What do Medea, Mel Gibson and Virginia Woolf – and perhaps you too – have in common? That’s right: they all venture into marital disputes. In Domestica, Valentijn Dhaenens dissects arguments between partners. With thanks to his parents’ divorce.
As a boy of seven, often sitting on the stairs, he listened to his parents’ quarrels. Onstage it is a girl who picks up the emotions. With her back to the audience. When she is fed up with the bickering between Dhaenens and the actress Alejandra Theus, she launches into a love duet on the piano. Dhaenens: ‘She tries to make things good again. With those sugary Walt Disney songs.’
Dhaenens grew up in the era of Bambi, MacGyver and The A-Team. ‘In the 1980s, America determined our morality. Possibly even our image of romance, of what a weekend in Paris should be like.’
Dhaenens: ‘As a result of my parents’ divorce, I have for a long time been fascinated by argument. In the past I tried to tape family quarrels. Or else I secretly recorded altercations, on the train for example. For Domestica I am concentrating mainly on plays, but Temptation Island has also inspired me.’
‘I am looking for the origin, the essence, of marital arguments. What mechanisms do people use to run the other partner down? What does it tell us about man’s struggle? And is there any sign of an evolution in the act of quarrelling?’
The composition is reminiscent of his acclaimed monoloque DegrotemonD (SKaGeN, 2012) in which he examined the speeches of great figures and made them converse with each other. He then confirmed his quality with DeKleineOorloG. He took these two productions around the world.
Since the start of this season, Dhaenens has been a member of the open ensemble at the KVS, where he not only wants to create and act, but also become part of its overall operations. He says: ‘I want to think about what the KVS could mean to Brussels, and a whole lot more about what Brussels might mean to the KVS. In Brussels, every encounter seems to have just slightly more colour to it. You can wander around and find yourself in another world. The KVS should be an open place where people meet and learn new things from each other.’
Dhaenens also has a confession to make: ‘I myself am terribly bad at arguing. I avoid it as much as possible. But on the few occasions when it does happen to me, I go all the way. I explode. I want to hurt. Go for the knock-out. Embarrassing, isn’t it?
Interview by Kris Kuppens