THE POWER OF THEATRICAL MADNESS
The power of theatrical madness (De macht der theaterlijke dwaasheden):
The title resembles a solemn pose on the altar of theatre. It celebrates the former glory of theatre, with a lot of velvet, with deep-red chairs and gilt ornaments. The soft hum of audience members talking in the boxes, the sound of champagne glasses in stately ballrooms, the idolization of actors and actresses who convey sentiment, the folly of the Baroque theatre stage are echoed in the title. In it, nineteenth-century theatre is exposed as the favourite diversion for the gentry, which submitted to the enchanting hallucinations. The illusions that are staged are no longer theatrical; to use a Fabrian neologism, they are theater-lijk (literally: theatre-body; meaning: theatre-like), a memorial service in the making: the corpse of theatre lies in state on the altar that is the stage. In this mortuary, we bid farewell to it, with an ode which sounds the praises of the deceased, while simultaneously and eternally banning it to its cellars.
The Power…, above all, is a historic performance. It is history in the making. Not only in Fabre’s body of work – this production signified his definitive international breakthrough – but it also reveals the end point, where the economy of illusion now finds itself and transcends it. As a key moment in the history of theatrical illusion, Fabre chooses Wagner’s impressive creation, Der Ring des Nibelungen. Wagner not only raises the opera genre to the status of Gesamtkunstwerk, but he is also the first composer and theatre maker to have the lights in the theatre dimmed, thus emancipating a popular medium and turning it into an autonomous aesthetic product. The Power of Theatrical Madness quotes this emancipatory moment in an extremely long and painful scene, in which an actress is forcefully denied access to the stage. She scratches, she bites, she seduces, she curses and shouts, but the actor who is controlling the entrance to the stage drags her back to square one in an increasingly violent manner. Only when she can answer the repeated sphinx-like riddle, “1876?”, which the actor continues to present to her, i.e., the premiere date of the Ring, is she allowed back on stage, the place of birth of theatrical appearances. At the same time as Fabre evokes this part of theatrical history, he also revives Andersen’s fairy tale, The Emperor’s new clothes. At the centre of his play is an emperor, armed with a sceptre and crown, who drapes his invisible garments around his nude body in an attempt to impress his subjects. Throughout the performance, the emperor walks to and from ceremoniously, past our field of vision, simultaneously astonishing and blinding. With the demonstration of this sublime lie, the ultimate masquerade, Fabre brings a regnum to the stage that is on its last legs. His gesture is an evocation and a destruction. Numerous scenes showcase the splendour and the beauty of the lie. We all want to believe in frogs that turn into princes or in heroes who venerate their princesses. Fabre creates his own Gesamtkunstwerk, by interweaving an overwhelming number of projected images of the mannerist schools, with musical quotes by composers such as Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Othmar Schoeck, Bizet and minimalist music by Wim Mertens. Meanwhile, the stage is dominated by expurgated actions. It is a remarkably eclectic composition, in which pose, pomposity and mannerism dominate. The pomposity, however, is taken down by the sense of reality on the stage: the heroes and princesses are reduced to perspiration and weight, thanks to endless repetitions and exciting acceleration. A ballet etude changes into an increasingly faltering choreography. The duration of real time thus undermines the lie of fiction.
In The Power of Theatrical Madness, Fabre unfolds the principles of power. With a reference to Foucault, Fabre charts the system of discipline. The actors’ physical endurance is constantly tested to the extreme. The uniform movements and clothes are designed to eliminate any sign of individuality. Commands and submission dominate every scene’s actions.
But through or maybe due to this violence, the force of a new, contemporary theatre manages to break through. Beyond Wagner. Beyond all the innovators who are frequently cited throughout the performance, from Béjart to Brook, from Mabou Mines to Müller. At the end of the performance, an actor lays an actress over his knees and slaps her bare buttocks until she can no longer take the pain and answers the riddle “1982?”: It is theatre as it was to be expected and foreseen, the actress with the red buttocks shrieks. Fabre writes himself into the annals of theatre history. Among the red, gold and velvet of the theatre, that beautiful dream machine, Fabre conceals the fuse of the performance’s real time/real action. The explosion can be heard miles away.
Direction: JAN FABRE
Music: WIM MERTENS (published by USURA)
Costume design: POL ENGELS, JAN FABRE
Assistance to the director: MIET MARTENS, RENéE COPRAIJ
Hair-styling: SAVAGAN (Brussels, Oost-Duinkerke, BE)
CARLIJN KOPPELMANS (Fontys Dance Academy, Tilburg, NL)
Realisation of the costumes: KATARZYNA MIELCZAREK
Technical crew: THOMAS VERMAERCKE, GEERT VANDERAUWERA
Production Manager: TOMAS WENDELEN
Choaching: HANS PETER JANSSENS (singing),TANGO ARGENTINO (MARISA VAN ANDEL & OLIVER KOCH) (tango)
Interns: Giulio Boato (dramaturgy) (University of Bologna, IT), Yorrith Debakker (performer) (Artesis Hogeschool, Antwerp, BE), Zafiria Dimitropoulou (performer) (Karolos Koun Art Theatre School, Athens, GR)
Production re-enactment 2012:
TROUBLEYN/JAN FABRE (Antwerp, BE)
In co-production with:
DESINGEL (Antwerp, BE), ROMAEUROPA FESTIVAL (Rome, IT)
World premiere 2012:
Impulstanz Festival (Vienne, AT)