More than just a dance, Jerome Bel’s Gala highlights equality, representation

Gala places professionals and amateurs on stage where everyone is equal. — Picture by KE Ooi
Gala places professionals and amateurs on stage where everyone is equal. — Picture by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 20 — In any contemporary dance performance, the dancers are often svelte, young, in great shape and often beautiful.

But French dancer and choreographer Jerome Bel does not agree with this “terribly standardised” representation in contemporary dance.

“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 that extremely limiting for an art whose tool is the body,” he said in an email interview with Malay Mail Online.

He believed that all types of bodies should be portrayed and this is what Gala stands for.

The choreographer places amateurs and professionals on stage together, a group so incongruous in age, size, height and abilities, it throws the audience off balance and along with it, throws out judgement and preconceived expectations of what contemporary dance is supposed to be.

Without judgement, Bel said what remained of the performance is what dance signifies, what each individual expresses through it and what the dance reveals in each individual that language can’t reveal.

In Gala, 20 people were selected as the performers and only four out of the group are professionals while the rest are common people with little to no training in the performance arts.

Placed with professionals, the amateurs tried ballet, waltz and even did Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk.

It is obvious that some of the amateurs have probably never attempted some of the dance forms before this and yet they tried, they explored the complexities of the moves and they injected their own ideas into it.

As Bel said, this is a project that 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,” he said.

On stage, we do not only see able-bodied performers but those with limited mobility and different abilities, such as a wheelchair-user and a couple elderly men.

This is because Gala is based on the greatest possible of diversity of performers to allow for an equality that is due to the singularity of each member in that community.

“The equality that I am trying to produce among the different dancers of Gala is a meta equality,” Bel said.

It is because each one of them is unique that they suddenly become equal, worthy of the same interest, they are equal by unicity, he added.

“Each one becomes a source of richness, considering that any otherness is a promise of richness for everyone else,” he said.

Bel could not be in Penang to direct the show so his assistants Sheila Ayala and Maxime Kurvers were here to put it all together with the all-Malaysian performers.

It is a one hour and 30 minutes performance filled with exuberance and enjoyment as each performer expressed their own creativity and interpretation of dance on stage.

Gala, held on August 19 and 20, was one of the performances held during George Town Festival 2017.

Find out more about other George Town Festival events at

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