LE MONDE
Brigitte Salino - LE MONDE

Jan Lauwers stages a dance spectacle, 'Isabella's Room', inspired by the death of his father. A 90 year-old woman who has become blind goes in search of the secret of her birth. This is a performance that continues to follow you long after it has ended, like a white shadow, which pursues you through the streets, through the night. It is 'Isabella's room' by Jan Lauwers, which opens and closes with a song: 'We just go on', a song you will not easily forget, because those who sang it for you did so with a smile, an attempt to give some much-needed lightness to what comes after the end: beyond death. The death in this case is the death of Jan Lauwers' father, an event which provided the inspiration for 'Isabella's Room'. That is what Jan Lauwers told you very bluntly as he stepped, dressed in a white suit, on to the equally white stage. 'My father died two years ago', he said. He was a surgeon and collected ethnological and archaeological artefacts. There were up to 5,000 of these objects in the family home, many of them from Africa. Jan Lauwers spent his childhood surrounded by these objects. He thought it normal to sleep while coffins and sarcophagi were lying under his bed. 'Since my father died, it disturbs me', he said. So he wrote a story about it. A story in which the objects from a dream that is dead and gone forever are situated in the room inhabited by a living woman, Isabella. This woman could have just stepped out of a fairy tale. Her room contains a secret, the secret of her birth. We are told this when Isabella is 90 years old. She has travelled through the 20th century, from the Great War of 1914-1918 to the present. Now she is blind and she is taking in an experiment which allows the images in her brain to be projected. Her brain is present on the stage, in the form of two women representing the right and left cerebral hemispheres. They stand around Isabella like all the others who have played a part in her life. And they talk, and they sing and they dance on the white stage, white like memory, white like a blotted-out lie. Arranged on tables - also white - are objects from the collection of Jan Lauwers' father. Jan Lauwers stands to one side, sometimes mingling with the others who are living, there; in front of him and with him; the history of this woman, which is a history of reconciliation. Isabella grew up in a lighthouse, on an island, with Anna and Arthur, a drunken, tottering man who told her that her father was a desert prince. Anna died young and, at her funeral, the inhabitants of the island carried her body high over their heads, in a wild movement to break the waves. PASSION FOR LIFE Then Arthur left, and on his departure he gave the key to a room in Paris. That room contained objects left behind by the desert prince. Isabella shared her room and her life with them. She became an anthropologist. One day, Arthur turned up again. He gave Isabella a letter to be opened only after his death. The letter contained the secret of her birth. And so Isabella found out. However, the knowledge did not, as it might have done, diminish her passion for life, 'the passion of a mad, almost unbearable beauty'. It is this procession of loves, of lovers and of dead persons linked with the living, this wild and fully embraced desire not to put an end to things when the end of History began with Hiroshima, this undisguised enjoyment that we see portrayed on the stage by the actors, dancers and singers of Jan Lauwers' company. And with them, all around the wonderful Isabella, played by Viviane de Muynck, we feel the breath of life in a way that we seldom do, when bodies and voices unite beyond death, to say simply and with a smile: 'We just go on, go on, go on'.

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