In the media storm that has erupted around Jan Fabre it has become almost impossible to pronounce a nuanced judgment. I can not do that either, I am too intimately connected with the work of Jan Fabre that I have followed for more than thirty years, often from the sidelines, often from the inside around the rehearsal floor. And for the sake of clarity, I am a great admirer of his work, since I first saw a production in 1982: that turned everything I thought about theater upside down and opened up completely new horizons. The core of Fabre’s work is the rehearsal process and that’s where I really got to know Jan. He demands the utmost from his performers, he demands a complete commitment, is not easily satisfied and very direct in his communication. It is not just a style, it is his whole personality. He is cheeky, sometimes provocative, sometimes he uses irony to attain what he wants. For non experienced or new performers this can be easily misunderstood, as is evident from the testimonies of the dancers that have been published. But anyone who wants to make an effort to keep an eye on the many hundreds of performers who have worked with him, will also hear a different story: Jan is an exceptional director, he encourages performers to go beyond what they already know; for many, working with Jan remains a benchmark in their careers, a process of regeneration in which new layers of creativity were first tapped. Because beyond that hard hand there is also a huge generosity and a great admiration and gratitude for his performers.
Fabre looks for boundaries in his work, he investigates uncomfortable areas where we do not like to come. I still think that is one of the essential tasks of art. For everyone who cooperates in these creation processes, this often results in very confrontational and heavy material. Performers co-create that material, their imagination is at the source of what eventually comes to the scene. I am often amazed at how far they dare to go there, how deep they dare to sink into their own grey areas to show something that we hardly dare to perceive ourselves in the mirror. These are always fragile processes. But they are also possible because of the fact that security is also offered, support and understanding, that a large field of trust is created. In my opinion, nothing is ever enforced that someone does not want. And Jan Fabre is also always surrounded by collaborators who help to guide and supervise that process.
For the Belgian and international theatre landscape, Fabre is a key figure. He deserves the chance to prove that he can keep up with his artistic mission and at the same time providing guarantee for safe working conditions.
Luk Van den Dries