This fall, Governor's Island, New York, went gone Dutch. The area is hosting an assortment of Holland's finest, from Vermeer's Milkmaid to the royal family. Why this sudden influx of klompen, poffertjes, and Heineken? It is actually not so sudden at all. The Dutch connection to New York has been exactly 400 years in the making.
The Dutch invasion of America began in 1609, when New York was first settled. The Hudson River is named after Henry Hudson, the Englishman who discovered New York while making a voyage on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. Of course, it was then called 'New Amsterdam'. Stuyvesant Street in the East Village is named after ‘Peg Leg Pete’, the last Dutch Mayor, who reluctantly oversaw the city's transformation from New Amsterdam to New York in 1664.
As they say, 'out with the old and in with the new'. And New York has found an inventive new way to celebrate the 400-year old event of the founding of New Amsterdam. The "400 years on the Hudson" program is offering a range of exhibitions and events. One such event, The New Island Festival, takes place from 10-13 and 17-20 September. Ferries leave just south of Bowling Green, where the New Amsterdam Village has been set up, complete with a windmill and tulips. On the opposite shore, Governor's Island has been converted into a stage, with different performers simultaneously competing for the attention of visitors.
On one stage platform, viewers can see performances by Dansgroep Amsterdam, a modern dance troupe. On another stage platform is the Silent Disco, a dance party without music. Whether watching or participating, the experience has an isolating effect. The spectators feel left out of the big party, but actually, each dancer is at his or her own party, caught up in their headphone world. At the same time, the festival-goers feel united in the disconnect of the richly different experiences. After all, the festival is one big open jumble of experiences.
However, the non-Dutch are likely to feel excluded from some of the experiences. One can only imagine how much of the festival is of the 'in-joke' variety. Singer Ellen ten Damme, dressed in a mini-skirted Elizabethan costume, asked if any Americans were present in the crowds. A few people put up their hands, almost embarrassed to admit to such a fact. Ellen even seemed surprised that any Americans were present. She chuckled to herself before reciting some Dutch lyrics. True to stereotype, her English was perfect.
Boom Chicago began their improvisational comedy routine by asking for the audience to yell out an object. Succumbing to the allure of stereotypes, an audience member quickly called out, 'a pipe!' The master comedians seemed to roll their eyes, but they nevertheless graciously treated the audience to an amusing medley about Amsterdam’s herbal delights.
The highlight of the festival has to be Jacob Rens and his Cow. Apparently this is the first cow to ever jump through a hoop, but if you catch him after dark he doesn't seem good for anything other than grazing. And if a spectator feels much the same way, in the evening everyone is invited to a dinner held around large wooden tables. This is only recommended to those who don’t mind people walking across the table during the meal, an alleged Dutch tradition.
Although the New Island Festival is meant to provide a Dutch experience, it is classically New York. It seems as though everyone wants to associate themselves with this city. The Dutch festival comes on the heels of the Brazilian one, celebrated from the 4th to the 6th of September on 6th Avenue. And the French festival, Le Bal, which opened on 12 September, will be yapping at the heels of the Dutch one.
New York hasn't really gone Dutch, although it is splitting the bill rather equally between a multitude of hosted cultures. The New Island Festival represents one delectable slice of the pie, but the sum total amounts to a very unique New York.