Review: Jerome Bel’s ‘Disabled Theater’

Damian Bright performs his solo in "Disabled Theater." Credit: Ian Douglas
Damian Bright performs his solo in “Disabled Theater.”
Credit: Ian Douglas

“Disabled Theater” is a profound statement of ability. French choreographer Jerome Bel has created a simple framework that presents a strong sense of the individual and community via Theater HORA, a Zurich-based company whose members have various levels of learning difficulties. This U.S. debut has been co-presented by Performa 13 and runs through Nov. 17 at New York Live Arts.

Ten chairs, 10 water bottles and 10 performers are arranged in a semi-circle facing the audience. The men and women onstage introduce themselves in silence, through translation (from Swiss German to English) or in striking movement creations that resound with frustration, passion and spirit. We learn their ages, names, professions and handicaps. Their unfiltered behavior is displayed through speech, stance, eye contact, mannerism and, ultimately, through physicality.

There is a cultivation of confidence, freedom and release as a “dance contest” unfolds. Six out of the 10 seated take center stage, charged with the task of choreographing a solo to a song of their choice. In a particularly fueled moment, Julia Hausermann dons a single leather glove as Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” inspires a collection of marching, head-banging, pelvis-pounding and wild spinning motions conveying both heart and fire.

Noted internationally for his work as a philosopher and humanist within the realm of performance, Bel has devised an experience that builds openness in its viewer and requires total release of preconception. In a moment of reflection before the remaining four soloists have their moments in the spotlight, Bel asks them, “What do you think about this work?” We have to agree with their answers: “Disabled Theater” is both “special” and “super.”

If you go

Jerome Bel and Theater Hora’s ‘Disabled Theater’
This week at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 17 at 3 p.m.
New York Live Arts Theater
219 W. 19th St.
$40, 212-924-0077
www.newyorklivearts.org



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