Jan Fabre (b. Antwerp, BE 1958) is a visual artist who has also made a big name for himself as a contemporary dance choreographer. Shown this summer at ImPulsTanz, Vienna International Dance Festival (AT), “Preparatio Mortis” (2010) was a visual spectacle, as one would expect given Fabre’s background. Unfortunately, however, the dance vocabulary was common and the sentimentality of the piece felt superficial. Fresh flowers flooded the stage; soloist Annabelle Chambon lay on top of a tomb, hidden under a blanket of flowers. The music, composed by organist Bernard Foccroulle, former opera director at De Munt/La Monnaie (Brussels, BE), was a perfect match ceremoniously serenading Chambon from her grave.
The dance performance opened with Chambon slowly beginning to come to life like fauna beneath a bed of flora. After interest dissipated in a stage set with red, purple, white and yellow flowers, the audience was left with an opening segment that over-extended itself, dragging on with continuous movements, which lacked any real tension-building dynamic shifts. When Chambon started to emerge from the tomb her leg moved into the air, then her arm, and the torso arched, but each impulse was with the same sustained slow quality. After the soloist was fully revealed her journey back to life found her rediscovering her legs, then eventually her breath, giving way to a “he loves me, he loves me not” petal pulling moment. As the dancer progressed through the space the dance sections were either slow, exploring the functionality of the joints, or spastically flipping out like an epileptic seizure with sticks and stems flying around. Rhythmically, the movements were consistent whereas a body resurrected, one would imagine, could fluctuate dramatically, swelling like a gas-filled balloon and then smashing like broken glass. As the piece gathered speed, it took an erotic turn. Chambon humped the flowers in what seemed like an attempt at exploring her sexuality, an over-used theme in Fabre’s work. The show ended much like it began, with slow motion movements, with the soloist in the nude entombed in glass with live butterflies.
The story was simple: girl rises from the dead. Dance, improvised or fixed, carries a message, literal or abstract. This work relied too heavily on its scenography to compensate for what the movement was unable to fully illustrate. The choreography, a collaboration between Chambon and Fabre, only grazed the surface for what physically a body could transition through necromantically. In other words, the movement was unimaginative and unemotional, unlike the potential of the stage’s flowers, butterflies and technically adept soloist. The movement vocabulary of “Preparatio Mortis” lacked the depth needed in order to fully articulate the narrative metaphysically of the girl on top of Fabre’s flower-strewn gravesite.
Parenthetically, with the global dilemma pushing for more recycling and the use of natural energy in order to shrink the carbon footprint, did Fabre have to spend his resources on a set that withered and wilted with every show? Artists of today should be at the cutting edge of resourcefulness. Yet, Fabre’s fame allows him to bring to life anything he can imagine, throwing question to how up to date he really is after years of identifying himself as a seven-fold performance artist/theater maker/choreographer/opera maker/playwright/visual artist. You need a dance choreographer who is deeply involved in a personal investigation of how the body’s movement brings about emotional states and vice versa, in order to me a concept like “Preparatio Mortis” really rise from the dead.