FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On

The Show Must Go On
Not your normal dance show

Just Dance. [by James Wenley]

The Show Must Go on

Before me, 19 performers dance to Reel 2 Real’s ‘I like to move it’. Some are dancers, some are actors, and some have never performed before. It’s not your standard dance choreography, and it is definitely not abstract. The song is being taken literally, each performer has a different ‘it’ that they like to move, and they sure move it! There are arms, shoulders, bums and other surprises. As the song continues, the actions get more manic. It’s quite unlike any dance piece I’ve seen before. It is one of the unexpectedly joyous numbers in Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On.

If you’ve noticed a drop off of the number of shows I’ve been able to go out and review on this blog, I do have a very good reason. I am the Show Must Go On’s ‘DJ’, the show’s glorified sound and lighting operator. Apparently they were looking for a professional techie, but because there is a super special dance solo involved, none were willing to put up their hands. So they’ve ended up with me. I’ll be sitting in front of the Mercury Theatre stage at a special desk doing the sound and lighting, and at one point, a little bit more.

The Show Must Go on was created by French Choreographer Jerome Bel and his original company 10 years ago. Since then, it has been performed around the world. In each city, a new local company made up of a mix of amateurs and professionals are taught and perform the show.

Original cast members Dina Ed Dik and Henrique Neves have travelled to Auckland for the Festival to work with a New Zealand cast, and the rehearsal process has been fascinating for me to observe. Dina and Henrique are warm and giving, but there is no mucking around – they go straight into work.

The show consists of a number of well-known and lesser known pop songs including hits from Lady Gaga, Tina Turner, John Lennon and Celine Dion. During the early rehearsals Dina and Henrique would hand me a song to play, and the cast are simply asked to respond to it. A form and meaning slowly begin to emerge.

Dina describes the show as a ‘conceptual dance piece’. Henrique says the show plays with traditional ideas about dance “but then it kind of deconstructs them by not giving exactly what you expect, and giving sometimes things that completely kills the idea of virtuosity, expertise [of a dancer]…. as an audience member you are as empowered as the performers, on a level that I think most people leave saying ‘I can do that’, which was what he [Jerome] wanted.”

Dina was in Holland when she heard Jerome Bel was doing a workshop, and applied because she had been impressed with his previous work and wanted to know how he worked. She found the process “intense”. A trained dancer, she had never worked on that sort of level before – “We were talking most of the time … we were talking about the ideas and discussing the whole show. Jerome came there to Amsterdam to experiment a little bit … we were invited to do, to watch, we were not all performers and not all dancers, there were a lot of other artists. Not everybody stayed. At the beginning I could hardly follow, it took me a while, but I was impressed yes.”

What stuck with Henrique from the original workshop and show was the Jerome’s study was about the production of signs and meaning. “It was not about being an incredible performer and doing things on a level others couldn’t, but it was very much being aware of what you are producing in terms of gaze, position… so actually it was working with very minimal signs, in quite an intense way, that what I remember.”

Peter Grabitz is one of the performers I have had the pleasure of meeting from The Show Must Go On cast. He’s never actually performed before, and in fact doesn’t even live here – he hails from Germany and is travelling round New Zealand on holiday before hoping to return home and train as a doctor. He heard about the Auckland Arts Festival from a friend when he was in Rotorua, and turned up to the Festival office asking if there was any volunteer work going. “They told me to come back later, I came back later and finally it turned out that they ran short of a dancer for a performance. They asked me whether I’d danced before, no I hadn’t, doesn’t matter. Suddenly, someone sent me a contract. Here I am.”

He says dancing is a “completely new chapter for me, not only in my travelling but… it sounds very emotional… but my life history… It was quite fun just to learn and get to know all these random and different people, and get the impression of what it is like to be onstage – I’ve never had any performance before, it was quite new. I won’t say overwhelming, but it shows me, yeah it’s possible”.

Tai Royal, on the other hand, is a professional dancer with years of experience. The appeal for doing the show for him was being able to work with European choreographers, and the opportunity to return to the Mercury Theatre, which he hasn’t performed in since in the 80s. He’s found the Show Must Go On rehearsal process totally different to what he has done before – “It’s a process I haven’t worked in before, it’s a kind of show that I haven’t been in at all. It’s very minimal, I find it not so much dancing, but acting really.”

The Show Must Go On
The Chorus

For Peter, his favourite thing in the show is the ‘chorus’ where all the performers arrive with iPod’s and MP3 players and each sing a line from the selected song they are listening to. “Its something we are creating all together – just put one of us on the stage and nothing would actually be awesome about us, but having us as a choir we all form it together.” Tai finds it hard to pick a favourite – “All of its quite cool, its all quite different. Each song that we get to portray is different because each song is different in the line or text we are portraying is different from everything else”, though he admits he is enjoying the opportunity to sing a bit of Whitney Houston in the choir.

The show apparently has very different reactions from all audiences all around the world. Because it doesn’t follow the normal rules, it can be a challenging show. Henrique says that the show works on a number of different levels – “there are the pop songs that make it very accessible, and then there is another side which is really a construction and deconstruction of theatre. At the same time it’s a vast piece, it’s a very intelligent dance piece, it works with things that in a way certain streams of work you don’t do, which is very popular material… it’s not popular like the Irish Dancers, its not that type of thing, but it has a very known element with the songs, plus it has a big twist.”

“Why it has lasted ten years, I don’t know. I think somehow its relevant on this level, its iconic, it marks a time, on one hand there was a moment it was very ‘now’, but I think it is important now because it has lasted, and you see it in a slightly different way.”

The Show Must Go On plays at the Auckland Arts Festival at the Mercury Theatre Thursday 17 – Sat 19th March.

More information at the Auckland Arts Festival Website.

2 Comments on FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On

  1. Nice article mate. Despite the fact we only performed 4 times in front of a crowd, I thought it was incredible the way the show developed in that short time.

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