Diederik Peeters rejects the notion of being a minor cult celebrity in Iceland. Despite the fact that the claim was made by none other than Erna Ómarsdóttir, one of the artistic directors of this year’s Reykjavík Dance Festival and Diederik’s former collaborator, he laughs it off as a “loving exaggeration.” Nonetheless, even the festival’s managing director, Tinna Lind Gunnarsdóttir, says, “Icelanders remember him as the guy in the fur coat.”
If this was not intriguing enough, Diederik is coming back to Iceland at the end of the month with a performance that will span two partnered festivals—the aforementioned Reykjavík Dance Festival and the Lókal International Theatre Festival.
His piece, ‘Red Herring,’ thoroughly blurs the lines between the two mediums of performance for a production that is as confusing as the title proverbially implies.
Man in a black box
Diederik started his career on an entirely different track from the hybridization of dance and theatre, studying visual arts and harbouring musical aspirations. “It’s all a terrible mix-up,” he says, “but since I’m no good at any instrument, and much better in pulling faces, I somehow ended up doing what I’m doing now.” This meant a gradual shift from mainly doing video work and installations to doing strange performances in galleries, outside of the usual staged context.
Eventually, he decided to set some boundaries for himself and took his works into the “black box” we call theatres. “When I was making these weird, difficult to categorise performances, it was very cool but also very tiring,” he says. “That’s when I said, okay I’ll get acquainted with all the elements of the stage world—sound, lighting, etc. I’m still figuring it out myself, but have high hopes to find out someday soon now.”
Ten years ago, he met Erna Ómarsdóttir while the two were working with theatre director Jan Fabre in Belgium. This led to her asking him to perform in her piece ‘We Are All Marlene Dietrich FOR,’ a work commissioned by the Iceland Dance Company, which earned him his local reputation. “My role in it involved me doing a kind of parody of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ while wearing that ridiculously big fur coat,” Diederik laughs. “We were hanging out at Sirkus a lot and I guess my dancing style caught some eyes.”
Man against the music
His involvement in that work also led to Erna extending a personal invitation to him to come back for the festivals this year. “She hasn’t even seen my new piece but she knows I don’t do crap,” he says. What he is bringing to the stage is a creation that can simply be described as a duet between a man and a soundtrack. “Since I don’t actually know how to make performances, I decided to take the liberty to fool around with the typical tools of the stage in order to find out how to use and to misuse them,” he says. “For me set, sound and light are equally important tools as text or performers.”
As his previous piece focused on the dramatic possibilities of a set, in ‘Red Herring’ he focuses on the aspect of sound. “The sound imposes itself as a character, almost physically, to the point where it tries to take over the show,” he continues. “Quite annoying actually…” Diederik’s dance partner—the sound—will be controlled by sound-designer Lieven Dousselaere who was also part of the production of Erna’s ‘We Are All Marlene Dietrich FOR’ and a regular collaborator with her and her partner, Valdimar Jóhannsson.
Lieven stays at the back of the theatre space trying to keep control an entire cockpit of buttons, LED-lights and faders. “Although we’ve performed the show over 20 times now, it’s still a physical battle for him to make it to the end of the performance alive, so to speak,” Diederik says. “It’s equally hard for me to keep my head above water. I really enjoy making things so tremendously complicated that it becomes almost impossible to avoid mistakes. It’s a form of self-sabotage that I’m quite fond of.”
Man is paranoid and confused
Aesthetically, the show is highly influenced by cinema, which Diederik says is a much stronger reference point for him than dance or other forms of performance. “The general atmosphere of the stuff I do is often considered quite cinematographic,” he says. He openly admits stealing the term “red herring” from the well-known plot device that acts as a false clue, diverting attention away from the true culprit or solution. Citing names like Tati, Hitchcock and Bunuel, he says the show takes cinematic cues in terms of the sound and lighting as well.
Conceptually speaking, he delved into aspects of humanity that suffer greatly from false clues. “Over the last couple of years, I somehow developed a perverse interest with intense mental states or psychological conditions where reality presents itself differently,” Diederik says. “In that sense, paranoia was kind of a starting point. If one suffers from it, it’s probably very annoying, but if you take it out of its clinical context it’s very funny to watch someone just shitting themselves for nothing.”
Using the idea of a person vulnerable to becoming distressed over figments of the imagination, he folded the use of sound as a trigger to increase paranoia. “To quote good old Luis Bunuel,” he says, “sound triggers the imagination more than image.”
He also seems comfortable making his audience a little paranoid before they arrive at the theatre. “I quite like to get confused myself; I find it an exciting and inspiring state of mind. And so I can’t help myself to start confusing the audience as soon as possible,” he says. “Let’s keep it at this: knowing that the term Red Herring refers to a false clue, maybe the title doesn’t have anything to do with the show at all, and is only there to put you on the wrong track.” Audiences may be misdirected, but are unlikely to be disappointed.