Jérôme Bel's GALA Redefines What Performance Is

Everywhere around the world, including Singapore, we have performers that do not necessarily have graduated from an Arts school or received formal training to be able to do work on stage. This has always brought about the discussion of the necessity of arts training, and what it means to be a performer. Beyond these questions are definitely what defines a performance, and can anything be called “art”.

Well, French dancer and choreographer Jérôme Bel believes in diversity on stage and that the uniqueness of very individual makes for an interesting work. Having brought Disabled Theater to Singapore as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts in 2014, GALA is a step further into the inclusiveness  nature of his works.

A Theatreworks‘ production, 20 distinct individuals from all walks of life in Singapore have been chosen to be part of this dance performance. Using dance as a medium to express themselves, audience members can look forward to diversity in ages, body types, personalities and abilities.

“GALA comes directly form the work I did with the mentally disabled actors in Zurich. I found with them such a freedom, such an energy I couldn’t find anymore (in) my field. And there is always a mentally disabled dancer in GALA now. He or she is the link with this piece. I just had such a great time with those people. I improved my way of working because I learned so much from the mentally disabled actors that I knew more about what was possible, how far I could go with this project,” Bel shared.

Popspoken speaks to dance-maker Jérôme Bel himself, as well as three performers to discover what performance can be, or perhaps, should be.

Popspoken: Why the decision to have both amateurs and professionals in this? What made you want to start working with ‘non-dancers’? And what does the juxtaposition of the trained and untrained give the dancers themselves, you and the audience?

Jerome: In this production I wanted to gather together the most diverse (of) individuals. I started with amateurs and then I realized I should add some professional too, not to exclude anyone. And this is very nice because it increases the range of what dance can be, from a 6 years old boy who has never taken a dance class to a professional ballerina, who studied dance nearly all her life.

Popspoken: Do you believe in acting training?

Jerome: Not really, but I shouldn’t say anything about this because I haven’t study deeply the question, this is more intuitive than thought, sorry.

Popspoken: Dance as seen through your eyes and expressed in your shows is in a way very democratic: everybody is welcome – different talents, different body shapes, different backgrounds. Why so? Is this an approach you’ve always had, or did it come to you later in your practice and career? What made you approach dance this way?

Jerome: I realized those last year that contemporary dance was as standardized as Ballet. I was bored watching the dancers with the same bodies but also same references and cultures. I had the intuition that something was wrong in the representations of the bodies that contemporary dance was offering. It was too uniformized. I thought I could try to find a way to represent different bodies on stage, as diverse at least of the bodies of the spectators. That everyone could be represented and not only one canon. Of course this is political, it is a try not to exclude anyone from dance, not to exclude anyone from the stage, from the representation. In the case of the mentally disabled actor, it was a way to make them visible. Audience has to watch for the first time in their life , disabled people for 1h30, something we never do because we don ‘t want to, there is fear because there is ignorance, because it it is unknown. Theater, Art, Representation is a way to connect with the unknown , it is a way see things you are not allowed to watch in your daily life, it is a way to learn, and then lose the fear of the alterity. That’s what we call also education, culture, knowledge. When you know about something, when you understand it, you have no more fear. That’s why maybe the first artists represented dangerous animals on the walls of their caves, in order to fear them less…

Disabled Theater - SIFA 2014.
Disabled Theater – SIFA 2014.

Allison Tang, student at Raffles Institution and a former gymnast

Popspoken: Coming from the competitive gymnastics scene, what do you expect to take away from GALA, which comprises a broad mix of performers with professional and non-professional dance backgrounds. Have you been involved in a similar setting before?

Allison Tang: Well, in competitive gymnastics it is definitely more sports-based, so I hope that GALA can help in improving my performance ability and at the same time, I can also learn from other professional dancers and performers.

I have never been involved in something similar so this is a new experience for me and I am very excited for it.

Popspoken: Has your experience with rhythmic gymnastics shaped the way you express yourself through dancing? If yes, could you elaborate how?

Allison Tang: Yes, gymnastics has helped me in flexibility and coordination, and also helped with the dynamism of my dancing and expression. It also taught me how to coordinate and work together with others in order to perfect a dance move.


June Omar, Housewife and former freelance actress

Popspoken: How did you become a part of GALA? What motivated you to participate in this show?

June Omar: I am a mother with a son who also loves to dance, and I thought maybe this would be a great bonding experience for both of us.

Popspoken: Since acting or dancing is not exactly new to you, how has your idea of the art form evolved from your first exposure until now?

June Omar: Performance, as an art form, has always been a part my life. When I was younger, it was just something I did because it felt good. Now, it has become an outlet for me to express myself freely.

Popspoken: What do you think it is going to be like, being involved in the same production as your son?

June Omar: This would be our very first time being on stage together. So, I think this will be an insightful experience for both of us. I look forward to learning more about my son while creating priceless memories together.

Disabled Theatre - SIFA 2014.
Disabled Theatre – SIFA 2014.

Seth Alsree, Student at St. Stephen’s School and Omar’s son

Popspoken: What does performance mean to you?

Seth Alsree: Performance means a lot to me because it requires confidence, practice and perseverance. I’ve only performed in my kindergarten school years ago during the school concerts and now I’m in Primary 4. I want to fully experience this performance and will keep it as a fond memory. It does not really matter what type of performance it is, eg singing, acting, etc. I really want to do this to show my ability and improve my social skills since I am a shy boy. I feel this event is sure to make me more confident. I am really looking forward to doing my best during the rehearsals and especially for the performances.

Popspoken: What do you think you will enjoy most, from being a part of GALA?

Seth Alsree: The part I would like most would be the rehearsals with my mum, since it will be my first time performing in a professional production.


Date: 6 – 8 October 2016
Venue: Victoria Theatre
Time: 8pm (Approximately 80 minutes, no intermission)
Admission: From $22 (Get your tickets here.)

If you would like to find out more about the working process and what goes on behind-the-scenes, check out GALA’s production blog here.

Photography credits: Theatreworks and Singapore International Festival of Arts


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