Flemish avant-garde
Marie-Christine Vernay - LIBERATION (12 July 2004)

In Avignon and Marseilles, Belgian dance confirms its lack of complexes and its inventiveness. When a programmer wants to bridge the traditional gulf that separates dance and theatre, he generally enlists the services of Belgians, Flemish Belgians. Since the 1970s, when Jan Fabre cleared the way, they have been accustomed to cross-overs between the two genres of styles, performers, producers and choreographers alike, but even video-artists, authors and plastic artists. As most of them come from the world of fine arts, unlike their French counterparts, they have never felt bound to any particular choreographic heritage. The Flemings, who despite being highly productive are rarely seen in pure dance festivals, are kings of the castle in Avignon. We must seek refuge in Jan Lauwers' Isabella's Room to witness a saga that starts with the First World War and takes us through to the present day. Once again, this is a story about collection and heritage. Ethnological objects are exhibited on stage. They say a great deal about colonisation and archaeological plundering. Lauwers is explosive. In her museum-like room, the 90 year-old Isabella, blind and isolated, looks back over her life. As in a cinematographic flash-back, people rise up from the past. As in the worst TV series, we are treated to a family saga, from the father who was allegedly a desert prince to the grandson who falls madly in love with his grandmother. The distance that is created elicits laughter. There could not be a worse nightmare: a shared family madness that is collectively placed at the very centre of the inheritance. How is Jan Lauwers, himself also clearly attracted to Isabella, going to extract himself from this mess? Dressed in a white suit, he is hardly more sane than the deranged lover, the incestuous grandson, the drunken adoptive father, the ruined mother,... Somewhere between a small-time pimp and a dandy explorer, Lauwers is not brilliant and lurks in a corner of the stage like a disillusioned conductor. Jan Lauwers chose Gabriel Garcia Marquez as a guide to convey the narrative to the audience. It works, because the generous Isabella opens the door to her room and invites us in. And, like the actors, we leave it by singing together. Isabella's Room is an explosive piece, a story without moral, an aubade, a love song addressed to a woman who has seen a procession of the worst horrors '“ one after the other: the world wars, the camps, Hiroshima, the famine in Africa, the ultra-right wing Vlaams Blok party, ... Isabella certainly deserves this homage, as much as the interpreter of her role, the mad genius Viviane De Muynck. Now penniless, and inspired by the most mind-numbing, tear-jerking of scenarios, she finally puts the collection up for sale. Or rather Jan Lauwers' collection, because it is really his paternal heritage.

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