Jerome Bel was born in 1964 in France and currently lives in Paris. He has become an important figure in a movement of choreographers coming out of Europe in the nineties whose work has strong conceptual elements. His pieces are shown all across the world often causing debate and "Confronting traditional notions of performance". However, what interests me about Bel's work is that while the pieces themselves are extremely well thought out, as both single events and in their relationship to his other pieces, they still seem to show evidence of an interest in beauty and of emotional experience often relating to nostalgia. This alone makes me really hesitant to align his work with "conceptual art" because I think term (beginning with the visual art movement in the sixties) was coined in reaction against romantic notions found in the expressionistic movements that proceeded that time, such as abstract expressionism and in the case of dance, though a bit later on in time, german expressionism. At any-rate, call it what you want (maybe conceptual romanticism), what I really want to talk about here are the pieces themselves, specifically his piece The last performance.
All of this is better explained in Bels lecture (which is a performance in itself) on his piece The last performance seen below.
The last performance (1998) was a piece Bel made in the last five years of the 1990's which grappled with the notion of the sample, or the quotation, and how it is relevant in contemporary dance. Sampling as a mode of creation is so common in music now that the idea of making a work about sampling seems sort of silly. However, as Bel notes in his lecture on the work, "...the use of quotation in literature is common place, but in dance history there is really no precedent for a dance of quotation". He also brings up an interesting point when he says "... without the the right of quotation in dance the history of the art form does not exist and choreographers are forced to start completely from the ground up each time they choose to create". Bel cites his interest in the topic of quotation as coming from his reading of Julia Kristeva's writing on what she calls "intertextuality", which expands on the idea that anything a writer (of literature) creates is an organization or arrangement of all the books they have read in the past, or a kind of sub-conscious quotation in a way.
Bel, embracing this idea, decided to make a piece in which all the material was quoted from the dances of living choreographers. In this way it was his hope, as he says, "to re-activate dances from the immediate contemporary dance past". In the end, after realizing that quotation in live performance has a tendency to be satirical, material was chosen from extremely dramatic sources (german expressionist choreographers) in order to counter the parody being perceived by the audience with the emotional weight of the content itself.
It is this subtle play between parody and drama which interests me most about Bel's work. By presenting the concepts behind the pieces to the audience directly from the very beginning of the work the material is then freed to take on many readings. While the content may be from sources in the past, the re-arranging of the quotations in the context of the piece as a whole performance gives the material a strange and wonderful new light. It's really gratifying to find artist such as Bel who's work grounds the viewer in the present even while quoting from the past.