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Jan Fabre Under Investigation Following Sexual Harassment Claims

After accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct, the Belgian choreographer and Troubleyn dance company founder Jan Fabre is being investigated by the Flemish Ministry of Culture.

Twenty former employees and dancers have sent an open letter to the Dutch art magazine rekto:verso describing a culture of harassment at Troubleyn, which started in 1986. The letter alleges that Fabre, who is among Europe’s most acclaimed and contentious artists, engaged in a pattern of intimidation, inappropriate comments, and sexual harassment. “It came down to the proposition: ‘No sex, no solo,’” a performer who worked with Fabre fifteen years ago is quoted as saying. “When I told people in my environment about my experience, they just shrugged their shoulders as if it was part of the job.”

Flemish minister of culture Sven Gatz said he is “concerned about the content of the letter” and that an investigation is ongoing, according to a statement he gave to the Art Newspaper. “Every complaint about behavior [that crosses boundaries] must be taken seriously,” Gatz continued, claiming he will wait until a review by his administration before he takes any further steps.

The letter—signed by twenty male, female, and nonbinary former dancers and employees—mentions six colleagues and performers who left the company, citing cases of sexual harassment, in the past two years. Eight of the signatories gave their names and twelve remained anonymous. Each included the dates they spent as employees and apprentices for Troubleyn, which ranged from 1998 to 2018.

The signatories allege that Fabre also had an ongoing, semi-secret practice of inviting performers to his home under the guise of making art and flipping the situation “into an opportunity where he can approach the performer sexually.”

One performer alleges that Fabre asked them to do one such project “on the side,” which he paid them for under the table. “These semi-secret photography projects and the exchange of sex for advancement have become a hidden currency in the company,” the letter says. When the performers rejected his advances, Fabre would allegedly respond with “various degrees of subtle and less subtle” punishment, ranging from verbal humiliation to stalking.

The open letter was prompted by an interview Fabre gave in late June with the public broadcast station VRT. In it, he spoke about a recent survey on sexual harassment, commissioned by Gatz, which found that one in four women in the cultural sector of Belgium had experienced sexual harassment in the last year. During the interview, Fabre appeared surprised by the numbers and said that there was “also something dangerous” about the survey “because the relationship, the secret bond between director/choreographer and actor/dancer . . . you will in fact also destroy and harm it incredibly.”

Troubleyn published its own letter defending Fabre in rekto:verso, denying the allegations and disputing that the claims were somehow covered up. “We deplore this attack via the media, as this constitutes an unfair public trial,” the response states. Jan Fabre is being publicly shamed without any form of defense, on the basis of anonymous testimony and allegations that are difficult to verify.”

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