orgy of tolerance

To have your idols disappoint. It is a delicious sensation. And probably inevitable, necessary.

My Friday Antwerp wanderings, despite the sublime moments in Yoji, Walter, fashion and architecture, were all a precursor to Troubleyn. Jan Fabre has been for me, since 2003 when I saw the film Les Guerriers de la Beauté in Vienna, and the beautiful Je Suis Sang at the Melbourne Festival the same year, one of those I think of when I make performance. One also I wanted to work for, perhaps still do, though after Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day in Vienna, and especially Orgy of Tolerance, I am left wondering.

Je Suis Sang was for me one of the pivotal works I have seen, my introduction to Jan Fabre after years of dark rumours. It was – with all the wine-drenched frenzy – all I hoped for in what dance might think of, when it realised it was both forever twenty years behind the times and hopelessly conservative. Last year in Vienna put a sharp stop to such romanticising, seeing Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day, and my day trip to Antwerp to see Orgy of Tolerance was… deeply frustrating.

Warming up on stage is always a conceit. The awareness of an arriving audience necessarily removes the attention from the personal to a distracted outer, in a different way than that sense of impending presentation of self does while warming up out of sight. So what kind of performance do the several dancers in white underwear, long socks and trainers do? Much waving of arms, jumping, shaking limbs, explosive breathing. Either they are desperately hyping themselves for some collossal two hours or they are over-acting.

Or getting ready for a good wank.

A friend said to me that traditional sex is both obsessed with penetration, but more so with chasing orgasms. As the rifle-sporting guerillas in wool jerseys, thick and warm forest-toned trousers, boots and scarves coach the wankers towards a demented and performed string of orgasms, much shouting, stomping, hyperbole and grandstanding ensuing, ‘Do it for your country!’, and people start to walk out, I wonder if I shall reach any transformative state as an audience, watching.

A few days prior, watching SOIT’s We Was Them, I thought it was gratifying to see a performance that for once had a usefully adequate and well-spent budget. Orgy though, through its acutely designed mise en scène, mostly I was thinking, ‘Ooh, those Chesterfields would have cost a fortune’.

The scene changes. The men with guns lounge, beside each sofa, a lamp, small table and crystal decanter set. Lighting of cigars, and colonial men’s club jousting about the natives. ‘What has the world come to where we can’t even hunt a Pakistani anymore?’ while erect cocks are stroked by docile assistants lying at their feet.

A litany of offensiveness. Designed to shock? Or to show our tolerance by remaining? Remaining still and mute. Or our cynical apathy by doing both? I thought of the first episode of South Park I ever saw, ‘I haven’t seen a Jew run like that since Poland, 1938!’ Shocking, offensive and quite brilliant. So how is it that such a similar arrangement of words and settings here in Orgy seems empty?

Perhaps something like complicity from the audience, that when those horrid, dark Arabs from Morocco are mentioned, some laugh knowingly. It is uncomfortable to hear. By virtue of the meaninglessness of the past hundred years of western culture, I am a horrid, white, quarter Turk, or something similar. I think of the sameness in Berlin towards Turkish as in Brussels towards Moroccans. My whiteness hides both the possibility I could be on the other side of this conversation. It also relinquishes me of any sense of national or cultural identity, and perhaps that, as a outsider is something of a saving grace.

I don’t have an answer for this, and neither does Jan. I was thinking of Gaahl, being gay in the black metal scene when he said, “Mankind is known to be narrow-minded, so… I think it will be positive for some and negative for some. It’s always good to have some negative as well. Otherwise you would end up with equality and equality is the worst thing in the world. Equality is stagnation. It doesn’t let anything grow. It holds back.”

The scene changes again. Bondage, domination, whips, pain, humiliation. It’s not so believable though. Rather than showing a genuine interest in SM, this comes across as a vanilla heterosexual artifice. Perhaps this is the difference in Berlin, where this manner of kink has more value than gutter salaciousness, though equally, the equating of bondage immediately with porn and debasement speaks poorly of the intellect behind the opinion. Or perhaps this is the point, this is what intolerence represents any sex that is not straight and penetrative as. Personally though, I would have found far more convincing if it was demonstrably the case that the performers and others were speaking on this from personal experience, rather than unskillfully flailing with whips.

More scenes follow. Guns with dildos on the end, dildo dog tails, giving birth to consumer products with plentiful gusto in supermarket trolleys, Jesus and the fashion queens, (sort of) punk music, Flemish white trash, KKK and piles of bodies from Abu Ghraib. Fucking. Fucking sofas, fucking a bicycle, talking about fucking, or at least saying, ‘fuck fuck fuck’ a lot.

Talking at the audience, ‘You think we are terrorists…’, and later, ‘Fuck you…’. I score a ‘Fuck you’ for coming to the show for free, and another for conspicuous fashoin consumerism, as my Walter van Bierendonck retail bag shifts uneasily beside me, worried perhaps of a lynching. ‘Fuck you Jan Fabre’ also. Why? What are you trying to say? That it’s bad, that these acts of intolerance are bad? That our tolerance has let in those who are not and now the barbarians overrun the castle?

I’m finishing writing this a couple of weeks after seeing, so its freshness is dulled. I’m not sure if this is a bad review, though likely I will earn a third ‘Fuck you’ as it goes with the 21 or 27 less favourable ones. Would I see it again? Yes, though rather I’d like to see Je Suis Sang again, but that’s not the point. I’d see it for its horrid, raucous, bloated, incomplete, endless wandering, somehow like substanceless vaudeville, somehow attempting high social politics, its inadequate direction that firstly asked for extremes from performers who were more than capable of giving that and then sold them short by providing scant justification and direction for this, and perhaps also failing to bridge the chasm between those extremes and the social world upon which they discoursed, leaving everything in a storm of much noise and confusion, and yet glaringly incomplete.