Posted by: Benjamin Adrian
Sitting through Jérôme Bel’s piece, “Pichet Klunchun and Myself” was mostly unlike the typical performance tba holds in Lincoln Hall. There was a bit of dancing, but conversation filled more time. Jérôme begins questioning Pichet about his practice of Kohn, a classical Thai dance. Pichet proceeds to give a basic crash course in Kohn. Jérôme tries out some moves, and the entire audience begins to appreciate Kohn, and Pichet’s impressive command of it. In regard to Kohn, the piece appears to be more instructional than presentation.
And then the roles switch.
Pichet takes a similar tack to querying Jérôme on his artistic practice. Being about as familiar with Jérôme’s previous work as Pichet’s (not very) I followed along raptly. In demonstration and philosophic anecdotes Bel’s work is revealed as being minimalist performance pieces which attempt to forge a particular relationship between the performer and the audience; one of equality, in that the audience feels on par with the performers. The idea is to not have the audience awestruck by the abilities being displayed, making it theatre, rather than the Olympics.
I am struck by the way in which the role of audience takes on such an elevated persona (increasingly I think this about the whole of tba, not just this piece). Jérôme introduces himself by performing the role of an inquisitive recipient: he acts an audience. Once Pichet takes over the questioning, and Bel takes the stand, we hear the reasoning behind his own style of performance. This aligns the ‘artist’ to ‘audience’ in a more orthodox manner, however, Klunchun performs the audience role in such a way as to reveal an affinity to Bel’s aesthetic understanding.
Death carries much significance in Kohn dance, so I was curious if Bel would depict it in his performances. He does. Pichet reacts to it by reflecting on the death of his own mother. Jérôme is satisfied and explains he views the theatre as a venue for opportunities just like this one- moments of reflection. Bel explains he wants his work to open time and space for the audience, to expand the possibilities available for them and to mull about ideas within the context of their own lives, not the performers.
Reflecting on Jérôme’s points about anti-spectacle artwork, I see how opposed Pichet’s work is to such a framework. In seeing Kohn dance, Jérôme himself eventually becomes impressed; he displays the antithesis of what he would like to elicit from audiences. We see the type of reaction Jérôme aims for demonstrated by Pichet. Referring to the theatre, Jérôme asks “what can happen in this place?” and his piece resoundingly answers the question: anything.