Lina’s friends convinced us that we simply HAD to go to Oerol, one of the coolest performances festivals in the world. They’ve gone every year for a long time. Oerol is held every June on the gorgeous island of Terschelling, north of Amsterdam. The environment becomes part of the setting for theater, dance, and installations and more. As a destination alone, Terschelling is very special. With Oerol, it is pure magic. Here’s the story I wrote about it for the Washington Post, along with some great images from Lina.
Ran Sept. 27, 2015
By Diane Daniel
It was nearing 10:30 at night on Terschelling, but still not dark as my wife and I cycled through rippling sand dunes, their colors gradually muted by the fading light. Wild rabbits, a frequent sight on this largely undeveloped island in the Wadden Sea, hopped here and there, sometimes darting across our trail. A steady wind pushed us forward, blessedly, payback for earlier head winds – what bicyclists call “Dutch hills.” Atop the highest dune, a few hundred yards in the distance, we saw the silhouettes of a person and a dog. Only as we neared town and signs of civilization did we have to finally click on our bike lights, giving warning to the few people passing in the other direction.
We’d been nearly alone until we reached a main road.
I’d visited Terschelling, part of a barrierisland chain north of Amsterdam, before, and been captivated by its vast, windswept beaches, empty dunes and more than 170 crisscrossing miles of nearly empty cycling and walking trails, which seems an impossible tally for one of Europe’s most densely populated countries. But this time was different.
Selina and I had signed up for five days of performances at the 10-day arts gathering called Oerol. (Say “OO-ral” and you’re close enough.) Every June, some 50,000 visitors of all ages arrive by the boatload, literally, to view theater, dance, performance art, live music, installations or simply partake in the communal vibe. Oerol, the word meaning “all over” in the local Frisian dialect, stages professional performances throughout the island – on the street, in barns and, most memorably, in woods, fields, dunes and on the beach. The festival exemplifies site-specific theater, where art and environment meld, each illuminating the other.
I had been concerned about the crowds on an island measuring 18 miles long and 2.5 miles wide and with a year-round population of 4,800. Would the Oerol faithful overrun the place, ruining my fond memories? As it turned out, not at all. Save for the main thoroughfares and gathering spots, not only did Terschelling retain its sense of otherworldliness, the arts events took me to pockets of the island I probably wouldn’t have explored on my own.
We had pre-ordered tickets for a handful of performances, because many sell out. I had the advantage of a Dutch spouse who could research the offerings, but the program also includes summaries in English and handily notes the best options for non-Dutch speakers.
By happenstance, we had chosen to stay in a rental cabin strategically situated just outside Midsland, the charming historic village in the middle of the island where Oerol got its start. In 1982, Joop Mulder, then-owner of the still-hopping Cafe de Stoep and now the festival’s artistic director, held the first event on a much smaller scale. During Oerol and the regular tourist season, from late spring to mid-fall, both Midsland and the harbor town of West Terschelling, about four miles west, are lively, their streets filled with visitors who pour into the many shops, restaurants and cafes. During the festival, both locations also house rollicking gated-off areas where wristband-wearers can eat, drink, view art, watch bands, buy tickets and compare notes.