Diverse dance cast screams of democracy



Jerome Bel, TheatreWorks

Victoria Theatre


Galas in dance are typically glamorous affairs, assemblages of virtuosity and elegance. In Jerome Bel's mischievous rendition, Gala is different but by no means any less.

There is only one professional ballet dancer in the 20-strong motley crew of performers, who range from a boundlessly energetic child to a woman in a wheelchair.

Bel's diverse cast screams the message of democracy - that everyone can dance.

He opens the show with a slideshow of stages large and small, elaborate and bare, purpose-built and accidental.

He then sends his cast bumbling across the Victoria Theatre stage in colourful costumes, tasking them to attempt a variety of dance genres.

One at a time, they pirouette, accelerate into a leap, waltz and do the Michael Jackson moonwalk.

Due to the universal recognisability of dance's physical forms, this is, for the most part, a study of failure with pirouettes teetering off balance and waltz partners veering off course.

Herein lies Bel's call for recalibration, for dance to be considered on different terms.

Amid roars of laughter, there are deliberations on the validity of effort, the humility of performance and the spectacle of spontaneity.

This is followed by several solos, which the rest of the ensemble attempt to replicate.

They are led through a ballet variation, an Indian dance sequence, a yoga series, a ribbon-twirling gymnastics routine and a definition- defying darting about by the group's youngest performer.

Individual personalities come to the fore as mistakes are shrugged off and embraced.

The atmosphere throughout is joyous and communal. The audience is clearly able to see themselves in the performers on stage.

But removed from the action, it is also difficult not to question the mask of performance.

There is no doubt that Bel has created a concrete structure which allows room for play. But how much of Gala is really staged?

Bel is positing an ideal world where alternatives are appreciated, where laughter is not mockery and applause is not perfunctory.

However, is this a world we can appropriate? Despite performing idiosyncratic bows in an earlier segment of the show, the ensemble stands shoulder to shoulder at the end for their curtain call.

Their heads dip in a uniform gesture of thanks and one wonders about the flourishes and quirks that linger, perhaps only in Bel's world.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Diverse dance cast screams of democracy'. Print Edition | Subscribe