‘I can be a tiger, I can be a tornado’: or how Benjamin Verdonck does it again (‘DISISIT’)

What makes you go to those theatres, night after night, people often ask. How come you never seem to lose that appetite, even after so many disappointing performances? Well, because once in a while you unexpectedly stumble upon a magician, turning water into wine. Somebody like Belgian artist Benjamin Verdonck. At first you think: is this it? A guy toying around with a lot of props, reciting excerpts from several books in between, all of that happening seemingly haphazard. But after a while you realize he’s got you under his spell. DISISIT? Loved it.

There are a lot of things I’d love to tell you about. But it would spoil everything. So let me just summarize and say you’ll be seeing some bars of Toblerone, a couple of black birds, a corpse, an elephant, a gun, feathers, a yellow balloon, a little ship and a little house, and that you’ll never be able to listen to I can be a frog by the Flaming Lips in the same way again. But just don’t expect a moonwalk, because there’s no trace of Michael Jackson in Verdonck’s DISISIT (performance in Dutch).

Over the past few years Benjamin Verdonck has gained some notoriety for his performances in public spaces. Even in Rotterdam or Birmingham they remember him from the man-sized nest he built and lived in. In 2009 he became rather famous in Antwerp with his year-long Kalender-project: unexpected things he came up with in the city, each time linked to that particular day on the calendar.

For the first time in quite a while Verdonck felt the need to create a new theatre performance. People who have seen Global anatomy (2007), Nine finger (with Fumiyo Ikeda; 2007) or 313 / Misschien wisten zij alles (2004), based on Toon Tellegen‘s stories, will probably think: what’s new? Because once again there are lots of animals in DISISIT,  a performance in which Verdonck tries to describe the big things and the small things in the world around him in a poetic way. Once again the stage looks like an atelier, with lots of stuff, scattered around. And at first I must admit that I felt a bit disappointed when I realized Verdonck was ‘just’ moving things around, performing little tricks and reciting excerpts from texts by Stendhal, Cortázar, Perec and Borges, or from songs by Men Without Hats and De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig.

But then something happened. I don’t know when. I don’t know why. There must be something with that combination of those short and often hilarious performative actions, the texts he has chosen and of course Verdonck’s presence. Because let’s not forget that he oozes charisma: he is funny, charming and excentric at the same time. He’s a little kid ánd a strange, but wise prophet who seems to know the answer to every oracle but gives away only a tiny bit of the truth. And you just have to love him for his avidity and for the fearlessness with which he jumps off that cliff in that one scene I won’t tell you about. His is a fragile sort of magic, so it might not work for you, but I was hooked.

You’ll find a clip here. Tour schedule here.

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