It would be tempting to serve a few dry sandwiches and a meagre glass of water, under the motto: we’re already busy with the cut-backs. But that would be a bit too childish. We do, however, limit ourselves to a simple yet nourishing sandwich lunch. The Secretary turns out to be a tall man and he is obviously hungry. Because while Truze, Ted and I talk nine to the dozen about our institutions, he polishes off several sandwiches with visible relish. I can identify with that – a tall body needs energy. Especially before undertaking a brisk walk around The Amsterdam Music Theatre.
After talking for over half an hour, we go off round the building, with a whole retinue in train. Accompanying the State Secretary and the three directors on their journey are two officials, a ministry press officer, a journalist and a photographer. The journalist and the photographer had been announced in advance. The NRC was the paper chosen to accompany today’s working visits. The ministry spin doctors had obviously decided to show the whole world that Halbe Zijlstra visits cultural institutions. And why not – as a couple of days later it produces a nice article in the NRC with the headline ‘I can’t deny myself a ballet’. (Could we use this quote later on in the matter of cut-backs?) There was also a good photo accompanying the article; three columns wide, of an attentive State Secretary watching a rehearsal of the Dutch National Ballet.
Later, I receive an e-mail from a colleague from another organisation, who had seen the photo in the paper. ‘The fact that he’s watched dancers at work from so close up is worth more than all sorts of lobby activities. Let’s hope that he’s fallen a bit in love with dance now’. There are no visible traces of love (as yet?), but there are signs of receptivity and interest. Hans van Manen is in the studio as well, and Ted explains the rehearsal process. Just as Robby, the head of Costumes, Wigs & Make-up, explained earlier on with great verve about everything concerned in Opera and Ballet. We visit the costume ateliers, Wigs & Make-up and the dyeing room, and then proceed to the stage. Hugo takes us through the concrete area and the Secretary is allowed to see everything. He thinks it’s interesting, that’s for sure.
Meanwhile, I’m concerned about the company he has to go and see next, because we’re way behind schedule. But as long as the officials don’t intervene, we cheerfully continue with proving that we are a leading company. Fortunately, he seems to know that already, as in the talk he had said, “Today, I am visiting two of the top institutions in the Netherlands. Let’s make no bones about that”. And indeed, there’s no problem there.
We wave him off at the stage door, and he promises to come back soon and watch a performance. We’ll see. When he was leaving, the journalist whispered to us that he’d phone us next day to hear how the talk went, as he hadn’t been allowed in on that. I give him my business card and expect him to call the next day. Straight away, I start formulating phrases that could go into print. That it was a pleasant meeting. That Zijlstra was genuinely interested. But also that we told him that we are already very active in entrepreneurship. And that we showed him just why our art form costs a lot of money.
And if the journalist should ask whether we think that Halbe Zijlstra will adjust his plans for cut-backs after this working visit, I’ll answer with equal amounts of cheerfulness and self-confidence, “It could hardly be otherwise!”
But the journalist never called.
And maybe that’s for the best.