The Republic of Jerome Bel

Jerome Bel is a man after my own heart. He is a truly thinking dance-maker. And Pichet Klunchun and Myself (see review) is a delicious opportunity to hear what Bel thinks. The evening plays out like a Socratic dialogue between Bel and his performance partner, traditional Thai Kohn dancer, Pichet Klunchun:

Bel: “One day I quit dance because there was no more meaning. Instead of taking class, I read books. Two years and all the reading brought me to was standing still. I read La Societe de Spectacle. Today we are surrounded by representation so we see, but don’t live our lives. Standing still is a critique of La Societe de Spectacle because the audience is expecting dance. When I stand, I listen to the sounds- I’m not in the spectacle but in life. We are in the present time. A movie has been done before. Theater happens in the same space and same time. It’s more life than the movie. With this scene (standing still) I was reaching the essence of the theater- pretentious but I was trying to show what’s specific about theater. Time and space shared with audience. They watch me and I watch them instead of pretending I’m in the 15th Century...”

Klunchun: “Do they understand?”

Bel: “Yeah. Some of them…. The audience wants big emotions. I’m looking for something else. For example you have the leg there (points high above his head,) the audience admires the performer. I don’t want to have this relation with the audience. I try to create something equal between stage and audience. I don’t want the audience to feel dominated by the performer.”

Klunchun: “You mean it’s equal?”

Bel: “Yeah. We dance like the audience can dance.”

Klunchun: “If they can do it, why do they pay?”

Bel: “Sometimes they ask for their money back.”

Klunchun: “ You give it?”

Bel: “No. I belong to a very small community, the Contemporary Arts. In this community, there are three groups: # 1, The Artists. The artists need to create new forms and have time for research. It’s more difficult to do than to do things you already know. #2, The Government and Producers. (Bel is clearly not speaking about the US government.) They give money without knowing about what we will do. Even the artist doesn’t know what he will do, otherwise he’s not a contemporary artist. #3, The Audience of Contemporary Art. When they buy a ticket, they don’t know what they’re going to see. It’s a bet. If you want to pay to see what you want, go to Swan Lake. You’ll get swans and you’ll get lakes.”

Klunchun: “You don’t promise?”

Bel: “This community is interested in something they don’t know.”

(Bel and Klunchun move into a discussion about dying onstage. Bel shows a scene from one of his pieces. In this scene he lip-syncs to “Killing Me Softly With His Song, “ lies down, and stops lip-syncing while the song finishes. Klunchun has a tender, strong reaction; it reminds him of his paralyzed mother’s death.)

Bel: “ The song is 4 minutes 47 seconds, but I die early on. This is my strategy, to leave a lot of space for the audience. I don’t know anything more about death than the audience but I know about theater. My strategy is to give the audience space and time to go to their own ideas.”

Not only does Jerome Bel think and question, he also expects his audience to. This is not TV. This is not dictatorial school, government, or performance. This is people exploring what it means to be alive. This is theater, and life, that goes against many current trends. Can we get off of the couch long enough to rise to his challenge?

Link to New York Times article on Bel from 2005


  1. hello, thanks for this small part of transcription, i also enjoyed your review. best - matt gough

  2. Thanks,Matt.

    I've also enjoyed reading your blog.
    take care,