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  • I/II/III/IIII is a theatrical installation originally created in 2007. Four ‘identical’ female dancers hang like marionettes in a huge ‘machine’. Together with them performance artist Kris Verdonck generated a choreography: a solo, a duet, a trio and a pas de quatre. They sought the greatest possible freedom from the machine, but sooner or later it sent them in the direction it decided upon.

    The images evoked by I/II/III/IIII are confusing, many-layered and ambiguous: they remind us of the white birds in Swan Lake, of animal carcasses being dragged along, of hovering angels, falling human bodies and everything in between. 
    The International Choreographic Arts Centre in Amsterdam (ICK) brings internationally acclaimed choreographers to The Netherlands. A tour of the adaptation of I/II/III/IIII, performed by dancers pertaining to ICK and in repertoire at ICK - is anticipated at the end of 2017.



    His answer was that I must not imagine each limb as being individually positioned and moved by the operator in the various phases of the dance. Each movement, he told me, has its centre of gravity; it is enough to control this within the puppet. The limbs, which are only pendulums, then follow mechanically of their own accord, without further help. He added that this movement is very simple. When the centre of gravity is moved in a straight line, the limbs describe curves. Often shaken in a purely haphazard way, the puppet falls into a kind of rhythmic movement which resembles dance.
    "On the Marionette Theatre", Heinrich von Kleist

    I/II/III/IIII is a new theatrical installation by performance artist Kris Verdonck. Analogously to a puppet theatre, the stage is transformed into a cabinet for 'human marionettes': four 'identical' (female) dancers are suspended in a large 'machine'.
    In the work of Kris Verdonck the 'actors', the characters appearing on stage or in the installations, are always 'in-between beings': figures that dwell in the twilight zone between man and machine. The work process of I/II/III/IIII was focused on finding ways in which the dancers could attain a maximum degree of freedom in relation to the machine. In directing the piece Kris Verdonck attempted to join the opposite forces of freedom and determination: how to give space to the dancers and simultaneously staying functional within the demands / the limits of the object? Because sooner or later the machine will send the performers in a direction it has determined for itself. So the research that was done in I/II/III/IIII - just like in Kleist's tale of the puppeteer and his puppet - consisted of getting to know the machine maximally and subordinating the process to the potential movements it is able to execute. What emerges in the end may very well be "a kind of rhythmic movement which resembles dance"...

    I/II/III/IIII is set in an atmosphere of 'Unheimlichkeit' (the uncanny) which characterizes our life as modern human beings conditioned by technology.
    'Unheimlichkeit' - the expression is taken from Freud - refers to a situation in which anything familiar to man disappears, in which he no longer knows what is happening to his mind and/or body. Only approximated by 'uncanny', the word 'unheimlich' is difficult to translate: strange, incomprehensible, mysterious, frightening, connected to supernatural forces. Literally un-heim-lich signifies: who doesn't have a home (heim) anymore, who doesn't belong anywhere.

    Throughout the ages humankind has constantly been exploring the possibilities of creating a perfect, identical copy of himself and thereby unveiling the secret of the origins of life. Today this quest, of which the Golem, Frankenstein and a variety of mechanical puppets or robots all have been stages, finds its provisional end point in the development of the (until now) theoretical possibility of cloning a human being. This possibility of creating a being which is completely 'identical' to an already existing being, provides us with a new, hitherto unknown feeling of the uncanny: because the identical character of two beings signifies that they - each for themselves- are no longer unique. One who is completely similar to another can no longer claim a proper and inalienable identity, because he/she must share this identity with another.

    Does this bring to an end our 'humanness'? Where does man end and where does machine, the artificial, begin? Are we even capable of dealing with 'the pure repetition or copy' of ourselves? Or is it in ultimately, as French philosopher Gilles Deleuze analyses, impossible to disconnect the notion of 'repetition' from the notion of 'difference'? Each repetition does introduce a difference in time and/or space. And one can only speak of 'difference' if there is repetition: for the notion of difference implies the comparing of one thing to another, so of at least two beings, things, phenomena etc. To talk about difference is to talk about duplication.

    Through the possibility of unveiling the secret of the origins of life we enter the realm that used to be reserved only to god or gods, the realm of omnipotence, of total control and of perfection. This desire for omnipotence too is as ancient as human history. Nowadays we have the help of technology at our disposal but still we try to reach 'divine perfection' on our own, without technological help. In the perfectly synchronous movements performed by a coryphée of ballerinas in a classical ballet like 'Swan Lake', for instance. Or in the exact synchronous marching steps performed by a cohort of soldiers in the North Korean army. Or in synchronized swimming, the swimmers' legs having to disappear underwater at precisely the same moment...

    What strikes us first in observing these phenomena, is the synchronicity of the movements and the uniformity of the persons. On closer examination small differences become visible. One ballerina being a fraction of a second slower than the others. One soldier's step seeming slightly heavier than that of the others...
    Who is 'out of tune', who doesn't 'walk in line', gets noticed, visualizes a proper identity. These 'odd men out' undo uniformity, contaminate order and break through the perfect symmetry or the perfectly synchronous movement. By these exact means the 'human' regains its visibility within the perfectly oiled 'machine'. Can the 'human' be defined then, as 'making mistakes', as failing, stumbling and stuttering? Can one reduce the essential difference between man and robot to the fact that a human being can fail and a robot cannot?

    For I/II/III/IIII, the dancers suspended in the machine collaborated in the developing of a choreography: in succession a solo, a duet, a trio and a pas-de-quatre. The images evoked in I/II/III/IIII are multi-layered and bewildering: classical ballet, puppet shows, 17th century theatre machinery, the marionette-like actors of Dadaist theatre at the start of the 20th century... A spectrum of associations ranging from floating angels to carcasses dragged along. The structure of the performance furthermore confronts us with the very primary, and therefore probably 'pure' emotional interpretations of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 as Greek philosophers and scientists formulated them long ago. 1: the indivisible unity, the primal number, the monad, which also refers to solitude. 2: the first number with a beginning and an ending, the duo, the couple, the most common form of symmetry, the number of elegance and simplicity, of reflection and duplication. 3: the first number with a beginning, a middle and an ending, the number of the divine Trinity, the number of the degrees of comparison. But also the number that produces the first inconsistency and chaos. 4: the number of the square, Pythagoras's 'even-even' number, the number of harmony and justice, the number of the four elements, the four cardinal directions... But also the number that brings closure to the world through its perfection and thus refers more to death than to life...

    I, II, III, IIII: the point, the line, the surface, the body...

    text: Marianne Van Kerkhoven

    Hendrik De Smedt
    Hendrik De Smedt
    Giannina Urmeneta Ottiker
    Giannina Urmeneta Ottiker
  • « At first sight, I/II/III/III is a kind of puppet theatre played by real live people. Or is it the ideal ballet? The dancer in her smart, black dress that glides over the stage in the first scene seems to be the materialisation of weightless grace, emulating ballet. Especially when, for a moment, the machine lets her touch the floor with the tips of her toes and then lifts her into the air in an impossibly perfect pirouette. But then triumph turns into defeat: the machine drags her over the floor as a collapsed puppet. Ballet, like dressage, also messes around with people. (...) The final scene is ghastly horrible. Hanging upside down on the beam, this beautiful body suddenly seems like a carcass. Time after time, this simple 'cyborg' evokes some very weird associations »
    Pieter T'Jonck in De Morgen, 21/11/2007

    « The balance exercise between human control and submission to the machine is kept up until the end. This is precisely what makes I/II/III/IIII so intriguing. Just like the view of four dancers who work their fingers to the bone, although they never give your eyes the chance to perceive that confession. After all, beauty can be blinding »
    Daniëlle de Regt in De Standaard, 27/11/2007

    « Some productions are timeless, and I/II/III/IIII is one of them. After ten years, the artist and theatre-maker Kris Verdonck has brought back his swans. This time they are the dancers of ICK, who hang from his machine like marionettes. This meditative performance has lost none of its significance. On the contrary, while in 2007 this experiment commanded respect, it is now its political depth that makes itself felt. »
    Moos van den Broek in Theaterkrant, 08/05/2017

    « The meditative cadence of the choreography and the musical composition create room for questions. What is it, this eternal longing to defy gravity in romantic ballets and to imitate swans? How painful is it to dance in Verdonck’s harness and how much enjoyment does ‘flying’ provide? Why do we only see women, while they are set in motion by male ‘stage hands’? In this way, Verdonck’s clever set-up leads us back to earth, where cloned sheep and dancing robots run around and when we try to find our way, telephone applications take over from our sense of direction. »
    Jacq. Algra in Parool, 08/05/2017

    « But then there is also the unpredictable movement and balance (or imbalance) of the mobile beam at whose mercy the dancers are and which forces them into a sophisticated interplay with the machine, sometimes creating order and at others leading to chaos. This ingenious stage installation offers so much food for sight and thought that you would want to see the whole thing four times over. »
    Francine van der Wiel in NRC Handelsblad, 08/05/2017


Concept & direction: Kris Verdonck
Dramaturgy: Marianne Van Kerkhoven
Dance: Natascha Dejong, Kim Amankwaa, Helena Volkov & Sophia Dinkel
Music: Stefaan Quix
Light design: Luc Schaltin
Costumes: Shampoo & Conditioner
Production: ICKAmsterdam, A Two Dogs Company

Involved in the original creation in 2007:
Annabelle Chambon, Claire Croizé, Alix Eynaudi, Gemma Higginbotham, Nikoleta Rafaelisova, Eveline Van Bauwel, Hendrik De Smedt, Serge Grootaert, Simon Salaert, Bart Verhaegen, Hans Luyten, Dirk Lauwers. In coproduction and with the support of: Kaaitheater (BE), Kunstencentrum Vooruit (BE), Buda Kunstencentrum (BE), the Flemish Authorities and the Flemish Community Commission