Review of Xavier Fontaine’s ‘A Celibration’

A Celibration is not a stage version of a vampire movie, but in this performance Xavier Fontaine drinks blood from a glass – instead of a bloody throat. He does it elegantly, after drawing the blood from his own veins.

Xavier Fontaine, a graduating mime student at the Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, is the protagonist of A Celibration. He is supported by another (un-named) performer, who is sitting with him at a table and who watches the audience. This performer observes how the spectators are reacting on Fontaine’s actions. While keeping eye-contact with the spectators, he also holds the line between the performance and the visitors.

The intensity of this performance is not only caused by the bizarre content, but also the constant closeness between actors and spectators. We all get offered a glass of red wine. The free wine creates a lively and cheerful atmosphere. On the other hand it connects the audience with the performers: the spectators become a part of the show by doing the same as the performers: holding a glass filled with red liquid.

After shaking hands with every single spectator Fontaine starts this presentation of body manipulation. Fontaine transforms his face with his hands into grimaces, slowly and seriously, not fishing for funny moments. After transforming the ‘sur-face’, he puts his attentions on his own inner material: his blood.

The most impressive and disturbing scene in A Celibration is – without a doubt – the moment where Fontaine takes a blood sample of himself. And then drinks it. The lively atmosphere of the audience is gone. They are shocked, disgusted, irritated. Fontaine acts in full concentration, without any visible expression of pain or disgust. He is not acting – he does not create a theatrical illusion. This is not theatre, this is reality.

In this attitude lies a very important difference to the performances of the Wiener Aktionismus of the sixties, where the performers used real blood as well. The works of Hermann Nitsch for example, were big, expressive and pathetic – they wanted to shock. This ‘shocking effect’ was created from a kind of dubious disrespect of the living, or even dead, body. By using the tool of disgust Nitsch wanted to create a catharsis in the audience, and a reflection on death.

Just like Nitsch, Fontaine is dealing with mortality and death. But he, however, is not acting against his body in hate or anger. Even while manipulating his body he seems to keep a respectful distance. But this contradiction between his respectful and concentrated actions and this act of self-destruction is also irritating.

A reason for this annoyance lies in the culture-history of blood itself. There is a taboo about blood, which is rooted in the Jewish religion, where it is strictly forbidden to consume blood, because the blood belongs to God, who created the sacred human body.

Historically blood was used to seal a promise, or used in sacrificial pagan rites. Remember Faust signing the devil’s contract with his own blood? And the Catholic rite of the Eucharist, as the act of drinking red wine at the Lord ’s Supper in place of Christ’s blood is ritualized to renew the forgiveness of the sins and to feel the unity of men and God.

Fontaine’s performance seems to be a derivative of the Catholic illusion of the wine as Christ’s blood. The title itself, A Celebration, can be seen as a recitation of the Lord ’s Supper. Fontaine drinks his own blood instead of Christ’s blood. Does he want to ridicule this Christian ritual? Or is he using this strong image to create a moment of intensity and irritation? Even if the message is not clear, Fontaine’s performance offers a space for the viewers, which they can fill with their own stories and proper associations.

A Celibration can be seen as a performance against death. Drawing blood can be seen as a small suicide. As way to show that you decide about your life and your body. In that way, both taking a blood sample and committing suicide can both be seen as a statements against passivity. To live a life where you yourself are the one who’s finally in charge.

The death – or at least the absence – of Fontaine’s father is ignored, when Fontaine asks a spectator if he would like to be his father this evening. By this simple spoken act he creates a replacement of his father. By keeping the expression ‘his own flesh and blood’ in mind, it is possible to see that Fontaine is not only drinking his own blood but as well his father’s blood.

However, Fontaine is unable to articulate himself in front of the representation of his father. This way, he shows his feeling of inferiority. He takes possession of the power of his father by drinking his blood, which resembles the pagan rite of eating the heart of the loser of a fight to incorporate his strength.

A Celibration shows Xavier Fontaine’s dauntlessness in overcoming his disgust to please his father, and to receive his admiration. He does not intent to get his father’s approval. But this evening, he definitely got it from the audience.

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