Always the Same and Never the Same: An Interview with Jérôme Bel
This Friday, Jérôme Bel is returning to Philadelphia with his 2016 Fringe Festival smash hit Gala, a performance featuring 20 dancers, from professional dancers to first timers—including children, teenagers, pensioners, and people with disabilities. Back in 2016 we spoke to Bel about working with a new cast and creating a piece which anybody can understand and learn within a few days of the performance. In advance of this one-night-only remount, we’re reaching into our archives to share his insights.
FringeArts: What was the initial inspiration for Gala?
Jérôme Bel: I was giving a workshop for amateur dancers in a suburb of Paris. I immediately thought that it would be very interesting to put on stage people who are not skilled in dance, people who are very different—old, young, good dancers, bad dancers, terrible dancers.
FringeArts: How did you develop Gala’s basic structure?
Jérôme Bel: 1, Amateurs are not traveling, they can not go on tour, because they have their jobs or they have to go to school if they are young. So my idea was to have a local cast in each city where the performance would be invited. 2, Amateurs can not rehearse a lot because they have a job, so the piece should be rehearsed very, very fast. 3, Consequently I found a very simple structure that anybody can understand and learn within a few days in order to perform the piece.
FringeArts: Once you have your cast, how do you work with them to create the show?
Jérôme Bel: This is a secret, this belongs to the performers, it can not be shared. You have to be part of the performance if you want to know this.
FringeArts: How do you leave the past contributions behind? What is most important about starting anew?
Jérôme Bel: We have to start from scratch, we have to forget the version before, which is very strange. We have to be open to new performers, new behaviours, new cultures and build the piece around them. This is a very new way to work. We are still processing.
FringeArts: Can you discuss your aims on the production side of the show, in terms of how you present the performers?
Jérôme Bel: Performers shouldn’t be alienated by the piece. Performers shouldn’t have fear. Performers shouldn’t be instrumentalized by me. Performers should be emancipated by the piece.
FringeArts: What are the aspects that you find yourself working most on in fine-tuning an iteration of Gala?
Jérôme Bel: It is always the same and never the same.
March 9 at 8pm
140 N. Columbus Blvd.
$15 student & 25-and-under
Interview by Josh McIlvain.
Photos by Johanna Austin, austinart.org, except where specified.