The art of entertainment
Els Van Steenberghe - Knack (20 September 2011)

"We go on and on and on and on ..." This catchy chorus marked the end of Isabella's Room (2002). The play was the first part of a trilogy in which Jan Lauwers – theatre maker, visual artist and artistic director of Needcompany, a Brussels-based ensemble - went in search of happiness in spite of the calamity that affects every life. Isabella's Room was written after the death of Lauwers' father. The culmination of the trilogy, The Deer House (2009) grew out of the horrible news that one of the dancers received. Her brother, a war photographer, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and died... After this impressive Sad Face / Happy Face trilogy Lauwers started to work on something new. The result is The Art of Entertainment, a creation which also kicks of a year of festivities, as Needcompany is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. [...] A FAKE TELEVISION SHOW AND SOME CUNNING DIRECTING Initially we see a slightly hesitant Roofthooft who hardly convinces us of his aversion to life and acting. It’s as if he does not really mean what he’s saying. It takes a while before he finds his ground, playing opposite an impressive and subtly hilarious Viviane (aka Liliane) De Muynck. Grace Ellen Barkey (who plays Gena, Waner's mistress) also needs some time to warm up. She too seems to be playing her role without actually believing what she says. Like the actors the dancers (a virtuoso Misha Downey and Julien Faure) also seem to have a hard time finding their bearing on stage. They tumble and stumble tirelessly across the stage, which serves as the bright and glittery ‘set’ on which the show is recorded. And they also toy with the ‘Japanese titbit’ (dancer Yumiko Funaya) who will be Roofthooft’s last meal. Even the ‘camera woman’, Elisabeth (a sensual Eléonore Valère) always manages to zoom in on the faces and other body parts of her counterparts at the wrong moment. ‘What the hell is going on here?’ we asked ourselves during the performance. ‘Has Lauwers lost his touch? Why does he block off every scene instead of letting it come to fruition? He even blocks off Roofthooft for no apparent reason, in the middle of a monologue (or at any rate during its promising start) on the art of acting. He breaks off every captivating dance monument and turns it into slapstick. Surely that cannot be the intention, can it? Then suddenly we understood. This was Lauwers’ cunningly composed intention. He succeeds in blocking off his talent to turn visual art, dance, spoken and sung words as well as music into an overwhelming, narrative, gripping chaos, in a courageous yet masterful manner. Why? The art of entertainment is Lauwers’ indictment of the eternal, horny tendency of the media and of performers as a whole towards sex, spectacle and amplified ‘authenticity’. And how better to do this by disrupting the mechanism of entertainment on his stage? This takes guts. And that is Lauwers’ statement: the performing arts lack the guts to oppose this insatiable desire for fun, voyeuristic tableaus and blind spectacle. Art is entertainment, according to Lauwers, provided that this art is created out of necessity and of respect for man and the society in which we live. Hence: The Art of Entertainment. Theater is a sanctuary where you can think. It is a slow medium and we have to take it much more seriously. I am a huge advocate of the theatre, even more so than I was ten years ago. Maybe we can rediscover the function of art through the theatre? So Lauwers decided to make the transition between the scenes just a tad stiffer, to allow for more emotion, and for a choreography that falters. In short, he has stripped the tender and provocative beauty from his language thereby arguing in favour of its necessity. Thus The Art of Entertainment invites us to think first and foremost about the mechanisms of entertainment. Lauwers is convincing as a critic of the hollow entertainment industry, of the lack of necessity among theatre makers and of the abuse of beauty. [...] The Art of Entertainment makes us realise that theatre is equally art and entertainment, which requires honest and ingeniously composed beauty, precisely by economising on impressive imagery and equally impressive words.

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