Having originally premiered at NTGent Theatre, Belgium in 2010 and performed at Sadler’s Wells in 2011, Gardenia – 10 years later is back at Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday 16 & Wednesday 17 November, as part of a European tour.
Over 10 years on, eight members of the cast are reunited. Gardenia – 10 years later is an insight into their turbulent lives, showcasing the most intimate tales about hope, and cherished or lost illusions. Inspired by the film Yo soy así (by Sonia Herman Dolz) and based on a concept by Vanessa Van Durme who also stars in the piece, Gardenia– 10 years later allows audiences a glimpse into the private lives of a remarkable group of older artists. Gardenia – 10 yearslater beautifully explores the experiences of transgender performers as they transform on stage.
The world-renowned director Alain Platel and founder of ballets C de la B and has reunited with the original creative team 10 years on: multi-award-winning director Frank Van Laecke, and composer Steven Prengels. This powerhouse trio present Gardenia – 10 years later which explores lifelong bonds, transformation and an unimaginable will to survive. The cast talk about growing old and being different, about sadness and longing that binds us, about seeking and finding happiness, about transience, about beauty that does not expire. Revisited 10 years later, the work takes on new meaning in 2021.
10 years ago, the production toured across the world and played over 200 performances in cities including Paris, Berlin, Oslo, and a tour of Russia. In 2012, Gardenia was nominated for an Olivier award. The life of the cast was also beautifully portrayed in the documentary Before the last curtain falls, which won multiple awards at international film festivals including the Grand Prize at Fifa in Montréal and Prix du public à Grenoble among others.
Hendrik Lebon played and danced as a youngster in productions by Theater Neon, the Kopergietery/ Speeltheater Ghent and the Royal Ballet of Flanders, among others. In 2005 he graduated as a modern performing dancer at the Fontys Dance Academy in Tilburg and subsequently won the Jacques De Leeuw Young Top Talent award. Since then, he has worked for various companies at home and abroad and performed as a dance soloist in, among others, the opera Le Nozze di Figaro (Opera Zuid, Maastricht) and sang and danced the title role of Bach in Tranen van Bach (Muziektheater Hollands Diep). Directed by Frank Van Laecke, he sang and danced in Dracula (Music Hall) and played the role of Sigismund in the operetta In het Witte Paard. As a circus performer, he shared the role of Harlekino with Danny Ronaldo in Minnevozen by Theater Leporello and played in Première neige (co-production théatre Vélo and Kopergietery). For the Scottish group Curious Seed he is currently dancing in Chalk about and with them he is actively involved in the global network of dance for young audiences.
Besides dancing, he has continued to develop as a singer, acrobat, actor and musician, and also learned to play the trombone for the performance En Avant Marche, a production by Les Ballets C de la B and NTGent. He sings in the Ghent music group Les Quatre au Quai, does Burlesque with Cabaret Cuberdon, works as a circus performer in family park De Sierk and does advertising and television work. This year, he founded his own company Goodone productions BV and produces his own
Please talk to me about Gardenia and how does it feel to participate in this show?
Every performance we do, I feel thankful, happy and honoured to be on stage with such a beautiful “bouquet de fleur”. Everyone is uniquely extra-ordinary and so generous to show that on stage. The effect is that the audience, everywhere in the world, is moved, touched and inspired by the Gardenians. With no other performance I had the experience that people from the audience have the need to share their emotions, personal stories and thoughts after they had seen our performance. It is great to be part of all those conversations!
What is Gardenia about and what shall we expect to see in the show?
Gardenia is based on the documentary “Yo soy asi” by Sonia Herman Dolz. It talks about the old Cabaret La Bohemia in Barcelona that after all those years needs to close down. You see the last performance of the actors who have been there forever. In their daily life they are old, slow and grey, but when they come on stage they blossom, shine and glitter. And then the question arises: What do you do after the last show, when there is no purpose to put your costumes and wigs on again? Where do you get your energy and joy? Or does it end? In Gardenia everyone is showing for the last time their act that they have been doing for more than 50 years. Besides the story of getting older, Gardenia talks about identity. Who am I and where do I belong? We all know the struggle of finding your place. For some it is a fight, for others it is more easy. In the show you can witness the story of a young Russian refugee who lives amongst the Gardenians. Not knowing where his Russian family is he panics when on his adopted family also is coming an end.
How has this production evolved over the last ten years?
Besides the physical fact of being all 10 years older one of the performers died. Andrea De Laet. We kept her chair and her red dress, so she is still with us on stage. The production itself did not change a lot over the last ten years, not as much as society did.
What were the challenges in adapting the show to the current situation? What are the main problems/challenges we are facing nowadays?
The biggest challenge in adapting the show was wearing the high heels. So, they became less high then before. During the rehearsals we got trained in helping and supporting each other at any time. Everyone is so thankful to be part of this show that it creates a chain of friendship what makes it possible to deal with everything. Also on the logistic side, there is an amazing team supporting this performance. For them it is huge job to get us everywhere taking in account that some of the performers deal with physical limits due of their age. Content wise the performance did not change, but society around us did. I often hear my colleagues say: “Oh come on…keep it light, keep it light.” What indicates there is missing a lot of relativity nowadays, there is a lot of stress and fear.
How was it to see people reuniting for the show?
That was great. It felt like there had not been such a big gap.
Is the British audience different?
There are cultural differences and we can name some clichés, but what is amazing in performing Gardenia around the world is that you start realising human beings are everywhere the same. When you talk about identity it is a realisation that is very workable in creating your own “you”. If you want, you can be anyone you would like to be, dealing with cultural differences and clichés are part of that.
When did you begin dancing and how did your career start?
We had cows and theatre was a forbidden subject at home. So, I secretly danced and performed in the room I was sharing with my brother. In my teenage years I wanted to become an actor, so without my parents knowing I subscribed myself in a theatre group in the city. I was too shy, closed off and full of fear. I thought it would be like in my sleeping room, but it was completely different. I did not dare to speak. A choreographer came with the idea to let me move instead of speaking. That worked really good for me. He created a dance performance with 5 boys talking about being a man. It became very popular and we toured around the world. I was 15. It had been a fight with my parents to do what I really like, but little by little they accepted it.
How would you describe yourself and what do you do besides dancing?
The first thing I did when lockdown came was starting a Facebook page for gay men. Then I started to organise games and activities with the neighbours. We made art expositions in the gardens, we organised bike rides, we were hiding dinosaurs for the kids,… and we lit the street full of candles every Saturday. I gave concerts in the garage and made acts with some neighbours. The longer the lockdown was lasting, the more we organised. We came into the newspaper and won the price of the nicest street in town. And that is who I am: I love people and I like to connect everyone. I have two bands, act for television, dance in different performances and work in circus.
Who are your role models and inspirations?
10 years before the first men landed on the moon, there must have been people thinking: mmmmm lets make it possible to go too the moon someday. And they did. I like people who have the gift to look beyond what is possible and to create from there something you cannot imagine!! People who work in care, new technology, art, well being, sport, agriculture, science,… name it. We have heroes everywhere. The way my dad is taking a stand for his family and how he organises his whole life to give us the best, is my biggest inspiration.
This year you founded your own company “Goodone productions BV” and produce your own work. What made you do such a big step and how does it feel to be involved in production?
There is less and less money for culture and priorities are shifting, so as we are inventive and creative people we look for new ways to keep the things going that really matter for us. I always have combined creating and performing, the step to start my own company was just matching a fitting business model and was not a big step. The level of risk is increased and gives me the feeling of being alive and the drive to be in action. Actively working on your dreams is something I can recommend everybody, it is hard work, but giving you access to a world you could not imagine before. And like my colleagues say: keep it light, keep it light, keep it light!