Art and Lechery – The Tragedy of Jan Fabre

Mount Olympus -
"Mount Olympus" was the name of Jan Fabre's 24-hour wonderfully disturbing masterpiece, which dealt cleverly with the nature of Greek tragedy. The richly illustrated digital book at the end of this page subjects this drama of the human body to a minute analysis against the backdrop of the accusations (in the picture: Kasper Vandenberghe, Merel Severs).

Wonge Bergmann

On 12 September 2018, 20 dancers of the Antwerp-based company Troubleyn published an open letter in the Flemish digital art magazine Rekto:Verso accusing the founder and artistic director, Jan Fabre, of having created a misogynistic atmosphere in which: “Humiliation is daily bread in and around the rehearsal space of Troubleyn.

Dance critic of the former Ballet Review

Humiliation is the daily bread in and around Troubleyn’s rehearsal space. Women’s bodies in particular are the target of painful, often bluntly sexist criticism.”

Jan Fabre

Jan Fabre

Lieven Herreman

Moreover, the dancers state that Fabre abused his position as director to obtain sexual favors from his dancers (“no sex no solo”). Since publication of that letter, theatres have cancelled scheduled performances of Fabre’s work and the DeSingel Arts Center in his hometown has removed a sculpture of his from permanent display. Fabre personally faces a criminal investigation by Antwerp’s correctional tribunal, with hearings scheduled for 25 March and 1 April 2022, which according to accounts in the press could result in a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Regardless of whether this investigation uncovers evidence of conduct punishable under the criminal code of Belgium, it is hard to imagine Fabre mounting a come-back on European stages. War and lechery, it would seem, are finally out of fashion.

Or are they?

History continually produces figures who are prepared to perpetuate the tradition. Most of us, like Thersites in Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida,” find such conduct deplorable: “Lechery, lechery ! still wars and lechery ! nothing else holds fashion.” But it seems we also view it as ineradicable—or enjoy finding it deplorable. The passionate crimes of politicians and movie stars, thanks to their entertainment value, generate prodigious revenues in the media. Life would also be leaner without the pair, since the conveniences of wealth can in most cases only be captured and policed by violence or the threat of violence. Violence requires heroes. And heroes are no less susceptible to lechery than the rest of us—rather more so.

Troubleyn Laboratorium

The suspected scene of the crime: Troubleyn/Laboratorium – a lovingly restored former variety theatre in Begijnenstraat in the heart of Antwerp filled with works of art. The spacious backyard idyll rather suggests an almost noble laissez-faire way of dealing with each other.

As long as war and lechery continue to inform our daily life, there is a strong argument for presenting them on stage. This is precisely what Jan Fabre’s last magnum opus, “Mount Olympus—To glorify the cult of tragedy (a 24-hour performance)” did. The atmosphere at Troubleyn rehearsals, as described in the open letter, is quite frankly tame fare in comparison with what the dancers put on stage for 24 hours in “Mount Olympus” (premiered in 2015). Its subject is not the rise and fall of one hero, but rather the stuff of tragedy itself: It addresses head-on the question of why we need—or want—heroes and tragedy, despite that they hurt and make us cry. That Fabre himself was unable to resist the temptations of power or shake loose the fate awaiting all tragic heroes adds a new level of complexity to the interplay of fact and fiction already at the heart of the work. Conversely, “Mount Olympus” sheds a great deal of light on the questions at the heart of the accusations against him.

Read on …

Art and Lechery – The Tragedy of Jan Fabre


War and lechery continue to play leading roles on the world’s stage. It is thus not only to be tolerated, but to be hoped that theatre makers will continue to treat these subjects tragically or comically or critically on the world’s stages.

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