In contrast to the frequent accusations that Jérôme Bel had made the eleven members of theater HORA look like amateurs and exposed them to ridicule instead of bringing their acting potentials to fruition, this essay proposes a different perspective. With respect to the tendency to interpret the successes of people with disabilities as triumphs achieved in defiance of, or in compensation for, physical or cognitive differences, it argues that one of the strengths of Disabled Theater is its absence, interruption and negation of these commonplace assumptions – and deals with the questions and potentials Bel brings to the fore by holding back from subjecting the actor’s performances to the regime of mastery and sophistication.
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?