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Jérôme Bel – Gala at Sadler’s Wells – Review

Jérôme Bel  at Sadler's Wells
Jérôme Bel – Photo by Josefina Tommasi

An all-sorts celebration of the love of dance is Jérôme Bel’s Gala at Sadler’s Well’s. A Paris-based choreographer and dancer, Bel is renowned for working with non-dance, using the style to create provocative and entertaining pieces of performance art, challenging convention.

Which is what he does here, with this newly commissioned piece. Using an assorted ensemble of twenty Londoners of different dance skills and mixed levels of abilities not to mention shapes and ages. That’s different for a start. We’re more used to seeing the graceful beautiful exerting their bodies on Sadler’s stage.

The performance begins with the audience being shown projected images of different performance auditoriums. Criss- crossing the world we notice the glamour of a grand opera house and the small shabbiness of the Church hall stage. Are reminded of the universal desire for performance looking at an Ancient Greek amphitheatre and a Kabuki theatre in Japan. Are taken from the concrete hole of a stage of a Middle East war zone to Sadler’s own splendid house, where we all are.

Time is dedicated to this journey in a leisurely fashion before any dancing begins. During this display, the audience moves from interested to restless to being forced into beginning to make connections. A process that might continue as you watch Bel’s usual and unusual dancers make their different ways across this particular stage.

Or, you can just laugh and enjoy the music and charm of the procession of performers. Family members will enjoy this colourful show. There are two delightful child dancers, a young girl and a boy, for children to relate to. Also, older people, apparently the wrong shape and age to dance. You worry at first watching them they are going to be patronised but then you see the care Bel takes with them and how they relish their performances. Which allows you to do too.

But in this there’s another connection to be made, to be confronted. About your own stereotypes. What it is you expect to see, want to see, when you go to watch contemporary dance. For there is no question that all these dancing Londoners before you do love to dance, whatever their skill limitations, and they are affecting in their exuberance. It is there you might, maybe, see it is a love of dance which unites us all.

The differences between the dancers are palpable, played up by Bel even. There is the elegance of the flourish of one arm, a jump not high at all. We are reminded of the everyday difficulty of the extraordinary ordinary in dance.

Bel does have at least one star on his stage. The little girl dancer. She moves far beyond the prettiness of charm though she has that in abundance too. She is charismatic and fierce, fast and feeling and free. She leads an ensemble piece danced to Wrecking Ball in a way that is wonderfully moving in the way that dance moments can be. For there, in front of us, she becomes the future of dance.

She adjusted her movements to the speed of her breathing, blowing a kiss away. It’s lovely.

A young dancer leaves his wheelchair and you marvel at all he achieves with his love of music and movement, rather than what he does not. Which might be the point of the entire show.

The dancer leading with the hoop is incredible, creating illusions. It was grounding in that piece to see the male dancer so good at ballet, not being so able with a hoop. We all have our different abilities, even him.

This section of the show, entitled Company, Company, and taking us to the end of the showcase was the most successful part, although the escalator walking of Michael Jackson’s thriller when performed by clever dancers remains a marvel that refuses to be ignored.

The music is a mix, from classical ballet music to popular. What it shares is that it’s all well known and accessible.

Which takes me back to the key point about this show. If you are looking for an evening of whimsy and fun among an expressive audience that you can go to with your family, you will enjoy yourselves. If, however, you are one of Sadler’s cool crowd of regular contemporary dance attendees you will find this evening much more challenging. Perhaps uncomfortably so, as Mr Bel makes you examine what you want from contemporary dance and why.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Gala is a captivating showcase for all admirers of dance. Featuring amateurs, professionals and everything in between, the 20 dancers in this work are Londoners from all walks of life.

Through their movement, the gentle humanity of each performer lights up this inspired production. Breaking the sanctity of the stage, this is a jumble of joys, failures, and stumbling insights into the uniting power of dance.

Part of Dance Umbrella
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
18th and 19th October 2016

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