Jan Fabre\'s visit and Lithuanian theatre critics\' protest

By Rūta Oginskaitė 2020 12 15 APAC info
“The Night Writer” directed by Jan Fabre (Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, 2020). Photo by Dmitrijus Matvejevas
“The Night Writer” directed by Jan Fabre (Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, 2020). Photo by Dmitrijus Matvejevas

At the beginning of this year's October, a well-known European theatre and conceptual art creator from Belgium Jan Fabre paid a visit to Lithuania. Here he was a guest of the book festival Open Books and also directed a mono performance The Night Writer in Lithuanian National Drama Theatre (LNDT) - a play he wrote himself based on his youth diaries.

It was the second visit of Jan Fabre to Lithuania. In 2007, together with his troupe Troubleyn Fabre participated in the international Vilnius theatre festival Sirenos where he showed a performance called Requiem for Metamorphosis. There are a lot of people from the back-then audience who still remember that spectacular dance of naked bodies in the sea of flowers.

However, since 2018 Jan Fabre is known not only as a talented artist of multiple fields. A significant part of his troupe wrote a public statement accusing their leader of psychological violence and sexual harassment. Since then, many world's reputable art institutions stopped collaborating with Jan Fabre, he is no longer invited to create performances, nor are his performance tours and exhibitions welcome. It is noticed that this is the exact time when a mono performance The Night Writer was created and Fabre's routes of creative travels started to spread - symptomatic - further to the East and without his troupe: Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian and now Lithuanian theatres invite him to stage The Night Writer, each of those theatres proposing one of their actors.

Art critics of the Lithuanian stage unambiguously condemned the fact that our country's national theatre (LNDT) collaborates with Fabre. As critic Aušra Kaminskaitė (lrt.lt) ironically noted, the Lithuanian stage could finally welcome this grand director namely because “lots of art institutions of the developed countries started avoiding his creations in their programs”.

The audience of the Open Books festival which participated in the meeting with Jan Fabre, had a chance to witness how the famous director behaves and how he interprets his troupe's accusations of sexual harassment. The conversation with Fabre was moderated by the theatrologist Elona Bajorinienė, the dean of Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy's Theatre and Cinema faculty. She was giving Fabre questions about his creation work exhaustively, however, she didn't hesitate to ask questions concerning the meetoo scandal. Fabre was hearing out the questions holding the microphone in the crotch. His answers about the troupe's accusations sounded fluent as if it was a well-rehearsed performance.

The things the artist gave as replies could be found on the eve of the event in the news portal LRT.lt. Here are Fabre's replies and his position - all of it was repeated word to word in the book festival: “And regarding the wrong sexual behavior... Yes, I was accused of that by some of my dancers and actors two years ago. Then my company itself asked for a legal investigation to be done. As it turned out, one actress made a complaint because I commended her beauty. The other one called me a racist because I said she looks like the wife of one famous classical painter, I called he by that wife's name and the actress found it humiliating. One more young actress made a complaint that I was calling her by some French word which I don't even know. It's absurd, but let it be. I'm quite calm about everything. We, artists, are often being attacked for our decisions. One has to thank God that we have a lot of intellectual women on this planet. We're living in the circumstances of a regression climate. As I see it, women frequently behave too radically, and by doing that they're causing harm to the upcoming generation of women. After two years of investigation, it turned out I was accused of compliments. Can't I commend the natural beauty of my actresses and dancers? Do you think it's fair?”

However, here's how the events unfolded and the Lithuanian theatre community's reactions regarding the invitation of Fabre to direct here. The first one to express her astonishment and indignation via her Facebook account was a young playwright Teklė Kavtaradzė: is it possible that national theatre would collaborate with a man who is psychologically abusing the performers who are subject to him? “I don't assert that such professional(s) should not ever work anywhere but in this case, the inviting institution forms its position regarding this topic, and not to react to this doesn't seem too improper for me”, - Teklė Kavtaradzė wrote. LNDT replied to this short remark anonymously with a long comment which stated the following: “We think that theatre's purpose is not didactic, we aim to reflect on the processes and changes happening in society, the ones which are assessed very differently by the society itself. However, we don't want to practice lynching and contradistinguish society. <...> LNDT's position is to look for points of contact, we don't want to divide the society into different camps, to contradistinguish it because we care about the harmonious future where everybody's rights are being respected”.

The premiere of Fabre's sketch of The Night Writer took place during the same days as the festival Open books. In The Night Writer the only role was performed by one of the most interesting young Lithuanian actors Martynas Nedzinskas. Theatre critic Aušra Kaminskaitė named the appearing of this performance on our national stage as an opportunity for the accused to rehabilitate and expressed her doubts about the morale of the formers of theatre program: “The work stitched up from the diary entries first of all sounds as director's justification for which Jan Fabre could not find a more favorable form than artistic creation. <...> If those who see aggression decide not to intervene, community and society get the impression that violence based on power relationship is a natural and acceptable practice. That is exactly why LNDT's decision to invite Jan Fabre to direct seems harmful”.

Theatre critic Sigita Ivaškaitė also explored the case of Fabre's scandal on her blog Critical Habitat. “We've deified the artists and moved them away from ourselves (not without the help of the media) as somewhat bigger, different, and exceptional to the extent that now at some point being a brilliant creator became a tool of authority. Creating and theatre, where one person creates his or her own world not taking into account the dignity and health of those around him or her, became a norm. But again - how big of the impact to that can a spectator, even if he or she is a professional, have? He or she is interested in the final result, a piece of art and here we are talking about the process of work. Yes, we can just not go expressing our protest this way but there will be those who won't care and they will go, those who wouldn't know or wouldn't believe. So in this situation, talking about theatre in general, an exceptional role goes to producers, managers, and curators. They become the arbitrators of ethics. Their voice becomes decisive, they take the main position when deciding who wins: the piece of art or creator's biography, or maybe those two are inseparable?” Ivaškaitė openly accuses the theatre's choice to collaborate with Fabre and especially - that anonymous neutral posture the theatre took when responding to playwright Teklė Kavtaradzė's indignation. In Ivaškaitė's opinion, “LNDT doesn't have any position, only denial which is equal to hiding. There's a thought stirring in the head that maybe they have to follow contract regulations of some sort? However, it only proves once again the systematic field of power.” 

This situation wasn't ignored by the Lithuanian radio show Reflections as well. Its host, theatre critic, culture analytic Vaidas Jauniškis invited colleagues Alma Braškytė and Andrius Jevsejevas into his studio where they discussed this subject. They all concluded that the theatre which invited Fabre to create couldn't possibly not know what this director was accused of and if they didn't mind that and only emphasized that they collaborate with a genius - this shows the culture of forgetfulness which is still resilient in Lithuanian theatre.

So far The Night Writer has been shown three times, Fabre called those being sketches. LNDT planned a premiere in spring next year. Will that happen? Will the critics of our country have to fight with the culture of forgetfulness again and highlight what Teklė Kavtaradzė wrote so clearly: “I am ASHAMED and DEEPLY DISSAPOINTED that the National drama theatre of my city, my country has this kind of position which was stated in the comment. To be more precise - it doesn't have any position and it draws A STAR and A GENIUS into the frontline but not the psychological wellbeing and respect for a person in the process of creating”.

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