Alexandre Vantournhout: The dance of the Red Haired Men

Alexander Vantournhout has trained in both contemporary dance and circus arts such as acrobatics and juggling. It’s a duality that informs the work he creates, dating back to his debut production – ANECKXANDER – in which he appeared naked, struggling with himself and impossible objects.

Vantournhout’s latest production is Red Haired Man, and it will be presented in Brussels by Charleroi Danse as part of Festival UP!

For this piece, Vantournhout has drawn inspiration from Daniil Kharms and the Oberiu – an avant-garde collective of Russian futurist writers, musicians, and artists that caused a splash in the 1920s and 1930s.

“It’s only in the last 10 years or so that the work of Daniil Kharms has been translated and available in Flanders and Belgium”, explains Vantournhout, when we ask him what drew him to the Oberiu. “Since then, there’s been a renewed interest in their work, something of a wave of rediscovery.”

“For me, it’s a way to explore the lower art forms – the hidden practices”, adds Vantournhout. “There’s a bit of magic, circus, contortion, and puppetry – the Oberiu were known for their weird performances where they combined all of these things. I like that they weren’t confined by having to have a clear narrative – that kind of thing pushes me out of my comfort zone.”

“The other aspect of Daniil Kharms is how political he was”, continues Vantournhout. “He was arrested for being anti-Soviet. Even his stories for children were condemned for failing to instil the values of the state. He died of starvation. He showed us that even absurdist comedy can be political.”

For the performance of Red Haired Men, Vantournhout has recruited three former students to dance with him.

“We’re all mediocre in everything”, laughs Vantournhout. “We’re not good at any one thing – that’s what binds us. We’re a bit like goats living on a mountain, we do things that other people can’t do.”

We were intrigued as to how Red Haired Men could translate the absurdist traditions of the Oberiu into a work of contemporary dance.

“We literally say the text in choreography”, explains Vantournhout. “We use assisted solos – one person talks and the other does the gestures. The dance is illustrating the text. For example, looking forward, it represents fear – always having to look out for danger. In another section, people suddenly disappear. It’s not super-complicated, but this kind of DIY magic references the cruelty of the Soviet Union. In one scene, a character is jumping – he loses all of his clothes, he has a fake penis and that also falls off – he loses everything, he loses his identity.”

“For people coming to see Red Haired Men, you’ll experience four generous performers presenting contemporary circus and dance – it’s a language that you don’t normally see”, says Vantournhout, when we ask him what he hopes that audiences will feel. “It’s a bit weird – it’s a different kind of dance, it’s a different night out.”

Red Haired Men will be performed in Brussels in March.

For dates and tickets see