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  • Mount Olympus: To Glorify the Cult of Tragedyby Jan Fabre
  • R. Darren Gobert
MOUNT OLYMPUS: TO GLORIFY THE CULT OF TRAGEDY. By Jan Fabre / Troubleyn. Directed by Jan Fabre. NYU Skirball, New York City. 11 10–11, 2018.

Mount Olympus: To Glorify the Cult of Tragedy—a durational work lasting twenty-four uninterrupted hours—premiered in June 2015 in Berlin and was subsequently mounted in over a dozen cities. Its staging in New York City, which started at 6:00 pmon November 10, 2018 and ended a day later, may have been its last. Weeks before the performance, its celebrated director, Jan Fabre, was accused of sexual misconduct by members of his Antwerp-based company, Troubleyn. And so the multiyear success of his most monumental work was arrested. Fabre was not. But no one has programmed the work since the allegations; its next scheduled performance, slated for Barcelona, was cancelled after protests. It would now be difficult to see the show beyond the shadow cast by these alleged violations, and not only because the tragedies on which Mount Olympusstands are filled with the deplorable behavior of lust-ridden men. The allegations include coercing women to pose for sexual photographs, and so the show's graphic scenes and generally jaw-dropping demands of its performers would resonate in disagreeable ways. "Beauty turns ugly without a certain morality," we were warned by Pentheus (Marc Moon Van Overmeir) somewhere in the sixth hour. But Fabre, of course, sides with Dionysus.

Mount Olympusillustrated this point again: with its themes of sexual transgression and power, The Bacchaehas been determinative for contemporary understandings of tragedy. Fabre's own would track neatly alongside that of Richard Schechner, for example, who contributed one of four program notes in New York. Euripides' play received a condensed treatment around midnight in Mount Olympus, but in truth it presided throughout, not only in the fleshy Dionysus (Andrew Van Ostade) who dispensed snacks and smacks to the other performers, but also in the performance's structure, which returned several times to the maenadic behavior described in The Bacchae's third episode. It was introduced when a chorus of women (each with her own tree) writhed orgasmically against the muddy roots and sucked wine from the branches, which spilled over and stained their white dresses red. Wine turned to blood as in the cognate Christian ritual; the flayed meat they discovered in their root bulbs was gathered—a reverse sparagmos—and draped on Pentheus's recumbent body as Agave (Anny Czupper), still onstage, delivered a contemporary version of Euripides' famous monologue.

Thus, like classical tragedy, Mount Olympuskept its dancing and declamation mostly separate. Its movement sequences, credited to Fabre and the company, revised the etymology of choreography ("dance writing") as they represented writing in dance, enacting in three dimensions either the mythic words of extant Greek texts or the hieroglyphic poses of Grecian pottery. These movement sequences introduced, interrupted, or threw into relief the play's spoken episodes, in which there were almost no exchanges among characters. Instead, calling back to a time before Sophocles to Thespis, Fabre and co-writer Jeroen Olyslaegers distilled the essence of tragic plots into often beautiful monologues—orated variously in Dutch, English, French, German, or Italian—that were staged in tableaux of startling economy and depth. (The show's team of dramaturges includes Hans-Thies Lehmann.) In an onstage bath, Euripides' Alcestis (Annabelle Chambon) prepared her own body for burial as a filthy satyr (Matteo Sedda) gamboled indifferently behind her. "Souviens-toi de moi" (Remember me), she exhorted. Aeschylus's Darius (Van Overmeir again), nude and covered in white paint like a butoh performer, stalked the stage and collected organs, condemning "what we have done in everyone's name." A chain tethered Sophocles' Jocasta (Ivana Jozic) to Oedipus (Pietro Quadrino), genitals to genitals. "I could have closed my legs," she declared. "I did not."

It is tragedies such as theirs, engendered by desire, that most fired Fabre's imagination. What tormented his Tantalus (Gustav Koenigs), crawling pathetically on all fours, was the flower-decorated vulvas of three women, with which they lured him before brutally kicking him back. Sexual...


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pp. 369-373
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