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Four Questions For… Jan Fabre

Belgian maverick Jan Fabre discusses his revolutionary career in the arts.

By Christopher Werner April 24, 2009 Published in the May 2009 issue of Seattle Met

The cast from Orgy of Tolerance

INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED BELGIAN maverick Jan Fabre began raising eyebrows in the ’70s as a radical choreographer, playwright, director, and designer. He set audience members’ money afire so he could draw with the ashes; he covered an entire mansion in ballpoint scrawl for a 1990 installation; a 2006 dance number found his soloist pouring olive oil on herself while rolling around naked. Fabre even adorned the Belgian royals’ Hall of Mirrors with the bejeweled wing cases of nearly a million beetles. Last year, he became the only contemporary artist to exhibit solo at the Louvre. His performance company Troubleyn arrives at On the Boards May 14–17 for the music, theater and dance amalgam Orgy of Tolerance.

Seattle is one of only two stops in America. Why did you pick us? Because I think the gentleman who runs the theater in Seattle [On the Boards artistic director Lane Czaplinski] has been familiar with my work for a while. He’s trying to open the eyes of the spectators in the American public a little bit.

I’ve never been to Seattle, so I’m looking forward to discovering the public and the city. I’m curious—and curiosity is very important for an artist.

Have you purposefully chosen not to tour the United States because you think the American public is not as receptive to abstract material? No. My tour schedule is always quite full in Europe, so sometimes it is difficult to come to America. But over the past three years I have developed a good relationship with Jed Wheeler at Montclair State University in New Jersey. It depends always on the person you trust.

You’ve described today’s world as “terminally ill” and said society is stuck in a “never-ending binge session.” Does this philosophy drive Orgy of Tolerance? There’s a reason the production is called Orgy of Tolerance: orgy in the sense of the excess, the decadence. We are educated to consume. We are forced to consume. And I think it’s a very dangerous tolerance that we accept this as normality. We are so tolerant we start accepting these things that are abnormal as very normal.

There are some political connotations—it’s a kind of protest performance, you could say. But it’s still full of hope inside, full of irony, full of humor. We looked very much to the sketches of Monty Python to construct that same kind of painful comedy.

Why do you rely on shocking or unconventional elements such as mock masturbation, nudity, and profanity to make your point? I don’t think of them as shocking or unconventional. It’s my style of my work that I’ve used for about 30 years. Maybe, of course, in Europe, in other countries, they know my work, they know my language, they know my dramaturgy, and for America it’s a little bit unconventional, but I never create a piece with the idea of shocking people—it’s never a starting point.

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