To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local dance artist Jessica Fiala shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Disabled Theater by Jérôme Bel/Theater HORA. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Each actor of Theater HORA is invited to enter the stage alone and stand silently for one minute. Under the crisp, unchanging light, they present themselves before us, allowing our gazes to fall upon them, and looking back at the audience assembled to witness this “Disabled Theater.”
The style is straightforward. When asked in the performance to comment on the piece, one actor stated, “It is direct.” Reaching across a social chasm that leaves individuals deemed “disabled” marginalized and often out of sight, this work places them center stage. Stripping away the conventions of narrative and overt representation, through moments of humor, poignancy, and community, the piece provides a way in to more subtle areas of representation. The actors enter already categorized and marked before we meet them as outside “normalcy.” Rather than directing our attention elsewhere to an alluring world of make-believe, Jérôme Bel situates our unfolding experience in real time. He draws our attention to the labels that set one person apart from another, and in doing so, he perhaps creates a forum for the actors of Theater HORA to go beyond representing “disability.”
While the actors are generally positive about the experience, they speak of relatives distraught over seeing their loved ones placed on display. The work exists on troubled terrain. It creates space for looking outward at the relegation of “disability” to society’s margins and inward at each individual’s relationship to such divisions. I found myself considering the mechanism of theater and the questionable line between agency and objectification. The piece brings out such questions, but it simultaneously reminds us of its own artifice. The actors are “being themselves,” yet they are a professional company and this is a performance that has been repeated in venues across Europe. The narrator explains what we will see; the actors tell us that they are actors. It is direct and yet it blurs the lines between individuals, performers, and the labels affixed to them.
The work raises questions that linger afterwards, but to focus on Bel’s play with theatrical convention alone is to lose the experiential component, the human, intimate quality that the structure allows. The piece traverses the realm of Disabled Theater, crafting a sustained, shared experience both meaningful and fraught, a mixture of emotions and questions that lies at the heart of theater, “disabled” or otherwise.
Jérôme Bel and Theater HORA present Disabled Theater November 21-23, 2013 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.
Q&A with Jérôme Bel
Stay after the performance on Friday, November 22, for a discussion with Jérôme Bel moderated by Sonja Kuftinec, Professor of Theater Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.
Join us in the Balcony Bar following the performance on Saturday, November 23, for a conversation on Disabled Theater facilitated by Walker Art Center Tour Guide Jack Bardon and choreographers Otto Ramstad and Olive Bieringa.
An interview with Jérôme Bel on Disabled Theater here.
Local Artist Marcus Young’s reflection on Bel’s work here.