Sexual harassment trial set for Belgian art star Jan Fabre

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Fabre has been increasingly shunned by the art community as the trial looms (AFP/LOUISA GOULIAMAKI)
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Belgian choreographer Jan Fabre, one of Europe's most celebrated and controversial artists, will face trial next year on charges of sexual harassment and indecent assault, a court ruled Tuesday.

The criminal tribunal in the city of Antwerp said the case would be heard over two days on 25 March and 1 April 2022.

The 62-year-old choreographer, visual artist and theatre director -- known for his provocative performances -- faces up to five years in jail over allegations of "violence, harassment or sexual harassment" against 12 employees, and one count of indecent assault.

The case stems from complaints by 20 dancers from his company who in 2018 alleged suffering years of humiliation and sexual harassment in an open letter that thrust the #metoo movement into the highest spheres of Europe's avant garde.

The former employees described a toxic work environment where sexual acts became an exchange for performance time and where "humilation was our daily bread".

Among other accusations, they said that Jan Fabre invited artists to his home under the pretext of preparing performances, but would then attempt a "sexual approach".

Some staff were offered a substantial sum after these invitations, with those who refused the money seeing their stature in the group suffer.

They alleged several acts of humiliation and sexual intimidation, including "semi-secret" photographic sessions in which dancers were singled out with offers of money and urged to take drugs to "feel more free".

Fabre has defended himself, insisting when the complaints first emerged that "it was never my intention to intimidate or hurt people psychologically or sexually".

But prosecutors referred the case for trial in June after three years of investigations.

Fabre's lawyer Eline Tritsmans said "the image given of him in the media does not correspond to reality".

Fabre has been increasingly shunned by the art community as the trial looms.

A show by his dance troupe scheduled for later this year in Belgium has been cancelled and an Antwerp museum has removed one of his sculptures.

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