From its exterior, The Harlem Garage seems like nothing out of the ordinary— just another building that blends into the unique monotony of uptown brick. But, inside, are zesty orange walls covered in vibrant modern art, hammock-like swings in place of chairs, and a group of teenagers working to curate an art exhibit. Yeah, that’s right. A group of TEENAGERS!
Take a group of professional dancers and a handful of not-so-experienced New York City locals and what do you get? Jérôme Bel’s The Show Must Go On: organized chaos in the form of a thirty-minute contemporary dance piece. It all starts at the Museum of Modern Art, with an empty stage and an atrium filled with students, critics, and tourists. All of a sudden, you hear a familiar tune: “Here come old flat top / he come groovin’ up slowly.” As the Beatles’ song continues to play, people who you thought were members of the audience make their way to the stage. Turns out, the guy sitting next to you isn’t just an average spectator and you soon realize that this is far from your average dance performance.
As displayed in the opening number, the work takes on many literal meanings in relation to the lyrics of the songs used. For example, during David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” the performers remain completely still throughout the entire song except during the chorus, when the song mentions dancing. Similarly, the performers use “Ballerina Girl” by Lionel Richie to a very literal extent. Yup, you guessed it… they performed ballet. (Or at least, what each dancer interpreted ballet to be.)
Although it isn’t perfect, this conceptual way of dance really brings light to a giant question: what is art? Is The Show Must Go On really a “dance performance”? I mean, at one point, we were just watching a humorous five-minute version of the Macarena. Bel’s underlying purpose can easily be clouded by the choppy entertainment that his dancers provide. But once you take it into consideration, you realize that maybe art isn’t meant to be perfect or sophisticated. Perhaps it is a collection of various extremes; something that can be molded differently by all walks of life, as The Show Must Go On clearly defines.
Image source: The Art Newspaper