I just returned from New York where it seemed everyone involved in modern dance or contemporary art was talking (or perhaps “ raving” is more accurate) about the Jérome Bel project that won over full houses at Dance Theater Workshop and was the unanimous critical hit of the Performa ’07 visual art-performance festival. In last Friday’s New York Times Jennifer Dunning called Jérome Bel and Pichet Klunchun’s performance “ funny, touching and provocative… (which) says a great deal about the subtleties of skilled performing and the nature of dance.” She went on “ the fascination of the must-see Pichet Klunchun and Myself should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Mr. Bel’s career” (full review below.)
Alas, this difficult-to-describe (or at least difficult-to-make-interesting-sounding) show has not yet fully found its audience and I am afraid it will come and go quickly and many will regret not making a point to come. The piece speaks directly to our artistic times, turning a seemingly simple exchange into an illumination of issues spanning globalization, conceptual art, cross-cultural understanding, post-modern dance, the place of tradition in artistic practice and other key subjects. And, Jérome and Pichet do all this in the most witty, sometimes moving, often beguiling ways.
I think the work also helps illuminate where contemporary dance, performance work and even conceptual visual art practice has been heading in recent years. In other words, seeing this work I think helps one gain a different kind of understanding around other artists also coming to the Walker – from Miguel Gutierrez (opening Out There) to Romeo Castellucci, from Tino Sehgal (exhibition opens in December) to Back to Back Theater (June ’08).
I recently scanned reviews and on-line comments from other international cities (the piece is only making three stops in America) where this two-year old work has toured and could not find a single negative response. One critic picked it as her favorite show of the massive 2006 Melbourne Festival (involving scores of remarkable projects). Another, a guy writing on the “ countercritic” web site was perhaps my favorite. He began by summing up how many people probably felt when they read descriptions of the work before seeing it:
“ When I walked into the theater and I saw two chairs facing each other, separated by about 20 feet, two bottles of water and a laptop, I was sure this was going to be an utter disaster, a pretentious piece of shit, and something unduly excruciating that I would not be able to escape…” Instead, he says he found “ an altogether mesmerizing and soul-filling experience…It’s also very entertaining, and it communicates massive amounts of information, in a way that works of art cannot always communicate on their own. This is art about art. Dance about dance. And, mainly, its about today.” click here to read the rest of this thoughtful review.
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