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The very moment that I begin this note about Disabled Theater,by the choreographer Jérôme Bel, the classic “best of” 2012 begins, where everything points to this piece, presented in the last dOCUMENTA(13), in all likelihoods being one of the most included. Yes, I’m referring to those lists of the most outstanding artworks and exhibitions, where the inclusion of Bel would certify “the performative turn” that has been occurring for a while now in this area of institution-art or, what comes to the same thing, the museumification of the “stage”. What is interesting about the piece by Bel is to be found in that the work itself is aimed at this difficult frontier that separates emotions and affections. Though at first glance they might seem to be the same, the distinction is embedded in the fact that emotions pertain to philosophical categories, that run from Aristotle through to current departments of psychology (admiration, fear, anxiety, hate, bravery and the rest), while affections pertain more to the ambit of motivational passions, the ones that drag people into certain types of irrationality. From my point of view,Disabled Theater(with the mise-en-scène by Theatre HORA, a professional Swiss company of actors with different disabilities), seeks to subvert and revolutionise both categories, as it doesn´t just manage to attribute emotions to the act of thinking, but also positions affections not solely as a function of bodily feelings. What passes through the mind of the spectator in Disabled Theater ends up being very complex, psychologically speaking, and obviously there are those who abandon themselves to the emotions and affections that the actors on stage generate, right from the very start, and there are also those, who, like me, can´t stop thinking about the very manipulative device that has been set in motion. What happens is that, ultimately, one ends up yielding, verifying the commotion, that is proof of the capacity to impact upon and dissolve critical devices or apparatus and the distance that we provide ourselves with, which ends up being the best of all guarantees that something strong and real is taking place on stage, or within one’s own interior. Something that overwhelms our channels of self-containment. Something that manages to dismantle any form of critique or at least briefly suspend it.
In this sense, Disabled Theater functions as a hermetic device, a Brechtian method of distancing that in the long run (as the piece moves on) sets itself up as its very own promoter. Jérôme Bel doesn´t invent anything new here, but simply executes the script that was already set in motion in what is his most emblematic work until now: The Show Must Go On.
That a distancing device be applied solely to group of people with learning difficulties can generate polemic, or if you want, borderline interpretations. No halfway measures. This is Bel’s “manipulative” mechanism (with regard to the spectator) in contrast to the sincere and true feelings of the choreographer towards the group of actors, and he himself has recognised in the course of the odd interview that when he saw the group Theater Hora in action for the first time, the feeling was so strong that he needed to realise an inward looking exercise to locate its origin and nature. In this way it wouldn´t be out of place to align Bel with another great manipulator, the filmmaker Lars von Trier. Both during their careers have used the conventions of Brecht. In Disabled Theater the figure of the mediator is considered central, this figure (a middle aged bloke when I saw it) is charged with introducing the actors and Jérôme himself, in third person, (a Brechtian trait par excellence). This mediator, or figure that introduces the piece, is presented as someone neutral, who with his Zen attitude and mere corporal and physical presence on stage, channels all that is to come. I don´t know if this piece is worthy of being amongst the best of the year (something so contingent and gratuitous) in contemporary art or in “expanded choreography” (Marten Spangberg dixit), the only thing that I do know is that it is worth paying attention to the subjective mechanisms that affection or disaffection produce, as well as emotions of all types, in an era characterised by a capitalism of anxiety that hits us both individually and collectively.