An Interview with Jérôme Bel by Elsa Pépin

Jérôme Bel has gained an international reputation for being a philosophe, a provocateur and an enfant terrible.

Gala is based on the greatest possible diversity of its performers, thus allowing for an equality that is due to the singularity of each member in that community. – Jérôme Bel

Find out more about this renowned choreographer as he speaks about GALA in this interview by Elsa Pépin.

GALA will be showing at Victoria Theatre, 8pm from 6 – 8 October 2016.

In its use of both amateur and professional dancers, Gala pays tribute to amateurism, in the full sense of the term, as in “lover of the art form”. How does imperfection represent dance potential?

What has always interested me about amateurs is their fragility, the fact that unlike professionals who become masters of their respective art forms, amateurs are defenceless. Amateur practice is based on the principle of pleasure, of desire. Every amateur is in the process of becoming, and will never become as accomplished as a professional.

That momentum, that attempt, is without doubt one of the things in common with my own approach. As an artist I’m not seeking mastery of my tool, which is theatre. On the contrary, I endorse an experimental idea of theatre where each one of my works should lead me to something I do not master, even though that is not always the case.

A project consists of trying, attempting and exploring, rather than controlling or mastering, even if it means failing. As a spectator I always prefer seeing a show that takes risks over a successful piece that teaches me nothing new. For me the amateur dancer incarnates a certain idea of art that I am fiercely attached to.

As Samuel Beckett said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better”.

Why did you choose the gala format? Is it a way of deconstructing the institutional representation of dance, of passing judgement? 

It’s a bit of all that. I must say that I’m starting to have a real problem with the representation of bodies in what is now called “contemporary dance”. I find it terribly standardized. In 99% of dance shows the dancers are between 20 and 35 years of age, are svelte, in great shape and good-looking and even very beautiful. I find that extremely limiting for an art whose tool is the body.

There are all sorts of bodies, and I think all of them should be portrayed. It’s come to the point where contemporary dance produces an academicism to match that of classical dance. Judgement is of course another sinew of war that the status of the amateur undermines, which delights me.

With judgement thus invalidated, what remains? What remains is the meaning of dance, what it signifies, what it expresses of the dancing individual (amateur or professional), what dance reveals of the individual that language cannot.

By bringing together all sorts of bodies aged 7 to 70 in a mix of different cultures, body sizes, weights, and knowledge, you portray a human microsociety its all its diversity. What interests you about body disparity and diversity?

I’ve always thought that a dance company should reflect onstage a certain idea of the world. I mean the dance of modernity, the dance that began with Isadora Duncan, Nijinsky etc. It seems to me that major choreographers have continued in that vein, which is what I find interesting in the work of Pina Bausch, Maguy Marin, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown, Simone Forti, William Forsythe, Xavier Le Roy, Trajal Harrell, Boris Charmatz and Anne Teresa de Keersmaker.

In the historical moment that is ours, the work of choreographers should take into account the diversity of their societies, for the related social issues are absolutely gigantic.

By putting professionals and amateurs on equal footing, Gala postulates that all forms of dancing have value, calling into question the notions of “non-dancer”, of beauty and of merit. Why this desire to quash hierarchies, to give back to dance its intuitive knowledge?

Most certainly all forms of dance have worth and value, just as no human being is worth less than another. Allow me to quote the last sentence of Sartre’s The Words: “A whole man, made of all men, worth all of them, and any one of them worth him.”

The equality that I am trying to produce among the different dancers of Gala is a meta equality, if I may say so, for Gala is based on the greatest possible diversity of its performers, thus allowing for an equality that is due to the singularity of each member in that community.

It is because each one of them is unique that they suddenly become equal, worthy of the same interest; they are equal by unicity. Each one becomes a source of richness, considering that any otherness is a promise of richness for everyone else.

By Elsa Pépin

Read the original interview posted on


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