Lawrence Goldhuber

Dance's big guy talks Jan Fabre.

  • Photograph: Wonge Bergmann

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    IT'S HOT IN HERE Jan Fabre presents Prometheus---Landscape II

  • Photograph: Wonge Bergmann

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  • Photograph: Wonge Bergmann

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  • Photograph: Wonge Bergmann

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  • Photograph: Wonge Bergmann

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  • Photograph: Wonge Bergmann

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  • Photograph: Wonge Bergmann

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Photograph: Wonge Bergmann

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IT'S HOT IN HERE Jan Fabre presents Prometheus---Landscape II

On getting the job: "Two years ago, I got an e-mail from Tony Rizzi, the famous expatriate who's been dancing 20 years with Forsythe. It turns out he's done at least eight shows with Jan Fabre. Jan had asked Tony if he knew of any big guys. Jan was writing a piece about an anorexic and had a vision of a big man who could move doing it, so they contacted me. Do you know how big Jan Fabre is? He's a rock star in Europe. He's bigger than Ailey is here. He's as big as Pina Bausch, and his artwork, even more. He said, 'We'll fly you over and work for a day or two to see if you want to work with me, if I want to work with you—fine.' Who wants to resist that kind of invitation? I did not know who he was at that point. The credit I was most impressed with was that he was the only living artist to have a retrospective at the Louvre. Wow. He's the most famous person I never heard of. Who here in America has a 26-city tour booked before the piece is made? No one."

On his tryout rehearsal: "There were about ten of us, and there were racks of costumes. He asked us to make a character: 'a pedophilic doctor.' So I put on a white lab coat and picked up a ventriloquism dummy and used that as a prop. And then it was 'a drunken street performer.' There were six characters, I think. The next phase was a dance improvisation. This went on for about eight or ten hours—a full day, which I later learned was how we worked. He's tireless."

On the working schedule: "We had class at 11am. Lunch 12:30 to 1pm. Rehearse from 1 to 6pm, dinner 6 to 7pm; rehearse 7 to 10pm. You had to eat together. Very socialist. My agent tried to negotiate [me] out of that, but you can't. The more shocking thing is that everyone wanted to go out for a drink after work. What could I possibly have to say? I mean, I went sometimes, but I'm not a drinker and I'm not a smoker. I was also afraid I'd come back [to the U.S.] smoking, because I am a smoker, but haven't been for many years. I don't need to be at the center where everything's happening. All I need is a single with a bath."

On Jan Fabre: "Let me tell you—Jan, for whatever his reputation may have been, did not get angry once. Now, I was very gun-shy from my experience with [Lloyd Newson's London company] DV8. That was my hesitation in taking the job. DV8 was a very unpleasant experience. But it was tremendous fun to work with Jan. It was hard work, but almost every day when they said, 'Time for dinner,' I was surprised that five breakless hours had passed. And I think it's inhuman for a director not to get angry over the course of 12 weeks. I mean, really. Jan barely raised his voice once. He's a man who likes to laugh, and I'm a man who likes to make people laugh."

On daily class: "There was a mix of ballet class, yoga, voice class, rope--bondage classes; kendo every Thursday; and then—the thing that was the most challenging for me—Jan Fabre class on Tuesdays, which involved animal improvisations and such. I don't know if it's just as a person of a certain age, but I don't want to expend that kind of energy on class. I want to warm up for the day ahead, to be ready. And that required, oh, so much energy. I dreaded it."

On bondage class: "The themes in Prometheus—Landscape II involve fire and bondage; those are images that are extrapolated throughout the piece. In preparation, we had some classes in bondage—how to make knots, how to create interesting images—with a wackadoodle named Shadow. After we complained several times, Jan came and dismissed her. She was a loon. And that's not the kind of person you want to work with when you're working with bondage. I had to go up in the air, and I trusted the crew—they said, 'This motor can lift 2,000 kilos.' I said, 'That's enough of a buffer for me.' And up I went. This woman came and she was a lunatic. She dropped herself from the ropes and said, 'This is something you don't want to do.' She's a fetishist really."

On building the piece: "It was about structured improvisations. There were 10 or 12 additional people the first two weeks who were vying for the last remaining slots, but basically Jan would divide us into groups of three, four or five and say, 'Make up improvisations based on danger and fire.' So you would script little things: Joan of Arc at the stake; being trapped in an elevator filling with smoke; Pompeii. And then each group would show an improvisation and everybody would take notes on what we'd done and seen. And then he would say, 'Okay, do another round of smoke.' Weeks. Hour after hour. When you've done 40, go out and do more. And you know what? You came up with more ideas. I don't work that way at all. I know what I want, I go in with an idea and I have my dancers do it for those two hours, and I come out with the minute that I was planning on. This is all about generating material. Later, when we were putting the show together, he'd say, 'Larry, do that rubbing the sticks together to make fire' [Goldhuber brushes his hands vigorously.] He would ask another dancer, 'Put your legs so that the stick is in between them to make a fire in the vagina.' Okay. And I say, 'Where exactly is the vagina?' [Giggles] That got a big laugh."

On the institution of Jan Fabre: "The facilities are amazing. Jan says, 'You know what I want? I want some livestock.' The next day we're working with three goats onstage. Seriously. One of the original concepts was a mash-up of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket with the Prometheus story. We walk in one day, ten beds, lockers: a full set. Two days later—he doesn't like it. It's gone. His building not only has a costume shop and a full wood-and-metal/set shop and all the offices for his visual artwork and theater work, they worked in another kitchen and dining area. It's a big, happy empire. Everyone's smiling. Except for the financial manager."

On his role: "I was hired to play Prometheus. In the process, [the production team] kept asking me to be angrier. Rage more. I was tied up center stage, very bound. Sitting there, having to just stare ahead at Jan—and those early improvisational run-throughs would be three hours long—raging, expending all this energy and apparently not giving them what they wanted. They would say, 'You're giving too much meaning to the words.' I don't even know what that means. So they don't feel I'm angry enough, and then I play one of the other roles, Prometheus's brother Epimetheus, who's a little bit retarded and sweet and simple. They're like, 'Oh my God, it's you. You're not Prometheus, you're Epimetheus.' It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me."

On his monologue: "This has a very strong text. It's the story of Prometheus, and it's been broken down to about ten characters' monologues, and it opens with a piece by Jan called, 'We Need Heroes Now.' It's really the thrust of the whole piece. The backstory is that Epimetheus and Prometheus were told to distribute traits to all the animals, and Epimetheus was so generous that they gave everything away and there was nothing left to give man, which is one of the reasons Prometheus stole fire. Zeus punishes Prometheus. But Epimetheus thinks it's his fault, so my monologue is about that guilt. Like I said, the character is a little simpleminded. I'm typecast again: sweet and simple. Do you remember Vincent D'Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket? Before they brought me over, they were saying that was the role model for Prometheus. It was strange that I wasn't delivering what they wanted in terms of anger. That character, until he snaps at the end, isn't angry. So when I was doing the Epimetheus, I was kind of channeling the Vincent D'Onofrio--Gomer Pyle character and, of course, that's why they loved it."

On not being naked in a Jan Fabre work: "I want to say that the first day of rehearsal, Jan said, 'I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do or feel uncomfortable with.' That was all I needed to hear. I'll admit, I went in not wanting to be naked onstage again. I have been naked onstage. I'm sure you have seen me naked onstage. I am not interested. And I become a little bit obsessed with it—meaning, if I have to do it, it's all I think about. It's ridiculous, because I've really accepted my body and all that. But Jan said, 'Other people around here will do crazy things.' And sure enough, there's plenty of penis and pussy, or cock and cunt—anyway you want to put it, there is enough. By the second day, I was in my underwear. The smartest thing I did was to buy ten new pairs of underwear—little black briefs—before I went. I just knew it. I didn't want to be droopy drawers. You want to drop your pants with confidence. But I'm sure the other nine members of the cast would be surprised to find out how uncomfortable I am standing around in my underwear, because I pretend that it doesn't matter. That's what I've always done. Pretended to be comfortable with it. You notice I'm not naked in my own work. Always dressed."

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