In his early pieces (name given by the author, Jérôme Bel, Shirtology…), Jérôme Bel applied structuralist operations to dance in order to single out the primary elements from theatrical spectacle. The neutralization of formal criteria and the distance he took from choreographic language led him to reduce his pieces to their operative minimum, the better to bring out a critical reading of the economy of the stage, and of the body on it.
His interest subsequently shifted from dance as a stage practice to the issue of the performer as a particular individual. The series of portraits of dancers (Véronique Doisneau, Cédric Andrieux…) broaches dance through the narrative of those who practice it, emphasizes words in a dance spectacle, and stresses the issue of the singularity of the stage. Here, formal and institutional criticism takes the form of a deconstruction through discourse, in a subversive gesture which radicalizes its relation to choreography.
Through his use of biography, Jérôme Bel politicizes his questions, aware as he is of the crisis involving the subject in contemporary society and the forms its representation takes on stage. In embryonic form in The show must go on, he deals with questions about what the theatre can be in a political sense—questions which come to the fore from Disabled Theater on. In offering the stage to non-traditional performers (amateurs, people with physical and mental handicaps, children…), he shows a preference for the community of differences over the formatted group, and a desire to dance over choreography, and duly applies the methods of a process of emancipation through art.
He has been invited to contemporary art biennials and museums (Tate Modern, MoMA, Documenta 13, the Louvre…), where he has put on performances and shown films. Two of them, Véronique Doisneau and Shirtology, are in the collections of the Musée National d’Art Moderne-Centre Pompidou. Jérôme Bel is regularly invited to give lectures at universities (Waseda, UCLA, Stanford…). In 2013, together with the choreographer Boris Charmatz, he co-authored Emails 2009-2010, which was published by Les Presses du Réel.
In 2005, Jérôme Bel received a Bessie Award for the performances of The show must go on given in New York. Three years later, with Pichet Klunchun, he won the Routes Princesse Margriet Award for Cultural Diversity (European Cultural Foundation) for the performance Pichet Klunchun and myself. Disabled Theater was chosen in 2013 for the Theatertreffen in Berlin and won the Swiss “present-day dance creation” prize.