Choreographer Jérôme Bel smashes the status quo at the Walker this week

Jerome Bel

Jerome Bel

The past 20 years, choreographer and performance artist Jérôme Bel has made a career of breaking the rules. It's something he enjoys doing immensely.

Jérôme Bel Bookend Festival

Walker Art Center
$22 single performance; $40 for both

“If I make a dance piece, I make it with people that cannot dance. If I make a piece with no dance, I make it with dancers. If I make a dance with a dancer, I don’t ask her to dance. I ask her to speak when she never did before,” he says. “I want to explore.”

This week, he'll be at the Walker Art Center to present two pieces as part of the Jérôme Bel Bookend Festival: 1995's eponymous "Jérôme Bel" and his most recent work, “Gala.” The former features professional dancers who don’t dance while the latter uses mostly non-dancers who dance for the whole show. While the two works are on the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of tone and approach, but both get at Bel’s continued quest to define dance and performance.

"Jérôme Bel" is a radical piece that is not for everyone. Bel created it in the early '90s during the height of the AIDS crisis. Dancers perform nude, with bare lighting and vocal music.

“It was a dance performance and there was not one single step of dance, which was a little bit problematic [for audiences],” Bel recalls. “It was a dance, but it was not really visible. It was inside the body, bracing the heartbeat.”



For "Gala," Bel began forming the piece while teaching a group of amateur dancers in the suburbs of Paris, an area which he notes are very diverse.

“It’s people who have been rejected by the center because they are poor,” he says.

The piece began to take shape as Bel worked with this community -- many of whom were from other countries -- and shared the space with them. This became the framework for “Gala,” which he now creates fresh in each city using local, mostly amateur performers of diverse backgrounds.

“'Jérôme Bel' was about me. 'Gala' is exactly the opposite,” Bel says. “It’s not about me. All the dances are made by the dancers themselves. I don’t do anything. I step back as a choreographer, and I gather a lot of people who are very diverse and they bring their energy and they bring desire.”

For “Gala,” the presenting institution, in this case the Walker, chooses the cast. The idea that they find the most diverse group of people possible. They meet for four rehearsals, where Bel explains the philosophy of the piece, speaking to everyone as equals. “Everybody has the same amount of intelligence and if people don’t understand, it’s because you didn’t explain it well enough,” he says.

Bel's interest in diversity came about from concerns of contemporary dance becoming uniform. “Contemporary dance was supposed to be different than ballet; much different bodies. But in the last years, my personal observation was that it was a little standardized,” he says. “I thought, ‘Something is wrong here.’”

The best word he can use to describe his work is experimental, as he’s always trying to find new experiences. “I’m not interested in going to a theater to recognize things I know already.”


Jérôme Bel: Bookend Festival
“Gala” is at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; “Talking Dance & Screening” is 8 p.m. Thursday; “Jérôme Bel” is at 8 p.m. Friday.
$21-$28; Thursday night is free.
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis