Melbourne Festival #5
The Show Must Go On by Jérôme Bel. Playhouse Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, until October 18. Bookings: 1300 136 166
If you do nothing else at the Melbourne Festival, go and see Jérôme Bel’s The Show Must Go On. I have no idea how to tell you why: I suspect that any attempt to recapture this event in words will run through my fingers, leaving behind a detritus of clichés and banalities. You have to be there. It’s about being there. So go.
Last year I took my then 11-year-old son to see Bel’s Pichet Klunchun and Myself. One would think that a two-hour dialogue about dance on a bare stage would be unpromising 11-year-old material, but the boy came out radiant. And when he saw that Bel was included in this year’s program, he lit up and insisted that I take him. In Ben’s world, Jérôme Bel, ferociously avant garde French choreographer, is up there with Andy Griffiths. He’s been looking forward to seeing The Show Must Go On for weeks.
Last night I shepherded a now 12-year-old, who was quivering with anticipation and excitement, to the Arts Centre. It’s fair to say that expectations were high. And when we emerged 90 minutes later, infused with the inimitable Bel effect of joyousness and loving-kindness for all of humanity, we both agreed that our expectations had not only been met, but exceeded.
But how to speak about what Bel does? It's difficult, because when you describe it, it sounds like nothing at all. It's at once incredibly simple and profoundly sophisticated. He takes the ordinary and puts it on stage. He recovers the real feeling that is hidden in sentiment and cliché.
It could so easily be the worst sort of pretension, but it isn’t at all. It’s a kind of grace: this work touches with such lightness, but it’s deeply thoughtful, deeply serious. It’s wickedly provocative, witty, even ridiculous; and then you find yourself overwhelmed by sudden emotion, by a sudden piercing recognition of the vulnerability and beauty and mortality of the simplest human gesture.
Bel strips theatre of everything extraneous. He totally destroys the barriers between the audience and the stage. With an austerity that strikes me as being very French, he refuses any hint of manipulation. The work is offered for us to make of it what we will, and we are free to respond however we like. The liberties he takes are audacious, but the hilarity that ripples through the auditorium is warm, delighted, amused. I can safely say that I have never been among an audience which responded to a show with such freedom and pleasure and lack of self-consciousness.
It is, as Ben said as we left the theatre, so human.
It’s obviously not for everyone: two women walked out stiffly around half way through, having had enough. I suppose if you’re expecting spectacular dance, Bel – whose work stems from some deep reading of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle - will be offensively disappointing. No, what Bel does is somewhat rarer than that. He gives us ourselves.
Picture: The Show Must Go On. Photo: Musacchio/Lanniell
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Melbourne Festival #5