Things we lost in the fire: Jan Fabre’s disappointing ‘Prometheus Landscape II’

As I was driving home afterwards, I heard about Libya going up in flames, on the news. And all of a sudden Jan Fabre‘s Prometheus Landscape II came down crashing. All those carefully constructed visual images and those stories about gods, fire, passion and heroes, seemed even emptier than before. Strange how a performance that is trying to get to everyone’s core, by talking about ancient archetypes and shared instincts, and that is pretending to be playing with fire, ends up not affecting you at all.

Want to talk about heroes, passion, rebellion, fire and flames? Then these are interesting times. And Prometheus Landscape II (Fabre made his first Prometheus in 1988) immediately had me sitting on the edge of my seat, with that opening scene. A stout man, tied in ropes, and then that woman on the left, and that man on the right, both smoking a cigarette. He: cursing Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. She, asking repeatedly: Where is our hero? Are we desperate? We need heroes now!

And then the curtain rose and revealed that stunning visual image that would be present throughout the performance: Prometheus, being quartered with ropes, and behind him, on the back wall, a giant fireball. The sun, the earth, the moon. He would be hanging there, all the time, while the rest of the cast engaged in a never-ending series of wild and rowdy scenes, transforming the stage in some sort of battlefield for firemen. Because the world this Prometheus is living in, is one in which every flaming fire has to be put out immediately, be it with a bucket of sand, or a giant fire extinguisher.

Of course you get the usual amount of nakedness, shivering bodies and actors running, dancing and shouting, and of scenes trying to be shocking in some sort of way, while being funny as well (the guy using his penis as a hand drill to ignite fire, or the Hitler mustaches), while the sound scape of Dag Taeldeman (from Belgian rock band A Brand) is trying to add some suspense. One actor sings little snippets of classic songs about fire, every once in a while, by Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Peggy Lee or The Doors.

In eight monologues (by Jeroen Olyslaeghers) other Olympian ‘heroes’ try to tell us about Prometheus and what has happened to his mythical fire. What have we humans done with the magical power of fire, and of imagination? Where has it gone? What has religion done to it? How come we have lost it? These are questions Jan Fabre is trying to raise. But strangely enough he didn’t make me feel or think anything at all. I merely sat there, watching all the sand being thrown around, and the clouds of smoke filling the stage. From an artist of his stature, I had certainly expected this Prometheus to be more thought-provoking and revealing.

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