The following is a letter to Jay Wegman at NYU Skirball Center from Engagement Arts in Belgium in response to their November 2018 Jan Fabre Programming.
Press: New York Times
Dear Mr. Wegman,
As the Senior Director of NYC’s home for cutting-edge performance and discourse, we urge you to initiate a public discussion about the ethics of Jan Fabre’s work practices and Mount Olympus.
Specifically, we feel that presenting Jan Fabre’s work is a form of complicity with his practices. If you do not support sexual harassment, bullying and denigration of performers, and underpaid or unpaid work hours, then we feel that you are responsible for addressing the publicly available testimonies rather than presenting the work without comment.
According to the New York Times article from September 23rd, “The Skirball Center said that it was aware of the allegations [against Fabre] but that it had no comment.” Given your other current programming and agendas (i.e. the Marx festival, Angela Davis’ speaking engagement, a claim to be NYU’s largest classroom), it is hard to understand the absence of discussion around the working conditions and practices in the Troubleyn company. These are burning issues in the work and the world at large right now. We would like to see that information and dialogue made readily available and more prominent on your website, as well as available to the audience on performance day.
We find the presentation and organization of materials that you provide on the PrepSchool page insufficient and problematic. The three essays and program notes you do offer are each penned by a white man and are featured on the page. They celebrate and glorify Fabre’s work, while only much farther down the page there is mention of the wetoo and metoo allegations against Fabre. This presentation evidences an ongoing power dynamic that will not change until it is forced into dialogue. The Lehmann essay cites Fabre’s “violation of taboo” as a necessity in the creation of tragedy, uses Aristotle to justify the work as “beyond morality,” and mentions the humiliations that Troubleyn’s “warriors of beauty” go through onstage, all as naturalized matters of fact, not problematized in the least. Van Den Dries’ essay depicts the senseless obscenity of Fabre’s approach to greek tragedy. There is so far no critical link made between the work itself as an aesthetic experience and the underlying problems of its creation. You are perfectly poised to bring these urgent points into a public and transparent discussion of the profound interrelation between ethics and aesthetics. There are plenty of people in your immediate artistic and academic community who could be gathered for such a discussion.
We hope that your dictum to present “adventurous, unorthodox, and pioneering artists” is not an alibi for glossing over unsavory realities. Because your stated mission is “to present work that inspires yet frustrates, confirms yet confounds, entertains yet upends,” and to “embrace renegade artists, academics, and thought-leaders who are courageous,” we expect you to act with courage by confronting the politics of this work. As a programmer, silence is your privilege, but breaking it is your responsibility. That way, you don’t just program cutting edge work, you do cutting edge work.
Your community needs to know why you have made this programming choice and why you are presenting it in this context. We urge you to take a stance.
We remain most sincere, and as always, available for communication and dialogue,
New York based Dance Community
Whistle While You Work