Performing arts

'It’s okay to feel uncomfortable'

Interview with artistic director Annechien de Vocht

YoungGangsters and their artistic director Annechien de Vocht bring the physical spectacle of action movies onto the stage. Annechien created her latest show, Don’t Wanna Touch, with the choreographer Simon Bus and DOX, the Utrecht platform for up-and-coming performance talent. ‘How do you touch each other without feeling uncomfortable?’

Slapstick fights, stunts, explosions and shootings. YoungGangsters are renowned for their ‘action drama’, packed with staged violence. Annechien de Vocht co-founded the company in 2009. ‘We felt there wasn’t enough action in theatre productions, that plays could be more spectacular,’ she explains. ‘Our aim was to bring elements of films by people like Jackie Chan and Quentin Tarantino onto the stage. Action theatre releases adrenalin in the makers, the actors and dancers, and the audience. It’s like watching a boxing match.’

Don’t Wanna Touch – photo: Bart Grietens

But the YoungGangsters productions aren’t only about violence. They also focus on other facets of touch, ranging from loving to sexual contact and the fear of showing vulnerability. This latter aspect is one of the main themes in Don’t Wanna Touch.

Where did the idea for this show come from?
Annechien: ‘A few years ago, I created the production Don’t Wanna Fight with the Utrecht-based DOX. We explored the power and beauty of violence, whether staged or not. At the time, I noticed that certain behavioural codes in the hip-hop scene are all about being tough, macho. Take the ‘battles’ they organise between gangs. To my mind, vulnerability, intimacy and affection are definitely a no-go area. I decided to explore what this fear of intimate contact involves. That’s the basic idea behind Don’t Wanna Touch.’

And then the pandemic raised its ugly head…
‘Yes, that put the concept of touch in a completely different light. And the MeToo movement of course. Touching one another became a very complicated business. When is it okay to touch someone? Do you always have to ask permission? All these social developments intrigued me, I wanted to find out more.’

What can we expect from this production?
‘It mainly features male dancers, a performer and the Utrecht rapper Tano Rivers. Tano recently wrote some lyrics about the pressure you’re sometimes under to act differently from how you actually feel. You see how five men behave towards each other in different situations revolving around touch and intimacy. How do they greet each other, for example? At what point does messing around and pushing each other begin to feel uncomfortable? The dancers are constantly checking with each other to see how to behave. When does touching become charged? How do you touch each other without feeling uncomfortable? It’s a serious subject, but the discomfort it generates can also be very funny.’

What is your message to the audience?
‘I think we want the audience to recognise that there’s more to men than stereotypical bravado. Everyone craves affection. We’re all driven by contact with others, and showing your vulnerable side can bring you closer together. What’s more, it’s good to explore the type of physical contact you enjoy, acknowledge your boundaries and see the funny side of discomfort. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable.’

You’re often inspired by ongoing developments in society. Which themes are currently on your creative radar?
‘The housing shortage and the practice of squatting, for example. What’s left of the squatters’ movement? How do we intend to provide affordable housing to all? It’s ironic that squatting is illegal but also seems to be on the rise. There’s definitely a story there. I’d like to continue on the theme of poverty too, which was the subject of one of my previous productions. And I’m planning a sequel to Don’t Wanna Touch called Don’t Wanna Bleed, with an entirely female cast. That will be about women fighting and their vulnerability.’

Don’t Wanna Touch will run until 14 December 2023, and you can see the bill on and

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