Review: Jérôme Bel - Gala - Bernie Grant Arts Centre & touring - part of Dance Umbrella

Performance: 10 & 11 October 2016
Reviewed by Rachel Elderkin - Thursday 13 October 2016

Jerome Bel - Gala. Photo: Josefina Tommasi

Performance reviewed: 11 October

French choreographer Jérôme Bel’s Gala is one of those pieces that makes you challenge your perceptions about dance and performance.

The opening reels through a slide show of images depicting theatres in various guises – from opera houses to community halls to ancient amphitheatres, and everything in between. It’s a slow and not particularly exciting way to commence a performance. Yet gradually you begin to consider that there is a point to this endless stream of images. There’s not just one version of a theatre – as we are shown there are numerous possibilities.

It’s an idea that continues through Gala. As the cast of amateur performers – all Londoners – for these Dance Umbrella performances – and a couple of professional dancers, each take it in turn to present their attempt at a pirouette, we see that there is not just one way to approach this task. In a cast with a range of ages, experience and, more significant than either of these, personalities, it’s surprisingly entertaining to watch the many varied attempts. It’s a scenario helped by an eccentric array of costumes; bright colours, patterns and combinations that are as individual as the people who wear them.

From ballet to the waltz to group improvisation, we see these performers offer their unique interpretations and, as their individual personalities emerge, the results grow increasingly hilarious.

The beauty of this show is that you get to see the performers as the people they are. Their performance is informal and natural and there’s something disarming in that. As they each take it in turn to perform a solo (that the rest of the company must copy) we are offered a glimpse into each performer’s skills and passions – and the most striking part is that the whole audience encourage each person as they dance.

One performer’s hula hoop solo is a particular highlight. It’s not just her tricks that are impressive but the sheer commitment of everyone else to replicate them. It’s this investment in the performance by each participant that really makes the show – without it, the concept of Gala could just as easily fail as succeed.
Yet it is also meticulously constructed. The audience are gradually allowed to learn a little more about the people they see on stage and that imperceptibly draws you in. It’s something that is, perhaps, missing from many performances – that chance to really engage with those you are watching. Yet in this cast of everyday people you are given that rare opportunity. The heartwarming joy of that is something to experience – not least the passion and energy of one young girl as she gets her chance to dance.

The finale is an equally joyful, uplifting spectacle. Gala is a show not about dance but about the people in it, about the traits that make them the individuals they are. It’s a performance with the power to make you challenge your conceptions – and not just those about dance. If you get the chance, go and experience it – for the pure enjoyment, if nothing else.

See a 30 minute extract of Gala at Tate Modern Tanks on Saturday (15 October, 4pm & 7pm) and in full at Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday 18 & Wednesday 19 October. More info & details:

Rachel Elderkin is a freelance dancer and dance writer. She has written for a number of arts publications and regularly contributes to The Stage, Fjord Review and British Theatre Guide. Twitter: @Rachel_Elderkin

Photo: Josefina Tommasi

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post comments.

Sign in now

What’s On