The show opens with a long, shitty PowerPoint of different empty stages around the world, from the ancient to the technologically advanced, from the modest to the luxurious, from the small to the large. But their essence is the same: on one side, a group of people is meant to perform and, on the other, another group is meant to watch. In that space and in that relation, something could happen. We could be in any of these theatres, but we are in this one. In any case, what matters is the performance.
The performance itself begins with a ballet section, a parade of the nineteen dancers performing a pirouette. First up is professional dancer Allison Burns so that the audience gets to see what the movement should actually look like as a reference point. The following non-dancers adapt the movement to their bodies, customize it for their skill level. While dancers can pick up a maximal set of cues because of their training, children and untrained adults only pick up the few that most characterize the movement for them. For example, a young boy simply lifts his arms over his head, actually holding hands, and spins. The exercise is then followed by a grande jeté.
However, what comes across is that it’s not just a matter of skill, but also a matter of comfort with one’s body. Some performers come across as uncomfortable, which stiffens their movement. This is especially important because I feel it plays a large part in the discomfort that many experience with contemporary dance, even as spectators since the audience is always projecting itself onto the dancers. This explains the issues that some have with nudity onstage. Most people couldn’t allow themselves to do what dancers do alone in their own home, let alone on a stage in front of hundreds.
This also partially explains why the children stand out in the improvised dance section. The cliché exists for a reason: they’re not as socially conditioned yet, they are less self-conscious, and they have fewer preconceived ideas about what dance is and what it’s supposed to look like, so their dance is freer. Édouard Lock said that the difference between dancers and non-dancers is in the legs. It’s visible here. Non-dancers make up for it by running around and moving their arms excessively.
Unable to hide behind their skills, the non-professional dancers’ personality shines through: there’s the ham, the shy one, the funny one… The bows section, also using the parade structure, punctuated with applause for every single performer, makes one feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day.
Bel deals with the shortcomings that ableism imposes on all of us by having different performers choreograph for the entire group, the way Maïgwenn Desbois had in Six pieds sur terre. Seemingly no one expected a fat man to come out twirling the baton while the others keep dropping theirs. Everyone has something to offer.
Despite its lazy structure, Gala is an undeniable crowd-pleaser. When the audience stood up for a warm standing ovation, it was the non-professional dancers they were applauding. It seems people like to see individuals who look like them onstage. Isn’t that surprising?
June 7 & 8 at 8pm