»… And I Am an Actor« On Emancipation in »Disabled Theater«
PDF, 16 pages
This essay aims at analyzing the dance piece Disabled Theater by Jérôme Bel and Theater HORA by focusing on its emancipatory potential: To what extent can the stage serve as a political place for marginalized people in our society in order to regain public recognition, participation and agency? Is the As-If of the theatrical stage able to support emancipatory strategies in performance, or does it subvert them? In what way do actors with cognitive disabilities call into question fundamental principles and norms of performance and dance, if not of society writ large? Referring to Jacques Rancière’s definition of emancipation as “equality in actu,” the author differentiates between four different aspects of emancipation: 1. Emancipation as a Gain in Freedom and Agency; 2. Emancipation as an Act of Self-Distancing; 3. Emancipation from the Achievement Principle; 4. Emancipation of Aesthetic Judgment.
Jérôme Bel’s Disabled Theater, a dance piece featuring eleven actors with cognitive disabilities from Zurich's Theater HORA, has polarized audiences worldwide. Some have celebrated the performance as an outstanding exploration of presence and representation; others have criticized it as a contemporary freak show. This impassioned reception provokes important questions about the role of people with cognitive disabilities within theater and dance—and within society writ large. Using Disabled Theater as the basis for a broad, interdisciplinary discussion of performance and disability, this volume explores the intersections of politics and aesthetics, inclusion and exclusion, and identity and empowerment. Can the stage serve as a place of emancipation for people with disabilities? To what extent are performers with disabilities able to challenge and subvert the rules of society? What would a performance look like without an ideology of ability?