In Prometheus—Landscape II (closed), part of Peak Performances at Montclair State University, Jan Fabre enjoined the audience in sharing the suffering of his protagonist (Kurt Vandendriessche), suspended directly in the center of the stage, ostensibly tethered by ropes to the Caucasus. Indeed, we are tested, but not nearly to the extent of the resilient cast. We get the evil eye by the large, largely unclothed Larry Goldhuber (a choreographer who once danced with Bill T. Jones), wrapped in ropes and staring at us as we enter and fuss nervously with our coats. Then we’re the minimally engaged bystanders who catch the verbal flak and cussing spewed in by two performers in the prologue before the curtain even rises on the main action.
Rebel Prometheus gave fire to humans and was punished by Zeus, who was actually a pretty nasty, bitter dude. Prometheus is visited by a cavalcade of characters, including Oceanus, Io, Athena, Hermes, and of course a chorus to bear witness. The ample text (“I am the all-giver” by Jeroen Olyslaegers, based on Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, and Fabre’s “We need heroes now”) runs in projected surtitles, which aided in understanding the words, if not necessarily the narrative at hand. What did sink in were Fabre’s gorgeous stage pictures, framed by alternating projections of different shots of the sun—the contracting and expanding flaming ball of gas that it is; or its domed surface, tendrilled with licking snake-tongue flames; or the moon, pale and pocked; or the ocean, at once refreshingly cool and suffocating.
Like his Belgian compatriot Jan Lauwers and Needcompany, Fabre deploys all genres of performance to manifest his vision. He uses text; phrases of expressionistic dance; little skits of dressing, undressing, and exposing body parts to assorted travails; and a veritable goody basket full of tricks involving flames and putting them out. (He coyly works fire-tamping buckets of sand into the mise en scène, with sand as a dousing metaphor, notably when applied to singers who break into songs whose subject is fire.) He is undeniably, perhaps insatiably curious and eager to broach boundaries, and yet the work feels slightly distant and nostalgic, a curio cabinet of performance taboos. And yes, by the end, you feel as if you’ve undergone some sort of major feat of endurance, followed by liberation.