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  • The Image of FreedomOn Fabre’s Mount Olympus
  • Amir Farjoun (bio)
Mount Olympus: to glorify the cult of tragedy, twenty-four-hour performance by Troubleyn/Jan Fabre, NYU Skirball Center, New York, NY, November 10, 2018.

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Nam June Paik, Fin de Siècle II (1989), one of the artworks in Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2019. Photo: Bonnie Marranca.

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Jan Fabre’s Mount Olympus is an extravagant twenty-four-hour-performance based on the Greek tragic corpus. As was the case in the fifteen European cities to which it has toured since 2015, its New York installation ended with a twenty-minute-long standing ovation. On the brink of completing a full earth-cycle together, the audience seemed eager to applaud the three dozen exceptionally committed performers and technicians’ talent, stamina, and dedication. Applause was further spurred by an irresistible loud beat and the feverish naked twerking of the twenty-six “Warriors of Beauty”—Fabre’s name for his uniformly attractive and virtuous troupe. Confetti and praise filled the air. To remain unaffected, or even seated, was simply not an option.

This finale marked the end of our twenty-four-hour journey together and the completion of a remarkable theatrical marathon. Some spectators stayed in the auditorium during the day-long cycle, dozing off intermittently in their chairs or on the floor. Some went home for a short rest. Some, like myself, rested for a few hours on cots in a separate mass-snoring room nearby. But we were all back for the final hours to collect our medals. Evidently, a very tangible sense of community had emerged in the theatre during that performance cycle. We witnessed astonishing feats of endurance, concentration, dedication, and beauty together. We went through a full gamut of emotions and sensations—exhilaration, fatigue, boredom, fascination, repulsion, enchantment. We could hardly see each other as strangers any longer.

Genuine, unreserved applause might be thought of as a way to marvel and rejoice at the fact that the power of theatre had been resurrected once again at a time [End Page 70]


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Top/bottom: Mount Olympus: to glorify the cult of tragedy, Troubleyn/Jan Fabre, NYU Skirball Center, New York, 2018. Photos: © Jelena Jankovic.

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when this seems less and less possible. The end of Mount Olympus summoned this kind of ecstatic response. People filled the aisles, waved, cheered, and shouted in gratitude. And yet, in the midst of all the colors and beats, the dancing, the eroticized bodies, the clapping, and the sleeplessness, a sly image settled in my mind of a New Yorker cartoon of Sisyphus standing on the mountaintop, his rock finally secured and in place. He ponders: “Why am still I so unhappy?”

The performance took place less than two months after twenty ex-members of Fabre’s theatre company, Troubleyn, published an open letter alleging systematic sexual violence and misconduct on Fabre’s behalf. At the height of the #MeToo moment, this may account for the fact that such a major production did not sell out in New York. (Skirball Center offered refunds for an undisclosed number of buyers who chose to stay home in light of the allegations.) It also explains why Fabre himself—who was subsequently suspended from overseeing Mount Olympus—was absent from this highly anticipated U.S. premiere.

According to the letter’s twenty signees, Fabre’s creations are the product of constant humiliation, abuse, and sexual extortion. However, they do not make any specific legal claims, nor issue a call for boycott. Their aim is more radical, more constructive, and more demanding than that: they seek, as they put it, to “crack open a very narrow understanding of what [artistic] freedom is, or can be.” Thus, the letter reminds the readers (and by implication, audience members) that artistic feats in the live arts are achieved by mending, training, and transforming real bodies and real lives, and that these transformations are precisely what we come to see on stage. In this sense, any attempt to separate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 69-74
Launched on MUSE
2019-05-09
Open Access
No
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