Gala [Creation 2015]

April 5, 2017 at 8:00 PM
At the Opéra national de Lorraine

Ticket category A

Conception : Jérôme Bel
Assistant : Maxime Kurvers
By and with : casting in progress
Costumes : the dancers
Coproduction : Dance Umbrella (London), TheaterWorks Singapore/72-13, KunstenFestivaldesArts (Brussels), Tanzquartier Wien, Nanterre-Amandiers Centre Dramatique National, Festival d'Automne à Paris, Theater Chur (Chur) and TAK Theater Liechtenstein (Schaan) - TanzPlan Ost, Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia, Théâtre de la Ville (Paris), HAU Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin), BIT Teatergarasjen (Bergen), La Commune Centre dramatique national d’Aubervilliers, Tanzhaus nrw (Düsseldorf), House on Fire with the support of the European Union cultural program
Production : R.B. Jérôme Bel (Paris)
With the support of : Centre National de la Danse (Pantin) and Ménagerie de Verre (Paris) in the framework of Studiolab for providing studio spaces
Thanks to : the partners and participants of the Dance and voice workshops, NL Architects and Les rendez-vous d’ailleurs
Duration : 1h30 withtout intermission
Artistic advice and company development : Rebecca Lee
Production manager : Sandro Grando
Technical advice : Gilles Gentner
Subsidies : R.B Jérôme Bel is supported by the Direction régionale des affaires culturelles d'Ile-de-France, French Ministry for Culture and Communication, and by the Institut Français, French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, for its international tours

Crédits photos : R.B.


With Gala, Jérôme Bel continues his patient deconstruction of the institutional representation of dance, concerning himself less with destroying dogmas than with questioning what is absent, or fortuitously silent, and what is voluntarily forgotten. After having had mentally handicapped dancers perform (Disabled Theater), then members of the audience, (Cour d’honneur) the choreographer again gives the stage to those who are generally kept off it, here a group of amateurs giving rein to their amateurism in the fullest sense of lovingly doing art. His fight against generalised exclusion from performing in a show takes here the form of a gala, a non professional collective celebration, sapping the authority of the idea of “dancing well” to the benefit of the pure pleasure of being your own producer. Galaexplores the physical and intellectual plasticity of these novice bodies by mobilising their desire to express themselves through dance and their capacity to embody, albeit minimally, a choreographic knowledge.  

Inspired by the experience of a workshop with amateurs in Seine-Saint-Denis, the piece explores an alternative path to the official channels of choreographic art. The choice of a gala form, poor relation of the professional show, thus gives the place of honour to the simplicity of execution of domestic dance, the sort you can do at home, without mastery or technique, thereby, it is assumed, sacrificing any strictly aesthetic interest. Arriving in their party clothes, picked out from their own wardrobes, the dancers take over that place of power, the stage, and in a sense do away with its authority. Shown in all its bareness, as in all Jérôme Bel’s shows, the stage becomes an empty space for these improvised interpreters to invest. In this neutralised place, the presentation of their intuitive bits of knowledge and their home-made movements illustrates the idea of an “equality of different sorts of intelligence”, a theory of Jacques Rancière in The Ignorant Master, but displaces it to the field of dance: just as there are not several different ways of being intelligent, Gala suggests a continuity between all the different ways of dancing. At one and the same time Jérôme Bel discredits the specialist’s reduction of the amateur to his supposed impotence, and definition of him as an imperfect and dull figure, in order to valorise his choreographic potential.  

In the first part of the show, the performers one by one give their interpretation of a signatory gesture of a particular period of dance, following a thread which leads from the highly codified classical ballet to the liberated dance of modern times. Jérôme Bel here shows the unconscious processes of assimilation through which each person integrates the official history of dance. The piece thus distances itself clearly from the words of experts, and runs counter to the series of portraits (Véronique Doisneau or Cédric Andrieux) which presented the backstage of the dance world to the general public. Completely to the contrary, Gala in its own way poses the question of the “non-dancer”, an expression that is widely used in contemporary theory but whose pertinence Jérôme Bel has long disputed: who do we see evolving on stage if not dancers? Is dance necessarily conditioned by an acquisition of know-how? How otherwise can these interpreters be qualified if what they are doing is not performing? Isn’t a poor dance nonetheless still a dance? Through this series of individual performances, the piece shows tangibly the infusion of artistic imaginations in the social group; the steps and attitudes proper to each choreographic form together constitute a collective memory, an embodied cultural knowledge. 

Running counter-current to his handling of the theme in The show must go on, the form of the show in Gala does not involve any criticism of popular entertainment. Jérôme Bel is on the contrary levelling high and low culture, erasing the hierarchies between the different cultural layers to probe the common basis of dance performance. The presence of a few professional performers in the middle of the group gives the audience the opportunity to suspend any idea of judgement, to toss away their expectations and their reflexes of appreciation, by confronting dancers of different types and levels, and placing them on the same footing. This lack of differentiation, while not preventing comparisons, removes any doubt as to the intention: although a certain distance makes it permissible to smile, the treatment of amateurism does not allow any irony. The final aim of the undertaking is certainly not to invite mockery, but quite the contrary to question the feeling of superiority which does allow it. It is up to the spectator to decide whether to undertake the reform of his critical way of viewing.  

From the experience of these bodies with no particular choreographic qualities, the most benevolent members of the audience might retain an image of fragility or lack of discipline, the most defeatist of something grotesque or an artistic rout. By placing themselves however outside a system of judgement, as the piece invites them to do, they can perceive in the approximation, gaucheness and spontaneity the language of rough and unformatted bodies, which are alternatives to virtuosity. To the rigid attitudes, movements and discourses of the academic world, these bodies are opposing their mobility and their irregularity, and thus their inventiveness. In this way, the spectator is never confronted with a neutral or generic body but with an individual one which startles and astonishes and thus poses questions. The value of what has failed, missed the target or been badly executed resides thereby in its capacity to deconstruct models and to reap benefit from their distortions. As in Samuel Becket’s Worstword Ho, Jérôme Bel encourages the performers to give fruition to their failures, to “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” so as to make their lack of skills opportunities for an alternative plasticity, for another way to produce dance, starting from what is lacking. The show thereby celebrates non-know-how without ever lapsing into an ode to mediocrity. 

Secondly, Gala subverts the system: the performers no longer have to embody emblematic steps and assigned forms, but become in themselves the models through which the choreographies are transmitted. One by one, each person executes solo a dance that he does in real life. The rest of the group is encouraged to imitate him by immersing themselves in the steps in an extra-verbal form of communication, similar to what Rancière calls universal learning, in the same way as we learn our mother tongue, picking it up without any discursive mediation. Through this device, Jérôme Bel lets us see the mechanisms of imitation through which art forms impose and diffuse themselves in the bodies which are interpreting them. Outside academic apprenticeship, the processes by which dance is appropriated in fact arise from a collection of imitated behaviours through which an individual joins in a collective recital (be it family, ethnic, generational or whatever), which is a component of his own particular identity. Each solo reveals the corporeal forms of this cultural heritage while at the same time enabling its performer to experience a new territory, and to express himself outside his usual community. On stage, in the heart of the group which both isolates and integrates him at the same time, each dancer delivers his knowledge and informs the others with it, in the dual sense of transmitting knowledge and sculpting their bodies. 

In this collective mechanism, dance is thus brought back to its political and social application, its capacity to unite ephemeral communities. But where academic training tends to create homogeneity and a uniformity of behaviours, the group of amateurs reveals through its general gaucheness the particularities of each of its members. Its lack of synchronicity therefore lets strongly differentiated personalities emerge which are interpreted through variations in rhythm, amplitude, grace or energy. The professional dancers themselves, shaken out of their comfort zone of being technicians, go through a test of unlearning, divest themselves little by little of their automatic behaviour, to rediscover the sheer pleasure of dancing. Through a demonstration of bodies simply moved by a wish to produce themselves, to be their own production, Gala discreetly asks the question of primum movens, what is behind the impulse to create dance, the infancy of dance. If this is a natural aptitude, the simple expression of the relation of our body to time and space of which art is only the sophisticated form, the excuse ‘I can’t dance’ no longer holds true. For Bel, as for Rancière, valorising an intuitive and unconsciously absorbed knowledge, which puts intelligence at the service of what we want, and is capable of destroying the inhibitions of the desires to dance, Gala should finally be understood as a hedonistic manifesto of dance without complexes.  

Florian Gaité

Jérôme Bel 

Jerome Bel lives in Paris, he works worldwide. 

His first piece, a choreography of objects, is entitled nom donné par l'auteur (1994). The second one, Jerome Bel (1995), is based on the identity and the total nudity of the four performers. The third one, Shirtology (1997) presents an actor wearing many shop-bought T-shirts. The last performance (1998), which in quoting several times a solo by the German choreographer Susanne Linke, and also Hamlet or André Agassi, tries to define an ontology of the performance. The piece Xavier Le Roy (2000) was claimed by Jérôme Bel as his own, but was actually made by the choreographer Xavier Le Roy. The show must go on (2001) brings toghether a cast of twenty performers, nineteen pop songs and one DJ. In 2004, he was invited to produce a piece for the Paris Opera ballet : Veronique Doisneau (2004), a theatrical documentary on the work of the dancer Véronique Doisneau, from the ballet corps of that company. Isabel Torres (2005) for the ballet of the Teatro Municipal of Rio de Janeiro is the Brazilian version of the production for the Paris Opera. Pichet Klunchun and myself (2005) is created in Bangkok with the Thai traditional dancer Pichet Klunchun. In 2009, he produces Cédric Andrieux (2009), dancer in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and then at the Lyon Opera Ballet. In 2010, he creates with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker 3Abschied (2010), a performance based on The song of the Earth by Gustav Malher. In 2012, he produces Disabled Theater (2012), a piece with a Zurich-based company, Theater Hora, consisting of professional actors with learning disabilities. In Cour d'honneur (2013) he stages fourteen spectators at the Cour d'honneur of the Palais des Papes within the Avignon Festival. In Gala (2015), the choreographer stages together professional people from the dance field and amateurs coming from different backgrounds. In Tombe (2016), performance created at the invitation of Opéra National de Paris, Jérôme Bel proposed to some dancers of the ballet to invite, for a duet, the person with who they would never share the stage. 

The films of his shows are presented in contemporary art biennials and in many museums. Jérôme Bel received a Bessie Award for the performances of The show must go on in New York in 2005. In 2008 Jerome Bel and Pichet Klunchun received the Routes Princess Margriet Award for Cultural Diversity (European Cultural Foundation) for Pichet Klunchun and myself (2005). In 2013, Disabled Theater (2012) was selected for the Theatertreffen in Berlin and won the Swiss Dance Awards - Current Dance Works.