H, AN INCIDENT

The 'H' in H, an incident refers to the world, life and work of the twentieth-century Russian writer Daniil Harms (or Charms) (1905-1942). Harms was the author of a remarkable body of work of which hardly anything was published during his lifetime, except for the children's books he wrote for his livelihood. It was only after Perestroika that his work finally surfaced in full. It consists mainly of very short, utterly absurd stories in which Harms always tries to dig down to the bedrock. His humour and violence remind us of Monty Python, while the absurd realism he portrays is often reminiscent of the madness we experience in our daily lives. Harms loved mathematics and the Kabbalah, was a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and was looking for the essence of things, for the truth that might be discovered in any one detail: a small incident could suddenly reveal the true nature of things. The Stalinists regarded Harms’ highly non-conformist behaviour as dangerous and subversive. He was imprisoned several times and died of starvation in a psychiatric institution, just one of thousands of residents of Leningrad who did not survive the three-year long blockade of their city by the Nazis.

H, an incident is the first musical-theatre production by theatre-maker and artist Kris Verdonck. The music includes Russian children's songs arranged by the composer Jonas Sen in collaboration with Vladimir Jóhansson. The choir consists of six Icelandic girls led by the singer and dancer Erna Omarsdottir. These female creatures can assume all kinds of guises, from girl to old woman. The actor Jan Steen is 'the man on the roof’, the incarnation of Harms, the author, the man who looks and describes, who wonders and philosophises.

Several musical instruments move among the abstract props and living beings. Brought to life by those famous organ builders the Decap brothers, 'drums and trumpets' walk about freely in Harms' absurd world, in which objects and furniture, cats and people communicate. ‘Art,’ Harms said, ‘is a cupboard.’

 ‘L’absurde, c’est la raison lucide qui constate ses limites.’ – Albert Camus
“What follows is a fragmentary series of sung, spoken and visual scenes, all based on short passages from Harms’ oeuvre. Lurking beneath his sometimes hilarious, absurd lightness is the violence that takes place outside. H, an incident maximises this dichotomy, with an infectious cheerfulness that is unusual for Verdonck. At times, Verdonk and particularly Jan Steen achieve a wonderful interpretation of Harms’ colourful world, and we can hear the writer guffawing in his grave.
H, an incident is an ode to the resilience of free imagination in a system that does not tolerate any kind of dissent.”
Charlotte De Somviele in De Morgen

“Verdonck alludes to the Russian structuralism of the early twentieth century. But the work is also highly contemporary. In the sterile, barren world that Kris Verdonk conjures up with his theatrical images, the group scenes have an uneasy, frightening tone. He depicts a seriously disturbed world, and brings out the cruelty and violence in Charms’ poetry.
H, an incident is fascinating as a consummately anarchic piece that avoids
every incitement to cabaret.”
Geert van der Speeten in De Standaard

“In a series of images and dialogues, the Flemish artist Kris Verdonck sketches out a magical world that is not only vibrant and absurd, but is also steeped in fear and violence.
In a two-hour series of cartoonesque scenes, Verdonck reveals the world of Charms’ fantasies, which are as funny as they are dark. Whether it’s an orange lion running around, a hyper-flexible young lady on skates or the lonely, calling figure of a cucumber seller; all the characters in H, an incident are anti-heroes. (…) Images burn themselves onto your retina, and the rhymes resonate. H, an incident is like a dream, a dream that stays with you for a long time. And it’s a disturbing dream, that says a lot about what fear does inside people’s heads.”
Moos van den Broeck in Theaterkrant

Concept and direction: Kris Verdonck
Dramaturgy: Marianne Van Kerkhoven (Kaaitheater)
Music composition: Jónas Sen, Valdimar Jóhansson
Creation and coaching choir: Erna Ómarsdóttir
Performers: Jan Steen (researcher at KASK / School of Arts, Ghent), Marc Iglesias, Jeroen Vander Ven
Icelandic choir and performers: Erna Ómarsdóttir, þyrí Huld Arnadóttir, Thorunn Arna Kristjansdóttir, Brynhildur Gudjonsdóttir, Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Sigríður Soffía Níelsdóttir
Costume design: An Breugelmans

Technical coordination and light design: Jan Van Gijsel
Technique: Marc Dewit, Kaaitheater
Sound: Valdimar Jóhansson
Assistant director: Kristof Van Baarle
Music instruments: Decap Herentals
Robotics and system integration: Culture Crew
Production: A Two Dogs Company (Hendrik De Smedt, Karen Verlinden, Lotte Vaes, Sylvia Picard) in collaboration with Shalala (Erna Ómarsdóttir & Valdimar Jóhansson), Kunstenfestivaldesarts and Kaaitheater
Produced by: ATDC, Kunstenfestivaldesarts (BE), Kaaitheater (BE), Steirischer Herbst (AT), Göteborgs Dans & Teater Festival (DK)
Coproduced by: Spring Festival (NL), Théâtre national de Bordeaux en Aquitaine (FR)
With the support of: the Flemish Authorities, the Flemish Community Commission, the Brussels-Capital Region, NXTSTP, iMinds Art&D program
Thanks to: National Theatre of Iceland, Department of Information Technology at Ghent University (Stefan Bouckaert, Bart Jooris)

Jan Steen is researcher at KASK/School of the Arts Ghent. H, an incident is part of his research project ‘L’être et le jouant – Het zijn in het spelen’, funded by the Research Fund of the University College Ghent.
  • H, an incident - © Silvano Magnone
  • H, an incident - © Silvano Magnone
  • H, an incident - © Silvano Magnone
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