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otb: a rare (raw?) opportunity—Troubleyn/Jan Fabre

Orgy of Tolerance has evoked mixed reviews and strong feelings since its tour started in Santiago, Chile, this January. That would seem to be the goal of the Antwerp-based company Troubleyn/Jan Fabre, if you go by the text on their provocative website, and that’s probably reason enough to go see the show at On the Boards this weekend (starting tonight).

It’s fun to see what the rest of the dance world is talking about and, according to Lane Czaplinski, Jan Fabre “is a legend in the performance world and is usually mentioned in the same breath as Bausch, Lepage and Castellucci.”

The orgy in the title refers to the ecstasy of consumption. It’s an apt word: if you’re taking Auntie Mae or Baby, Jr., you should definitely check out the reviews and images first. (What I don’t understand is that its only other US engagement, as far as I can see, is in Montclair, New Jersey, which I had pegged as a pretty conservative place. Hm…My apologies. Who knew? )

Whatever you do, don’t leave before the end of the show like The Telegraph’s reviewer did: from what I’ve read, the best choreography comes at the end.

SeattleDances is hoping to have a reviewer there. If you go, please leave your comments below, so those of us too chicken/busy to go can get a feel for what the Seattle audiences thought of the show. Is it an insightful, witty commentary on the world or just shock for shock’s sake?

Links to reviews appear at the bottom of this posting, but here’s a brief quote from Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman to give you a sense of what you’re in for:

“In Fabre’s nightmare vision of our society, no orifice remains unplumbed, no ridiculous perversion of human creativity goes unmocked, as in 17 or 18 scenes – always scathing, sometimes horrific – his nine magnificent dancer/actors lead us through scenes that range from a horrible masturbation Olympics with stop-watches and bullying trainers, to a scene of torture, with images from Abu Ghraib, watched by a voyeuristic couple from their comfortable sofas at home; the big Chesterfield, the expensive sofa from which we watch and consume the world, is the show’s design leitmotif.”

If you’re the kind who likes to be prepared, please find below:
– An long excerpt of On the Boards’ press release
– A statement/essay copied straight from Troubleyn/Jan Fabre’s website
– A link to some of the work’s lyrics
– Links to some reviews

From On the Boards’ Press Release
Jan Fabre’s’s Orgy hits Seattle in only West Coast engagement (Seattle) –

On the Boards (OtB) is thrilled to present the long awaited West Coast debut of Troubleyn | Jan Fabre. In Orgy of Tolerance, a satirical, large-scale exploration of the boundaries of normality, 9 international performers enact in a series of extravagant, sex-drenched vignettes around the theme of our world of excess. The production uses moments such as a shopping cart ballet, an iconoclastic appropriation of John Lennon’s “Come Together,” women birthing disposable products, and results in a climax of raging music and dance. Fabre’s work almost never travels to the US to the due to the extreme production scale of his works; Orgy of Tolerance will appear at only 3 North American venues (OtB, New Jersey’s Peak Performances and Montreal’s Festival TransAmériques).

Lane Czaplinski talks about his decision to curate Jan Fabre:
Jan is a legend in the performance world and is usually mentioned in the same breath as Bausch, Lepage and Castellucci. And yet, very few people in North America have had the opportunity to see his large spectacular group works. For most people his shows merely exist as intriguing pictures in history books. So when we saw that we had a chance to introduce him to audiences in the Northwest, we jumped on it.

Since first causing a furor in 1976 with his debut performance (burning the audience’s ticket money and using the ash to create a drawing), Jan Fabre has continued to make controversial work not only as a performance artist, but also as a theater maker, choreographer, opera director, playwright, visual artist and author. In his 30+ year career, he has received accolades for his no-holds-barred productions involving themes of chaos and discipline, repetition and madness, metamorphosis and the anonymous. Recent highlights include in 2002 creating the Heaven of Delight (Fabre used 1.6 million scarabs to cover the ceiling of Brussels’ Hall of Mirrors) and in 2008 becoming the only living artist invited to both stage a solo exhibition and arrange an existing collection in the Louvre.

Fabre has presented works at major international festivals across the world, including the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paolo Biennale and Documenta in Kassel. Fabre studied at the Municipal Institute of Decorative Arts and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In 1992 he received the “Prijs van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap voor Beeldende Kunst. In 2004, Fabre earned the Flemish distinction of the Grand Office of the Crown of Belgium and in 2005 was the associate artist of the Festival d’Avignon.

Troubleyn, translated as “remaining faithful,” was established in 1986 by Jan Fabre to support his works and to also create the Troubleyn Laboratorium, a space for artistic research and rehearsal. The Antwerp-based organization houses a collection of visual art by performance legends such as Marina Abramović, Romeo Castellucci, Wim Vandekeybus and Robert Wilson.

Click here for lyrics

From the Troubleyn/Jan Fabre website:
In Orgy of Tolerance, Jan Fabre delves into the very hole of the world, sinking, like a speleologist, ever deeper into the belly of existence, to examine all that rumbles and ferments in its depths. With his lips on the navel, awaiting an echo, his is an attempt to gauge the depth of that hole. As it turns out, the hole of the world is bottomless. A depth of infinite zeros, immeasurable even with all our gigabytes.

The current era of late capitalism with its concatenations of zeros forms the epicentre of this empty vessel. The body of the world is ill, terminally ill. It oozes puss, its gut runs dry from acute diarrhoea, its skin is a landscape of boils and blisters. It is hooked up to an IV, an artificial breathing apparatus, but nonetheless continues to consume, with every bite a new bacterial infection, with every sip another virus. Late capitalism is suffering from starvation. It drifts in a permanent state of bulimic, anorexic ecstasy, floating on an excess and a lack, simultaneously bloated and shrivelled. Caught up in the paradox of continuous expansion and shrinkage, the muscles grow weaker and the hole of the stomach ever greater.

The food of late capitalism, as the current crisis has taught us, is credit. Money on loan is full of zeros. The endless numerals thereby moved hither thither are in fact formless, weightless, odourless. Theirs is a purely virtual existence. A mere act of faith and trust, from one bank to another, from one insurance company to another. An endless network that spans the globe. We have long thought that the foundation of a bank was its safe, full of precious metals. Today, we know that that very same safe is filled with loans, transactions on paper with worthless guarantees because they are based on yet other loans and debt insurance policies in an endless sum of zeros. The bank’s mouth is credit. The hole of the bank is this emptiness. Between mouth and hole, lies the consumer who is compelled to spend as much as possible, with as many simultaneous zeros as possible.

The orgy in the title refers to the ecstasy of consumption. The status of the human being in our liberal late capitalist society is first and foremost that of consumer. He who, armed with a bank-endorsed credit card, consumes. The consumer must keep the hole of the economy filled to the brim by playing his role of consumer as convincingly as possible. Our economic footprint keeps the system upright. The more we consume, the greater that footprint, the more upright the system. Our buying behaviour, as Fabre shows in this production, is almost like a force of nature.

We do not actually buy products. We primarily consume them, like a digestive mechanism that holds us in its clutches. In which production, merchandise and consumption are the bowels of a never-ending binge session. We eat merchandise, we shit merchandise, we give birth to merchandise. Those who can’t keep up with the economic rat race are excluded, marginalized, spewed out. Those still with a minimal credit rating have to prove their worthiness by investing in ever newer merchandise. Generations are products which succeed one another. They are born to tempt us. Their cleavage-like smile is supposed to make us forget they are wearing balaclavas. In actual fact, they represent the world’s largest terrorist organization.

In Orgy of Tolerance, the human being is raised like a buying animal. Its survival instinct is governed by its buying behaviour. This production paints a picture of what Herbert Marcuse already demonstrated in the 1960s in his analysis of capitalism, namely that it has become a mechanism of desire that has taken root in our very genes. The potential anarchy of our deep-seated drives is channelled into the consumption of goods. Our principle of desire is entirely occupied by the consumption of all sorts of products. The economy keeps us moist and hard, hankering for a buyable desire, by which we come with glee. Yes, we come! We have become deformed by all-promising packaging in which we carry our merchandise homeward, bags with delectable headings such as Vuitton, Yamamoto, Versace. Yes we come! We have become deformed by the shopping trolleys in which we cast our merchandise, skilfully skipping from aisle to aisle, to the last aisle. Yes, we come! We have become deformed by our own merchandise, making our dreams of a home cinema come true. Yes, we come!

Home Cinema [Also from the Troubleyn/Jan Fabre website]
We like to experience our home cinema from the couch. The couch is an extraordinary place in itself. We love to relax in it when at home, spread ourselves out in it and make ourselves comfortable in anticipation of a moment of intimate pleasure. At the same time, it is the place from which we observe the world through television and other media, from which we zap the world into existence. In other words, the quietest, most private cocoon is at the same time the place where barbarism and violence enter. This juxtaposition of the couch is played out to the full in this new production. In Fabre’s couch, people finger and jerk each other off with enthusiasm. The couch becomes a kind of extension of the libido. You can ride it, rub yourself against it, come on it or under it. The couch becomes your intimate bearer of secrets. It soaks up all your dreams and most perfidious fantasies. It is the vessel for all your discharges, naturally only virtually experienced in the darkest reaches of your home cinema. Because on the couch, you are safe. Alone and therefore safe. Only when all shame has receded, can we be entirely and unequivocally xenophobic on the couch. The world that enters is, after all, foreign and threatening, every insurgence a potential attack on our cherished feeling of safety and our acclimatized narcissism. We love our couch and the rest of the world can go fuck itself! Arabs, Jews, Serbs, bisexuals, Catholic priests, suicidals, contemporary artists, fashion designers, dancers and performers and in the same breath Jan Fabre, too: fuck you all!

Orgy of Tolerance exposes the illusion of this couch happiness. The couch is just like the safe in the bank: empty. Or like the cross in the church: empty. Or like heaven: empty. The characters in charge here are fundamentally lonely. They have been turned over to themselves, are full of themselves, their field of vision narrowed to but a slit, a hole or a dildo which they suck and hold on to, following the momentum of an orgasm. Their wellbeing is weighed against their performance. Their bodies shake, tremble, rock: fingering and jerking off raised to the level of an Olympic discipline. They will come, they have to come. When the Beatles song Come together from 1969 comes blaring out of the speakers, yet another illusion is unveiled for what it is. The orgiasts of tolerance are nothing but painfully lonely masturbators locked inside their own tiny world theatre.

Orgy of Tolerance reveals the decay of the human race, including that of me and you. Tales from the daily consumption trail are depicted, often in grotesque fashion: the war and the terror of the guild of consumers. Fabre paints a portrait of the consuming human being with oft surrealistic deft. However, beneath that weighty burlesque a constant threat lies hidden, a sense of disquietude and danger which is also perfectly expressed in the musical score by Dag Taeldeman. It relates to the coherence of upheaval and hallucination, of being dragged along by that which is simultaneously disgusting and tantalizing. That is precisely the core of perversion, the eye of the hole of the world. The production casts the audience into a fixed orbit around that central point. It catches you and your own moral judgement and catches you with your own perversions. Nobody can escape. Nobody is clean. On the couch, we are victims of our own orgy of tolerance.

Jan Fabre suggests his lack of understanding in a way all his own. With musicians, dancers and actors, he paints a panorama of tolerance as a deriding caricature and satirical caption of our young 21st century. The knife with which he crafts the orgy of tolerance needs to hurt and tickle at the same time. The most famous predecessor in that form of painful comedy is Monty Python. Their hilariously absurd sketches rub salt into our wounds. They expose the mechanisms of our collective illusion and undermine it with unparalleled comedic skill.

Orgy of Tolerance becomes a sketch spread in layers over our levelled out society. An absurd wink at the world of excess. A pin prick in the almighty balloon of normality. A surrealistic conspiracy against a shameless world that becomes a universally affordable orgy. Or with a bow to Brecht: Erst das ficken dann die Moral.

Yes we come!
Luk Van den Dries

The Times
Lucy Powell
Robert Dawson Scott
The Herald
The Scotsman
The Guardian/Observer
The Telegraph