‘Come one, come all. Men and women, children of all ages!’ This familiar refrain, which calls up the image of a friendly street bard, also reflects the universalizing ethos of French choreographer Jérôme Bel’s performance work Gala (2015).
Last month as part of Berlin Art Week, Gala was presented at Berlin’s Hebbel am Ufer theatre, where viewers could see as cast and collaborators of many vintages, appearances and abilities joined Bel onstage. All were dressed in zany costumes, from spacey fluorescent leotards, to lace tutus. One after another, they interpreted classic dance moves: pirouettes were executed with spin-top precision and touching wobbliness; smooth and not-so-smooth criminals slipped and stuttered across the stage, attempting Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. During the waltz portion of the performance, a wheelchair-bound man cut graceful crescents, in concert with his sure-footed partner. The show’s climax arrived as each performer executed a solo, with the others parroting, en masse.
Bel’s spectacle takes the discipline of choreography into the electrifying, beautiful and clumsy space between pedestrian gesticulation and popular culture. Boiling with positivity, it also enacts crucial arguments against ableism and ageism. Bel’s is a deeply political flourish of mimesis.
Main image: Jérôme Bel, Gala, 2015, performance documentation, HAU, Berlin, 2016. Photograph: Dorothea Tuch