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Monday, September 8, 2008

Noontime chat with (mostly) Jerome Bel

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Mon, Sep 8, 2008 at 4:06 PM

What was supposed to be chat about how artists are changing dance, became a storytelling session with Jerome Bel explaining to rapt attendees how he created the performance Pitchet Klunchun and Myself.

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I saw Pichet Klunchun and Myself last night and I would say it's the most charming performance I have seen at the festival thus far. Basically, it's a conversation between contemporary choreographer, Bel, and Thai Royal Dance master, Klunchun. As they ask one another questions and demonstrate their process in the respective fields, the audience experiences a magical cultural exchange. It is funny, engaging, educational and entertaining.

I wont give too much away (read Alison's insights on the piece below), instead, I will give some deep background on how the whole thing came together.

Jerome Bel worked as a dancer in the 1980's, but gave it up after assisting young. maverick choreographer, Phillipe Decoufle, with the opening ceremony for the Albertville Olympics in 1992. Bel was making a lot of money working on the Olympics, but spending very little. When it was all over, he found that he could take two years off (living frugally) and spend the time reading widely.

At the end of this period, he decided to put his new knowledge to work. Bel seems to be primarily interested in the immediacy and presence of dance and theater. In his view, what makes performance and theater so unique is that it's live, happening in real time, in the same physical space as the audience. When he first attempted to bring his concept of performance-in-the-here-and-now to the stage, he had some failures. The pieces that he created were not necessarily well received. One, in which he and a company of performers became overtly fascinated with their naked bodies, resulted in the entire audience leaving the theater before the performance was through.

Still, there was some critical acclaim. Eventually Bel was contacted by the Paris Opera Ballet (which he seems incapable of mentioning without making wild, mocking facial gestures), who commissioned a piece from him. Though stunned, Bel agreed. The dance that he created, Veronique Doisneau, is one in a set of films called Documenting Dance, showing at the Whitsell Auditorium during this week's festival

Véronique Doisneau is an interview of sorts. A solo piece about, and performed by, mid-level Paris Opera Ballet dancer Véronique Doisneau. It became the inspiration for Pichet Klunchun and Myself.

Bel met Klunchun in Thailand after being asked to do a similar piece about a Thai Kohn dancer. After spending most of their rehearsal time getting to know each other, the duo realized they had to perform the next day and still had not created a working performance. Faced with the dilemma, Bel decided to re-create the conversations about dance and performance that they had been having during rehearsal. They hit the stage without a script, and only the most bare-bones guide as to where they were going.

Since then, the two have toured the world, performing the piece over 150 times in three years. Still, the piece changes constantly. The main guide for the performance is a list of 10 key words that Bel and Klunchun must hit as they progress through their conversation. Based on their energy and the reaction of the audience, the piece can run from and hour and fifteen minutes to two hours and fifteen minutes.

Last nights performance clocked about two hours, so they must have felt very good about what was happening in the theater. Bel claimed that tonight's performance would be completely different.

"There is no author in this piece," he told us, "The writing in the piece is made in the moment."

Pichet Klunchun and Myself plays tonight at 6:30 at Licoln Performance Hall, PSU

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