van Elckerlijc (Enver’s salvation play, c. 1490). The Rederijkerteater further developed and gradually absorbed elements of the late Baroque opera culture, and in the 18th century Jan Frans Cammart’s monumental drama with music, choir and ballet was performed in Brussels. The shipping company tradition particularly characterized the Dutch-speaking Flanders and laid the groundwork for a rich Flemish amateur theater business in recent times.
A French bourgeois theater was established in Brussels in the 18th century, and in 1700 the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Muntschowburg) was founded. It was a French-language opera house that in our time, from the 1960s on, has got a bilingual profile. It is part of Belgian theater history that the performance of Victor Hugo’s revolutionary drama Hernani contributed to the revolutionary atmosphere that led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium as an independent state in 1830.
French-language theater development
Belgium was initially a strong French-speaking nation, and the French-language Belgian theater was characterized by French role models right up to the 1960s. From around 1900, a strong symbolism movement developed with internationally important dramatists such as M. Maeterlinck and E. Verhaeren based on the French-Flemish bourgeoisie of the time.
The French-language national theater, Théâtre National de Belgique, was founded in 1945, and has been of great importance through the companies that have been involved there. L’Atelier théâtral de Louvain-la-Neuve, led by Armand Delcamp, has also played an important role, not least through several guest appearances at the Avignon Festival. Nouveau Théâtre de Belgique under the leadership of Henri Ronse and Frédéric Flamand’s Plan K. has represented an innovative wave in the 1970s and 1980s, not least in the direction of multimedia and dance, which is particularly true of Plan K. New international impulses for French-language theater and dance has been provided by the guest theater and production theater Théâtre 140 under the direction of Jo Demkine. Théâtre Varia has had a significant impact on their performances of new European drama in a very unconventional way. Ocean Nord is the name of an experimental project theater in Liège that has also played at the Avignon festival. Otherwise, it can be mentioned that the various provinces have a rich theater business through their regional cultural centers.
Flemish language development
A Flemish-language theater has existed in Brussels since 1883 with Koninklijke Vlaams Schouwburg (KVS), a theater that still plays a role in today’s Flemish theater in Belgium. The building was destroyed by fire in the 1950s and rebuilt, but externally the old building is still intact in its original form. It was Oskar de Gruyter who created a special, modernist-based Flemish national theater when he founded Het Vlaam’s Volkstoneel (Flemish Folk Theater) in Antwerp in 1920. It was the symbolism and retreatalization that was artistically based, and he associated himself with central playwrights such as Herman Teirlinck and Michel de Ghelderode. The Norwegian director Stein Bugge was strongly interested in de Gruyter’s ideas, and sought to realize a similar theater style in Norway in the 1920s and 1930s. Nederlands Chamber Chamber in Antwerp in 1967 became Groot-Limburgs Toneel, provincial theater for the two Limburg provinces in the Netherlands and Belgium. Flemish theater has gained a strong international significance through the so-calledBelgian or Flemish wavewhich partly arose on the background of the Kaaitheater in Brussels. It was started in 1975 on the initiative of Hugo de Greef and was a festival for the first ten years, but has since 1985 served as a production theater for projects and guest games. Associated with Kaaitheater were groups such as Jan Fabres Trobleyn and Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s dance company Rosas, in addition to Jan Lauwers Needcompany, originally Epigonent Theater. Fabre is known for his great visual operatic choreographies, while Keersmaekers created a new school in dance theater. Needcompany has made themselves noticed with a special way of playing classic texts by fragmenting and paraphrasing the text material. Both Rosas and Needcompany have played in Norway. In Bergen, Rosas has performed on Carte Blanche, invited by Bergen International Theater, which to some extent can be said to have been inspired by Kaaitheater as a model for their business. Belgian theater has broken with the shadow existence under French and Dutch traditional cultural dominance respectively and has become a concept in the contemporary European theater. It is also part of the story that Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker has become artistic director of the central and traditional opera in Brussels, the Théâtre de la Monnaie / De Muntschouwburg, whose international reputation was at that time built by the well-known choreographer Maurice Béjart. The most central Flemish-speaking Belgian playwright of our time is Hugo Claus. Royal Flemish Theater.
At the Antwerp Theater School, several litters have been trained in recent years with new actors based on a new style of play that combines performance techniques with realism.