Gala

Different locations in the city

1h 15min
FR / NL

Zinnema
8/05 – 20:30
9/05 – 20:30
Kaaitheater
28/05 – 20:30
29/05 – 20:30
30/05 – 20:30

Jérôme Bel is committed to the creation of a series of pieces assembled under the generic term Gala . The project brings together a group of 20 people on stage – professional dancers and actors, as well as amateurs, gathered together on location for the performance. The challenge is for individuals from diverse cultures and aesthetics to coexist on stage. Gala celebrates the desire for spectacle, widely shared, well beyond its practitioners. In a form that might be reminiscent of a New Year’s Eve gala by way of its sincerity, overindulgence, and – occasionally – the amateurism of its participants, the project questions the culture of the performing arts, and how this has infiltrated our bodies and our imaginations. It is based on the ability to represent oneself and take ownership of those figures of dance or theatre belonging to our common culture. One could summarise the project by quoting Samuel Beckett: “Try again, fail again, fail better”, and William Forsythe: “Ballet is a philosophy of failure.” For it is not about attaining excellence or virtuosity, but about doing the best within the means at one’s disposal. Ultimately, it is a declaration of love for the performing arts.

Concept & direction
Jérôme Bel

With
Esther Cloet, Chen Wei Lee, Tiran Willemse, Jared Onyango, Gabel Eiben, Anne Thuot, Sarah Baur, Oscar Noël, Viggo Maris, Sankisha Kazadi, Liza Vandendempt, Octavia De Buysscher, Annette Baussart, Christiane Gabriels, Rahmani Halima, Jolien Jaspers, Jessie Boel, Razia Alibhai, Jan Vanderlaenen

Assistence
Maxime Kurvers, Simone Truong

Artistic consultant & development
Rebecca Lee

Administration
Sandro Grando

Technical direction
Gilles Gentner

Presentation
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Zinnema, Kaaitheater

Production
R.B. Jérôme Bel (Paris)

Co-production
Kunstenfestivaldesarts in collaboration with Zinnema, TheatreWorks/72-13 (Singapore), Festival d’Automne à Paris, Nanterre-Amandiers Centre Dramatique National, Théâtre de la Ville (Paris), Dance Umbrella (London), Tanzquartier Wien, HAU Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin), Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia, BIT Teatergarsjen (Bergen), La Commune Centre dramatique national d’Aubervilliers, Tanzhaus nrw (Düsseldorf), Theater Chur (Chur) & TAK Theater Liechtenstein (Schaan) - TanzPlan Ost

Supported by
Centre National de la Danse (Pantin) & Ménagerie de Verre (Paris) in the framework of Studiolab for providing the studio space

Thanks to
Boris Charmatz & the partners and participants of Ateliers danse et voix

R.B. is supported by
DRAC Ile-de-France – Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Institut français – Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Office national de diffusion artistique (ONDA)

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Interview with Jérôme Bel about Gala

Since Disabled Theater and Cour d’honneur, your research has increasingly been oriented towards analysing the notion of the show using bodies, using individuals who are among those most often excluded from it. What are the political and aesthetic issues in Gala?
Gala is a project that came out of research undertaken over a fairly lengthy period. Originally, Jeanne Balibar had asked me to come and work with her in Montfermeil and Clichy-sous-Bois to support amateurs. I’d never done that before – and I don’t teach either – but in that setting I felt it was possible, firstly because Jeanne handed me everything on a plate, and then because it seemed to be a good place to deal with certain issues that I felt as possibly limiting my work. So I leaped at the chance! We both set out organising workshops called “dance and voice workshops”. At the workshops I met people who’d come because they were interested in dancing and singing – an interest that wasn’t particularly well defined. For my part, I didn’t know what that might bring, and meeting these “non-experts” ended up being a very rich encounter and inevitably very fragile too. So I decided to carry on and turn it into a professional show – mostly made with amateurs. The showGala comes out of that experience. I then quickly realised that if I was only working with amateurs, the work ran the risk of being interpreted through a “social” prism, a term that seems reductive to me as my work is firstly artistic, and then social and political. In order to avoid this interpretation, I thought it necessary to invite professionals to join the show in order to remove this amateur/ professional or social/artistic distinction. I had the sense that if Gala was going to have any meaning, it was duty bound to be an opportunity for coming together, not for any kind of exclusion. As a result the cast brings together people who had never got up on stage before and people for whom it’s their job – without making any distinction.

During the dance and voice workshop, each of the participants brought material associated with a personal context, painting subjective portraits. Is that still a dramaturgical thread running through Gala?
By definition, these people are “amateurs”, which comes from the Latin work “amare” which means to love. Amateur doesn’t just mean “nonprofessional” but also – and it’s important for this dimension to remain central – people who love and appreciate dance and entertainment. As a result, given that the objective was not remotely about turning them into professionals, the research was based on what they liked doing. I asked them how they liked to dance, what their references were and what they identified with. Very quickly the idea came of dance as culture more than art: the culture of dance. How do practices or learned forms created by artists become widespread in society? It’s a really fascinating perspective. I was already turning over these questions in my head, but with Gala it’s much more specific. Everyone has knowledge, not choreographic knowledge, but “danced” knowledge differing in its levels of sophistication depending on the people. The challenge in this piece is to avoid making judgements. What’s important is what these dances mean, not their intrinsic qualities, but what they express. Knowing that the professionals and non-professionals alike are alienated from this imperative of quality, with both groups subject to the rule of “doing well”.

Basically, you’re trying to spread dance as a “medium” by seeking to emphasise what it conveys rather than how it is done.
Dance as a medium of subjective expression, that’s right. What it reveals and what it allows each of us to express. As a result, anyone who says to me “Oh, I don’t know how to dance” really interests me. I’ve a tendency to respond: “But of course you do”, starting from that impossibility, that “I don’t know how to dance” to go beyond the notion of judgement. If someone “dances badly”, in my point of view that says something: something about his relationship with his body, with his culture, with his personal history. I called this piece Gala because for the first time I’m really using the driving forces, the tools allowed by the show. I used these driving forces for the first time in Disabled Theater, because the disabled actors pushed me to it and I let them. So from now on I accept using the “power of theatre” for people who don’t usually have access to these tools, who aren’t in a position of power in dance or theatre. With Gala, in a way I’m trying to give them weapons: music, costumes, an audience…

The form Gala, in the collective imagination, is also associated with the idea of an end-of-year gala, with all that conveys in terms of limited resources and heterogeneous forms. Did this aspect attract you in the idea of a “gala”?
The idea of a gala initially came from the format. For years I’ve wanted to use a fragmentary format, and I’ve been questioning the predominance of an hour-long format in contemporary dance. It can happen that an artist has an idea and he turns it into a piece. But sometimes you can resolve the problem posed by this idea in five minutes! There’s not necessarily any need to make it an hour-long performance… So Gala brings together several pieces of different lengths and aesthetics. There’s another question that’s been going round in my head for years. In simple terms: where does my passion for theatre come from? From having made films and worked in museums, I know that theatre is the place that suits me, where I feel most at ease, where I have a place. I tried to see what might have triggered this in me and went back over my childhood looking for a crucial experience. And recently I realised that it was my sister’s dance gala: those galas where children are organised into age groups and dance in whatever way they can… So I’d say that there are these two reasons: one concerning the format and the other more personal – a bit like a primitive scene. There’s a dimension of celebration that comes from the amateurs who led me towards their interest in dance; that had already happened – but without me knowing – during the piece with mentally disabled performers. Before this piece, I mainly got the dancers to talk. The mentally disabled performers had great difficulty expressing themselves through language, and it was when they danced that they were at their most eloquent. So I let them dance…

How have you worked with amateurs in the sense of this being “non-judgemental”, without introducing competition between the “talents”?
The process is in relation to dance. The idea is not “everyone do what they like”, but everyone work in relation to a reference, to a certain culture. I take them through various dance options: ballet, modern dance, pop etc. I offer them this filter. As always, it’s dance saying something about the world. My question has always been: what is this performance device, this device of western theatre? That is the question I ask myself. But not everyone is linked to the performing world. You have to have a basic level of desire – which is the same for spectators in the theatre too… If they’re sitting in a theatre, they’re not there for a recital or a football match. That can only work on both sides with people who are bringing some of their own desire into the mix. And it’s the handling of this desire that can counter the notion of judgement.

One word in particular struck me about the dance and voice workshop: independence. Giving a person back his independence when being confronted with the show’s codes. Not being spoken or acted by them, but appropriated by them.
It’s very important. I speak to them about it a lot. The fact that the amateurs do something else in society – that the show is not their job – makes it a place of freedom and sheer desire for them. What is involved starting with this desire also saves the professionals: leading them to question again the desire they have. What are they really doing? We work on very simple questions such as what is spinning. Spinning is a sensation, that’s why a two-year-old starts spinning round when you put music on. Why do they spin round? Because it gives them a sensation… So we work on the pirouette for example, which is nothing but a sophisticated form of spin. The word “pirouette” – a technical word in classical dance – evokes the idea of spinning for all of us. It’s part of our shared language. I work on this: how a specific thing, belonging to a defined field, to “professionals in the profession” to quote Godard, is also used outside this field. That’s what I was saying at the start about forms becoming widespread… The piece works on this gap between specialist language and everyday language, between avant-garde culture and research and popular culture. The objective is for it to address both. It involves a whole policy when it comes to production: we’re going to play in venues and theatres where I don’t usually perform. Initially in Parisian suburbs – thanks to the Festival d’Automne, which is ensuring that the pieces aren’t just being seen in inner Paris – but also in Cergy, Aubervilliers and Tremblay-en-France [after the creation in Brussels in May 2015, Ed.]. It’s fascinating economy in itself, requiring the use of other methods, changing modes of production. The artistic issues are based on issues about production and funding. Personally, I know I have something when the artistic project changes how things are done and organised. If it bucks the system and customary ways of doing things, it means we’re onto something interesting…

Interview conducted by Gilles Amalvi for the Festival d’Automne à Paris 2015

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Jérôme Bel (b. 1964) lives in Paris and works worldwide. His first piece was a choreography of objects entitled Nom donné par l'auteur (1994). The second, Jérôme Bel (1995), was based on the identities of four fully nude performers. The third, Shirtology (1997), presented an actor wearing multiple shop-bought T-shirts. The last performance (1998), which repeatedly quoted a solo by German choreographer Susanne Linke, as well as by Hamlet and André Agassi, attempted to define the ontology of the performance. The piece Xavier Le Roy (2000) was claimed by Jérôme Bel as being his own, but was actually made by choreographer Xavier Le Roy. The show must go on (2001) brings together a cast of 20 performers, 19 pop songs, and one DJ. In 2004, Bel was invited to produce a piece for the Paris Opera Ballet: Veronique Doisneau (2004) was a theatrical documentary on the work of dancer Véronique Doisneau from the company’s ballet corps. In the same vein, Isabel Torres (2005) was shown at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, a Brazilian version of the production at the Paris Opera. Pichet Klunchun and myself (2005) was created in Bangkok with Thai traditional dancer Pichet Klunchun. In 2009, Bel produced Cédric Andrieux (2009), about a dancer in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which was presented at the Lyon Opera Ballet. In 2010, he created, together with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, 3Abschied (2010), a performance based on The song of the Earth by Gustav Malher. In 2012, he made Disabled Theater (2012), a piece with Zurich-based company Theater Hora, consisting of professional actors with learning disabilities. In Cour d'honneur (2013) he put 14 spectators on stage at the Cour d'honneur du Palais des Papes as part of the Avignon Festival. The films from his shows are presented in contemporary art biennials and in many museums. Jérôme Bel received a Bessie Award for The show must go on in New York in 2005. In 2008, he and Pichet Klunchun received the ECF 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 Award for Current Dance Works.

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