What is your general opinion of the verdict against Jan Fabre? Do you think it is just and why?
I do not think the verdict is just because I know well the sequence of events that preceded this verdict. In the last 40 years, Jan Fabre has crossed boundaries in his artistic work by re- examining personal and social dimensions. On the other hand, there are transitions that, in order to define certain shifts, require quite rigid definitions of their own missions. This creates their followers who recognise the strength in such applications. Pointing the finger at a person who has earned a strong artistic reputation is not only attractive, but also commercial. At the same time, questionable platforms for activism are created, which, by spreading unfounded information on social media and with the support of sensationalist journalists, create an atmosphere that allows a kiss between two adults to be declared sexually abusive. After the verdict, it is finally possible to disseminate in a transparent manner all the allegations that were recognised as relevant by the court and on which the verdict is fully based, without the public having had the opportunity to have a real insight and a full understanding. The judgement explicitly states that Jan Fabre is not indicted on the basis of his character or general management style and excludes the hypothesis of a negative work environment. The judgement also refers to 169 positive statements made to the court.
Fabre was convicted of violating the Employee Protection Act in relation to six former Troubleyn actors as follows: Jan Fabre was found guilty of exchanging a French kiss with a female performer during a photo shoot. Fabre was found guilty because the instruction he gave during the rehearsal could have been given in a less harmful way, according to the judges. It was an instruction to a male performer to describe the female sex organ in order to depict it in detail in the Tantalus scene of the play Mount Olympus. He was found guilty of nicknaming the performer “Brazilian Chocolate” and commenting that she danced like a “headless chicken.” He was found guilty of trying to approach the former actress during a photo shoot at Fabre’s flat, although according to her testimony, he immediately stopped when she asked him to. He was found guilty of striking a pose inspired by the works of great masters (Rubens and others) during a professional photo shoot in the presence of photographers and staff. The judges concluded that there was no evidence that such a pose was inspired by Rubens. The sentence of 18 months probation is disappointing, as Fabre’s lawyers had asked for a full acquittal, but more importantly, the verdict was suspended, meaning that the judges concluded that an actual conviction was not necessary. More importantly, it is clear from the verdict that the negative caricature of Jan Fabre as a director/ choreographer is not accurate. Even though the verdict, with a full description of the allegations, puts the case back in a more realistic light, it is worrying that judges, although not art experts, define artistic values and boundaries and make judgments based on actions within the artistic process.
Do you know the women who sued him, i.e., the context of their collaboration and the specific situations that proved controversial? If so, what can you tell us about them?
I know all the women who filed charges, I worked with most of them, so I have first-hand knowledge of all the situations that were controversial during the rehearsals. The context of their collaboration with Fabre was no different from that of hundreds of other performers who worked with Troubleyn. I cannot call the selected situations controversial and court cases in general, although the opposite was true. I believe that the whole case was triggered by distorted facts, lack of contextualization, untruths, misunderstandings, victimisation, and intellectual simplification that have strong echoes of current popular polarisation tendencies. In my opinion, much boils down to the question of responsibility. In an artistic process – of any kind – one has a responsibility. Not only to yourself, but to everyone involved in the process. If you do not say that your boundaries are being crossed, you inadvertently put someone else in the position of unknowingly hurting you. It is your responsibility to say so. Otherwise, cancel the contract with yourself.
When we talk about the social dimension, we cannot ignore the fact that while the #MeToo movement is driven by inequality and has brought justice to many abused women and as such is necessary for our society, its abuse has created new injustices such as the “rubber stamp culture” and public humiliation. Exploiting the strength and popularity of a person who has built a career through her own work and talent also becomes a matter of responsibility. The consequences of such attacks are enormous, and no one is responsible for them yet. I do not see in it a heroic effort to make the world better, to protect women better. On the contrary, I see in it an opportunity for self-expression in a secure group protected by a popular ideology. As one piece of evidence, the court was provided footage of a 2016 documentary, a nine- month recording that lasted more than 5,000 hours and shows Jan Fabre working with performers during the making of the 24-hour “Mount Olympus,” uncut. Everything from the rehearsals themselves to conversations during rehearsals, instructions, discussions, disagreements, etc. can be seen in the video. The video shows the work with Fabre as it is: intense, creative, free, exhausting, stubborn, open, hard, inspiring, full of charge and eroticism, disciplined, naive, angry, energetic, tired, funny, persistent, exciting, transformative … human.
I saw that you shared Mr. Fabre’s letter on Facebook, so I assume you stand by it. In your work and in your performances, the body is the main working tool. Do you think that the specificity of this work and the way it works is the reason why different people interpret some situations differently?
The study of the human body is at the heart of Fabre’s “artistic work.” Both in the visual arts and in the theatre and his work as a writer. In this, the human body is not only seen as something sexual. The naked body does not necessarily have a sexual connotation, but through the body he views man as a spiritual, intellectual and emotional being. The body has incredible memory, intelligence, and strength, while the actual physiological processes on stage are the focus of Fabre’s theatrical research. It is not always easy or pleasant to perform in such a situation as a performer, but in my opinion art should not always be pleasant. It is necessary to explore and question the limits of what is possible, with creation, much like science, making its contribution to a better understanding of the individual and ultimately society. In his work, Fabre leads his artists through a very focused, disciplined, creative and physical process. He educates them, awakens their imagination, seeks their personal commitment and artistic responsibility through his example. This is not a quick or easy process, and yes, it can be very confrontational at times, and yes, it is probably not for
everyone. Testing one’s physical and mental limits on stage requires first a decision and then talent, dedication with total commitment and almost obsessive work. In such processes, it is impossible to always be in control and predict the reactions of everyone involved.
In this context, I think that the lack of understanding of the specifics of these requirements has led in part to problems for people who have not fully understood who Fabre is, although the auditions sometimes last a month for the reasons mentioned above. Working with the body in this way requires, as I said, discipline, dedication and strong leadership. Fabre is radical and demanding, does not accept simple and superficial solutions and is very direct. This way of working can provoke different reactions, and one of them we are experiencing today in a negative, extreme form. Yes, I stand by Fabre in this situation for many reasons. He is joined by a large number of current and former performers, artists, collaborators and employees. All of this can be seen on the ReFrame Platform web platform (www.reframeplatform.com), which was created to publicly support Jan Fabre and Troubleyn, while also examining the mechanisms that allow such and similar processes to occur. The platform’s website contains a wealth of information about the entire situation, as well as a letter of support signed by 175 artists, testimonies, and a letter from Jan Fabre, including Croatian actors who worked with him. The co-founders of the ReFrame platform, artistic director Daniela Urem and theatre director Coraline Lamaison, will present the platform at an online press conference next week.
You have been working with Fabre for years. What are your personal experiences working with him?
I have been working with Jan Fabre for almost 20 years. Fabre is remarkable as a person and as an artist. He has a deep sensitivity and artistic power, and I am always fascinated by his ability to create beauty with very little. Watching him work is an almost alchemical process of creation and transformation. He is a true artist. He has always encouraged artistic autonomy, taught me to be my own director and to examine and accept my own limitations and freedoms. His persistent pursuit of perfection in expression has only ever confirmed me. My obsessive perfectionism found a place here that made sense. Our artistic collaboration has always been based on the dynamic of two autonomous artists creating together. The freedom he offers in his creative processes is immeasurable, and it is also one of the core values of his artistic universe, which does not exist anywhere else. So the injustice done to Jan Fabre is not only done to him, but to art … to all of us.
Jutarnji List, Ivana Jozić, May 10, 2022