Death becomes him

Jan Fabre’s ‘Preparatio Mortis’ and ‘Drugs Kept Me Alive,’ two dance performances by the Avant-garde artist, will take the stage in Taipei this month

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Nov 12, 2013 - Page 12

Two creations by Jan Fabre, an avant-garde artist, choreographer and designer, will be performed this month at Taipei’s Experimental Theater as part of the National Theater Concert Hall’s 2013 World View Series: Belgium.

The 55-year-old Fabre first gained fame in Belgium in the 1970s for what he called his “action” or performance art, such as his Money series in which he collected money from the audience, burned it and then painted with the ashes. He began writing plays about the same time, but he did not establish his theater company, Troubleyn/Jan Fabre, until 1986. In 2007 he established Troubleyn/Laboratorium in Antwerp to expand the scope of his operations.

Many of his productions, whether text or dance-centric are more like installation pieces, what he calls “real time performances.” Fabre says he sees theater as encompassing dialogue as well as dance, music, opera, performance and improvisation. His creations often focus on the body and the taboos of modern society. And while they may verge on the chaotic, they remain centered on discipline and repetition.

The company’s first production in Taipei will be Preparatio Mortis (死亡練習曲), a 60-minute solo he created in 2010 for French dancer Annabelle Chambon. The work grew out of a 15-minute piece that he had created for Festival of Avignon in 2005. Five years later he expanded the piece into a full-length work for the Festival Romaeuropa in Italy and the Next Festival in Lille, France.

As its title implies, Preparatio Mortis examines modern Western society’s perspective on death — or rather its avoidance of it — and its obsession with life. Fabre has often been quoted as saying that creating art for him means preparing for death.

The stage is set with what appears to be a bank of flowers. After several minutes of darkness, the flowers begin to shift and move as Chambon’s arm appears from underneath them. She eventually emerges, clad only in black bra and panties, from atop clear coffin and dances/moves about in the field of flowers. Her appearance raises the question of whether it is a rebirth or a refusal to succumb to death.

Preparatio Mortis is set to an organ music score by composer and organist Bernard Foccroulle, the director of the Aix-en-Provence opera festival.

A question-and-answer session will follow the Nov. 17 matinee.

Troubleyn’s second production, Drugs Kept Me Alive (藥讓我活下去), begins its four-show run on Nov. 21. It is also a solo work in which death, or the avoidance of it, plays a key part.

Fabre created the piece last year for his long-time friend and former Frankfurt Ballet dancer Antony Rizzi and it recounts the tale of a man battling HIV as he relives his life and fantasies and tries to work out his escape routes.

The bad news for procrastinators is that all four shows are already sold out.

The World Series View: Belgium series concludes next month with Lisbeth Gruwez/Voetvolk, a company made up of dancer Gruwez and composer Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, who are artists in residence at Fabre’s Troubleyn /Laboratorium.

Gruwez will perform It’s Going to Get Worse and Worse and Worse, My Friend (壞到底), a solo set to fragments of a speech by US televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, from Dec. 5 to Dec. 8 in the Experimental Theater.