The renowned French dancer and choreographer — whose works have been performed in collaboration with esteemed institutions such as Opera National de Paris, Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art — aspires to challenge both his dancers and viewers through a fresh, ever-changing approach to the art form.
“I want to offer new ways,” Bel says. “I hate tradition when they alienate bodies and mind. My aim is to use dance in order to emancipate the dancers but also the audience.”
Bel will make his South Florida debut this Thursday through Saturday at the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA) with his new work, Company, Company, which imagines choreography as a “flexible framework.” In other words, if you think you know what will unfold onstage, prepare to be surprised.
“In the contemporary arts field, the audience shouldn’t expect anything,” Bel says. “That’s the ‘contract’ it requires. As a spectator myself, I like contemporary arts because I don’t know what I will watch, experience. As a choreographer, I try to produce a performance that the audience has never experienced. Company, Company doesn’t look like anything you have seen already.”
The work features a cast of locals, both professional and amateur, with vastly different backgrounds, body types, and skill levels, and it aims to celebrate the joy of expression while downplaying judgment.
“I realized that professional dancers are very standardized — their bodies, their way to dance,” Bel says. “I thought that I could think about different bodies, and I found many different ones who were dancing in so many different ways that I have decided to show the diversities of dancing. That is why this performance gathers very different bodies, cultures, ages, ethnicities.”
It’s a bold statement and a refreshing break from tradition.
“I think it articulates the complex balance between community and diversity, group and singularity — how to be together, keeping the singularity of each individual,” he says. “Usually, dance produces community and ensemble through the uniformization of the dancers. I think this policy is not relevant anymore. Some dance companies sometimes make things [seem] like an army.”
Company, Company has been performed all over the world, and though it remains constant conceptually, its players change from city to city.
Asked to sum up his artistic mission, Bel replies, “To save the world. The cast is local for ecological reasons. I didn’t want to put performers on planes anymore. I was thinking local to reduce the carbon footprint of the performance.
“People are hired in every city, and, of course, they produce a totally different show from one cast to another, from one city to another. And each cast is closer, then, to the culture of the audience. The cast represents the audience more or less.”
Bel is one of a handful of choreographers, mostly French, linked to the “nondance” movement of the early ’90s, which has been described as approaching performance art. He vehemently rejects this affiliation, however.
“I don’t use this term,” he says. “[A reporter] from Le Monde wrote this once, and then I [was] stamped with this term, which is ridiculous. I push forward the dance, but I am not against dance, and especially not with this production, Company, Company. It is a total misunderstanding of my work.”
Perhaps to emphasize his love of dance, Bel lists an incredibly diverse group of his idols, including Vaslav Nijinsky, Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker, Trisha Brown, Tatsumi Hijikata, Lucinda Childs, Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin, Pichet Klunchun, and Bob Fosse.
Bel’s unique style is a perfect fit for ICA Miami, which strives to be “a platform for the exchange of art and ideas in the broadest possible sense,” according to its associate curator, Stephanie Seidel.
“I think Jérôme Bel is an extremely important example of a choreographer who bridges the world of dance with the world of visual artists,” she says. “We really feel that his interdisciplinary approach to dance is something that is really relevant and also is something that we really value. I had seen his work personally in 'Documenta (13)' in 2012 [in Kassel, Germany], which is one of the most important art exhibitions, so it’s a real honor to be able to bring him here to Miami.”
— Mike Hamersly, artburstmiami.com
Company, Company by Jérôme Bel. 7 p.m. Thursday, February 27, and Friday, February 28, and 1 p.m. Saturday, February 29, at the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, 61 NE 41st St., Miami; 305-901-5272; icamiami.org. Tickets cost $15 for general admission and $10 for ICA members via icamiami.org.