Jérôme Bel: Gala

What a glorious 75 minutes of dance theatre Gala is. I don’t remember the last time that a live performance has made me grin like a Cheshire cat and burst into smiling tears… It’s remarkable.

French dance artist Jérôme Bel has gathered together 20 performers of varying ages and abilities – some professional dancers, some amateur – to create a work of great joy and openness. The piece begins in silence with seven or eight minutes of projections: images of empty theatres or stages ranging from a school hall to an amphitheatre; from a tiny puppet theatre to an image of Sadler’s Wells itself. Who are these stages for? Which ones are ‘important’? Are there any that we may have stepped foot on ourselves and looked out into a sea of expectant audience members?

It’s likely that at some stage in their early years everyone will have been flung on a stage, be it as a donkey in the nativity play, a ballet class or a choir. Dressed in colourful outfits designed by each performer, Bel’s company takes us on a dance odyssey that taps into the everyday experience of dancing. First up is ballet. Each performer strides onstage alone and attempts a ‘move’. Having seen all 20 versions of a balletic movement we are treated to Bows and Michael Jacksons (everyone’s moonwalk was pretty great). We build up to a solo section, watching a contemporary piece choreographed to a Bon Iver track. It’s heartfelt and sweet. Then the punch – the entire company joins her onstage following her routine as well as they possibly can. It’s messy, difficult, funny and brilliant. Each throw their entire being into energetically following the movement. In turn, each of them leads an intricately and lovingly choreographed piece. So we have a young man in a wheelchair leading a response to pumping beats. A woman with Downs Syndrome leads her company through a sequence of staccato movements choreographed to her breath. A tiny young girl channels Miley Cyrus and thrusts her fellow performers around the stage in reckless abandon before racing out of the wings and around the backstage of the theatre. One doesn’t even make it back in time for the end of the routine.

The remarkable achievement of the piece is that by investigating the everyday experience of dance, Bel creates a unifying antidote to a divisive and bitterly broken world. He celebrates each person’s uniqueness by offering them the chance to be leader for a few moments, in the knowledge that those nineteen other bodies will invest every ounce of their person to making your choreography fly. Imagine if that’s how every child grew up – with constant passionate support upholding their belief in themselves. As the company kicked their legs in the air to Liza Minnelli’s rendition of New York, New York I felt like a proud parent and child at the same time. And it desperately made me want to dance my socks off.


Jérôme Bel’s Gala was presented as part of Dance Umbrella 2016, seen at Sadler’s Wells, and was also performed at Brady Arts Centre & The Tanks, Tate Modern.