Jerome Bel, The Show Must Go On

Review in Issue 20-2 | Summer 2008

Jerome Bel has been carving his niche as a choreographer for over a decade, unpicking what it is to dance – challenging the form in a similar vein to Jonothan Burrows, or to Forced Entertainment in theatre (unsurprisingly, Tim Etchells is a fan of Bel’s work). This recent retrospective at Sadler’s Wells is a welcome chance to catch work previously missed.

The Show Must Go On (2001), like all Bel’s work, is simple in premise - 18 performers, 1 visible technician and a host of pop songs. Each pop song serving as a provocation for elementary actions and playful comments upon the stage space: darkness; very slowly, light on an empty space; multiple recreations of ‘the’ scene from Titanic, the singing of Yellow Submarine from the lowered orchestra pit of the Sadler’s Wells’ stage all feature as responses. We watch each one partly trying to guess Bel’s responses to each song and partly wanting to be surprised by the obvious choices he has made. The simplicity of this piece is one of its central charms, alongside the human frailty in his performers, all apparently non-dancers. It is paradoxically compelling, as we search for the subtle differences between the performers.

In this simple approach Bel accomplishes what many companies still struggle to do, which is engage us directly and compellingly in the progress of the performance. Watching his work reaffirms the idea that there is no need for the myriad dance languages we possess, no need for embellishment or theatrics and he does so thoughout without self-indulgency or a sense of deadened experimentation. Most welcomingly, he delights his audience; remembering that performance is something that happens between two sets of people: those who do and those who watch.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Feb 2008

This article in the magazine

Issue 20-2
p. 31