Wende: ‘Pop is seen as entertainment. If you are more theatrical, you will hear: what is it difficult for her’

There she is, on her own. You didn’t want anything, she mutters to herself. There is also nothing at all on the mountain at Castelnau-de-Mandailles, above Montpellier. Rocks, the river in the valley. A hammock between the trees. Pen and paper. Water. Three days and nights alone, without food, without a phone. She is stacking stones in a circle. meditates. Sings a lot. A thunderstorm rumbles in the distance. Is it getting closer? And is that dangerous? No idea really.

Singer and theater maker Wende Snijders (43) was on a vision quest, a ritual journey of reflection in which you go into the wilderness alone for a few days to get a clear picture of what you have to do in life. She spoke to no one, slowly “the noise” disappeared. With a “cup full of forty” she felt through life’s questions. Was she really not going to be a mother? How do the bloodlines run in her family? The incredible and impossible art of ‘loving’. No, then nature, she is full of self-confidence! That bright sun. The birds, the ants, everything is busy. And she: sentimental. Sad. That rotten inner voice sometimes. More cheerful when she sings. Milder too. Thought: No, your father did not leave you, he was sick.

A heavenly experience, she now describes the retreat. She receives in a ‘loan house’ of friends, a spacious, tightly renovated split level Amsterdam upper house. A grand piano within reach. Wende has placed her own fully scratched work table – it used to be in her studio in theater Carré, where she was a resident artist for a while – in front of the high windows. “It is,” is scribbled somewhere. She smiles and brushes it casually, as if it were a crumb. “Well, sometimes it just is.”

She shows pictures of how she ‘came out’ there in the south of France, 2019. Tired, because she didn’t sleep a wink in that hammock. Hungry, though she’d trained on not eating. But also illuminated. There is no other word for it. Greener, brighter eyes in a vulnerable-looking, narrow face with “all channels wide open”.

Photo Andreas Terlaak

Now she is in the try-out phase of her new music theater show The Wilderness† The premiere is April 8 in Carré. She consciously isolates herself. It is a repetitive work rhythm of withdrawing, finding focus in a cocoon, to emerge like a butterfly just before the premiere, dancing on stage in bundles of light. “So I leave to save my partner,” she says. “In my exercise regime I am very on all the time or I just have to take a lot of time off. It is difficult to move together in that, and he also has his life.”

Due to corona measures, this tour has been postponed for a year. “There were a few Fieldlab shows for tested audiences, but those evenings became a pressure cooker for a crew that was quickly overstimulated and had been sitting at home for a year and an unaccustomed audience. And I was insecure too. We always thought we could do it again. You get yourself ready, brace yourself and then suddenly it stops. I could always start over.”

Her arts festival Kaleidoscoop, on television last Christmas, was a creative explosion in a dark time. But when her Wildernessshows went down again in January, she found herself empty. “I really didn’t know anymore. My drive had never gone away! And I felt so guilty towards my team. The shows had to be rescheduled again. A lot of things got harder, didn’t they? The availability of light, sound, the technicians, the choir, the musicians. The money ran out.”

She rehearsed stiffly. Light shone this month. Ha, the first tryouts. On to Doetinchem. And then… she got corona. “You’re not making that up!” She bangs her head on the table, laughing.

Also read: The episode of TV column Zap about Wende’s Christmas kaleidoscope

Overwhelmingly bright

That vision quest was perhaps a somewhat Spartan method, but also cathartic. “I sometimes hear it: shouldn’t you take it easy? You are so hard on yourself.” Determined: “But that’s how I’ll be. I believe that depth, focus and beauty are things you have to bite through. When I see how my mother learned to play the cello when she was sixty. Or how top athletes prepare. You don’t have to be comfortable for a while.”

The insights obtained on that mountain are reflected in the songs between pop, rock and theater song. Her lyrics are overwhelmingly fierce and specific. “That time on that mountain gave a clear picture that life is a messy, tender state,” she now summarizes. “What kind of wilderness do you discover in yourself? You are jealous, unreasonable, cheerful and also confident. It was there that I realized: the wilderness, its indomitable chaos and its violence, is not just the enemy you have to arm yourself against. You can also move with that power. I could honestly look at my family history and my relationship: where are we exactly, who are you really.”

Also in her previous show, Manshe linked separation anxiety and uprooting her youth. Wende had already lived on three continents as a six-year-old because her father worked for an engineering firm. Born in the United Kingdom, she moved to Indonesia as a toddler and later to Guinea-Bissau. The family came to Zeist when she was nine, but her father was still away from home a lot. “We always had to adapt, and then suddenly go again. That created a lasting uneasiness in me. I have not dared to attach for a long time, and I can easily dissociate and be gone.”

In the loaded song ‘Blood in my blood’ she draws, partly as a result of the family investigation that was carried out for an episode of the TV program Hidden Past was done in 2017, lines continue. To the painful Japanese camp history of her grandfather and grandmother, for example. And that her father eventually grew up without a father because after the war he wanted to go to Suriname as a tropical agricultural specialist. And grandma didn’t go back to the tropics.

“When I sang ‘Blood in my blood’ on May 4, my aunt spoke to me about it. Do you understand that it is painful that you have a song about this? Yes, I should have informed them in advance. But I use it because I think it happens in many families. That there is a lot of silence and everyone is trying to survive. Transgenerational trauma is not a fable. If things are not worked through properly, it replants itself in the DNA of the next generation. It should be spoken of with respect and compassion. That is always better.”

In The Wilderness everything that is difficult, that pinches, has been given a place. “To be happy in the end,” adds Wende. “It’s not just wallowing in a cave of misery.” She finds that she can admit more softness with age. Her relationship with Wouter van Ransbeek (formerly director at International Theater Amsterdam, now creative producer) has deepened as a result.

Although the arguing songs about relationships, the furious ‘Look At Me’ and ‘How Often’, might suggest otherwise. “In Wilderness different emotions have a place. So also an unfiltered rot quarrel. I wanted a song about how I go all out. So funny: I see women nudging their husbands in the audience. When I showed my friend the text, he calmly said: normally you are much meaner, go rewrite it.”

‘How Often’ is based on a poetic text from him to her after an argument. Hup, his lyrics went straight into a blasting punk song. Laughing: „All is fair in love, art and war, However? Thank you, I immediately thought. I’m always on the hunt for good lyrics.”

In short, she believes that the confidence that they will work it out together is growing. Through all the mess they find hope. “So that is also saying with shivers in the stomach: I don’t want you to leave. So that others can say the same. Instead of immediately packing your things and going. In the words of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld in the poem ‘The comfort seekers’: “For those who leave everyone themselves as a precaution.”

Maternity

For years she doubted motherhood. But the biological clock she had expected to hear ticking when she turned forty remained silent. She decided: no. “I have no fantasy about a family. I like being on my own, my freedom is dear to me.” It will play a part, she thinks, that the women in her family, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, “sacrificed their lives for the care of the family.” In the performance she sings: „I do not want a child/ And in that choice I am free/ I just wanted to be something different.” A beautiful piano ballad. “It’s really nice that this can be in addition to a trillion love songs,” she says. “That someone can also think: ha, yes. Which.”

I have no fantasy about a family. I like it on my own, my freedom is dear to me

Wende

She was never that personal and specific. “Because I was afraid of being laughed at. To be found stupid. Too hysterical, emotional and pretentious. Still, but I also find it interesting. Pop is often seen as entertainment. If you are more theatrical, then you will read in the review: what is difficult for her. But a song is an art form in which you can sing about existential things in a poetic way. There is a need for. Stromae sings about his suicidal thoughts. Kae Tempest discusses tough gender issues. Artists like Froukje, S10 and Billie Eilish also want that authenticity.”

She says she has never received as many reactions as to ‘Voor Alles’, her song about fear, with the lyrics of the poem of the same name by Joost Zwagerman.

Her desire to pass on something is strong. A kind of mentorship for young talent. Stien den Hollander – singer S10 – who is a regular at Wende’s house, has almost come to see her as a young sister. She and her boyfriend help S10 with her act for the Eurovision Song Contest. “With talent like S10, but also singer Froukje, I feel strongly: I can teach you something. I need to help them further. I love this performing, this profession, producing.” Grin: „Strictly, because I set the bar quite high. But with confidence. As I sing in duet with S10: “Don’t be afraid, I’ll catch you.”

Also read: NRC was at the FieldLab presentation of The Wildernessa year ago

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