Bel blurs dancing’s definition

Nov. 12, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Jérôme Bel, renowned French choreographer, is perhaps best described as a provocateur of dance. In exploring the idea of dance over the past two decades, Bel is often referred to as a “conceptual choreographer.” The New York Times has called him “one of the most charismatic and galvanizing choreographers working today.”

Stanford welcomes Bel to campus this quarter to exhibit three of his acclaimed dance pieces in Bing Concert Hall in an event called “Festival: Jérôme Bel.”

Bel’s three showcased pieces include: “The Show Must Go On,” a piece based on jamming to pop music; “Cédric Andrieux,” in which dancer Andrieux performs solo while speaking aloud details about his life and career; and finally, the film “Pichet Klunchun and Myself” in which Bel and Thai dancer Klunchun explore movement.

The Daily spoke to Bel about his work, his career and his artistic process.

Arts & Life (AL): Much of your work comes from quotations from the lives and careers of famous dancers. What is your artistic approach to this kind of choreography?

Jérôme Bel (JB): My work is not really dance, but it is about dance. So, my work is probably more about “what is dance” than the action of dancing. I am a kind of investigator of dance, and dancers are the perfect witnesses for this.

I have noticed that dancers don’t speak much. They dance, but most of them are afraid of speaking about dance. I had an intuition that dancers are the ones who are experiencing things about dance that nobody else can<\p><\_><\p>not choreographers, critics or spectators. That is how I got the idea to ask them to speak about their work, in order to know more about dance.

AL: Your work has challenged the definition of dance. How do you define dance?

JB: I don’t define dance. I try, on the contrary, to blur its definition, to go to its limits. As soon as I have found a definition, I try to find how to change it, to make this definition obsolete.

AL: What can dance teach us about the world that other art forms cannot?

JB: Dance offers bodies in a specific action to be watched. Those bodies reveal, for me, a relation to the world. I don’t think dance can do something other art forms cannot; dance tries to question and express the same things that other art forms do.  I think that it is an experience that can be eloquent to one [person] and totally obscure to [another]. It is simply a way of expression that a person can either “understand” or not.

AL: You have studied both Dance History and Philosophy. How has your study of philosophy informed your creative work?

JB: Philosophy gave me tools to study dance, to understand it, to conceptualize the practice [of dance] in order to present other aspects of [it].

AL: What about Stanford University inspired you to show your works here?

JB: Well, I have been invited by Stanford, and I am just excited to be invited by a University. I think that arts and knowledge have the same mission: to emancipate people.

Events within “Festival: Jérôme Bel” will be shown in Bing Concert Hall on Nov. 13, Nov. 18, Dec. 2 and Dec. 3. “Festival: Jérôme Bel” is presented by the Stanford Dance Division and Stanford Arts Institute together with Stanford’s new residential freshman program, Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture (ITALIC).

Contact Katie Straub at kcstraub ‘at’

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