Stukafest 2024: an intimate festival

'I was on the verge of crying'

StukaFest 2024 foto 1 Irem Zoodsma/DUB

Stukafest has grown into a famous event among students. During the festival, student homes transform into intimate stages where beginning artists perform in three half-hour rounds with half-hour breaks in between performances. The 2024 edition had an enticing line-up, with music, dance, and cabaret, including the Eindhoven-based punk band Alabaster, the musical Diep of Sirióós and the short films “Hou Vast” and “Leeway” by Chagalle Pennink and Nikkie Dietz, respectively. 

That Thursday evening formed an exception in an otherwise "wet" month. After each round, everyone could cycle to the next house and stay dry, which is fortunate, considering the festival takes place in small rooms and groups of wet people flocking together isn’t an ideal situation, for obvious reasons. Before the dance performance “Rusteloos” by Nouel Al Idrissi & Katja van de L’Isle started, I took a peek at the preparations for the alternative performance art by Daauwe on Hartingstraat.

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I walked in at a critical moment: the show should start in 40 minutes and they’re still hurriedly discussing where the stage should be. A crucial element has been overlooked: where to put the audience that’s coming in before the show starts? This requires some ad hoc organisational talent. One of the residents suggested them stay in the room where the performance would be and then Daauwe would make her way through the audience to reach the improvised stage. “No darling, that’s not possible, I will be all stuck in chains, I won’t be able to walk,” says Daauwe. Everyone’s looking around, stressed, while Daauwe quickly finishes her make-up at the kitchen table.

A choice is made eventually, perhaps even the best one for a student house: everyone comes in through the window and then waits in the kitchen until they can enter the room where the show will be. One of the residents looks at her phone, irritated. “If you wanted to come you should’ve bought a ticket.” She’s still getting messages from people asking if they can come to the show. And then the bell rings: “Fuck.” 

I leave Hartingstraat in an excited state to spend the rest of the evening on Koningsstraat. Afterwards, I hear that Daauwe's performances were "sublime".

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Arriving at the Koningsstraat, Nouel and Katja are getting ready in the room of host Richard. I was expecting the same type of hectic scene as I found in the Hartingstraat, but the ladies appeared to be relaxed. Katja is looking concentrated into the mirror while she’s tucking her brown box braids neatly behind her hair tie, Nouel is sitting on a chair stretching her foot. It’s the first time they’re performing together. Katja attended an Urban Dance programme in Arnhem and Nouel recently graduated from De Dansopleiding in Utrecht. 

Katja: “At first we couldn’t find the place.”
Nouel: “Yeah, we got confused, but once we were there it was smooth sailing. They cleared the space and cleaned everything for us.” 

Richard is happy too. “It’s going well. Everything is going smoothly. There’s a great atmosphere.” The people around him are smiling. A fellow resident also says, smiling: As if you couldn’t speak more words.” He continues: “Last year we participated in Stukafest too and all housemates are involved in it as well. But in the end, It doesn’t take that many people to rearrange the room. Fellow resident Jet (22): “Yeah, it’s just like a big cleaning.” 

Room host Richard: “Thanks Stukafest, thanks to you we’re cleaning our house.” 

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And then the first round starts, everyone moves to the living room where a grey mattress is laying on the pale-yellow floor next to a brown chair. It could easily be the décor of the movie Trainspotting, if it weren’t for the clean kitchen counters and the pans being neatly stored away, thanks to Stukafest, that is. Nouel lies down on the mattress and Katja presses play on the stereo that’s lying on the fridge and then squats on the chair. Dark and sinister beats come out of the speakers and Nouel starts to move, frustratedly, restless. While improvising she makes her way through the room whilst using different styles, modern, contemporary, and breakdance from which she draws strength to battle with herself. Then Nouel rolls over backwards, forcing the audience into a corner. Her feet almost touch a guy who quickly pulls in his leg. Another guy had such a big smile on his face during the entire show that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d burst into ecstasy.

Meanwhile, Katja tries to dance with Nouel, but there’s friction in their dynamics. After Katja dances solo to sweltering jazzy beats, they find each other after all. A Spanish lady sings about love and reconciliation and the ladies move smoothly, in and over each other. until they hide behind the mattress. With a simple ‘that was it’ the applause follows.

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A group of people gathers around the dancers for a talk. “Yes, we’re improvising.” I hear Katja and Nouel saying.

Sara (23): “I don’t know when dance is good or not, but I thought this was pretty cool.”

Later, in Richard's room, the ladies will tell the audience that their act is inspired by spirituality. Nouel plays a human who’s tangled up with herself, and Katja is a ghost who wants to guide and help her with love. Only Nouel has to accept her help, which she eventually does.

More drinking is going on in the student room and the whole place feels like one big cosy smoking space, but without the smoking. 

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During the second round, the ladies dare to take more risk and there’s more breakdancing. A woman watching in the audience seems to be so moved, it’s like she could burst into tears any moment. Afterwards, Willeke (23) recounts with emotion: “I loved it, the connection, the emotion. The way they moved.” She walks up to the artists to tell them exactly that, and then she points to me: “I almost cried, you can ask her.”

Just before Katja and Nouel start their very last dance, Katja complains that someone stepped on her bare foot: “It really hurts.” Nobody can tell though, because during the last performance, the movements get even bigger than before. There’s less audience present, meaning there’s more space for their movements, space they immediately use. It makes you wonder what they would be capable of on a larger stage.

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And how about room host Richard? For the rest of the evening, he remains a man of few words, but words aren’t needed here. The whole evening proceeds exactly as it should. People get moved by the performances, cheap beer does its trick and, as Richard would put it: the atmosphere was good, smooth and good!!