Too often, we define the disabled by their limitations. But the truth is, each person is capable in their own way, with everyone deserving of a chance to shine.
Directed and conceived by French choreographer Jérôme Bel, GALA features a massive 20 cast members onstage, with both amateur performers and professionals, including Timothy Nga, Fiona Lim and drag extraordinaire Becca d’Bus. GALA rifts on the theme of individualism and self-expression, using the power of the arts to change lives by allowing people from all walks of life to do something they love.
What happens during the performance itself is a series of dances and performances. 80 minutes flew by, of what can only be described as limitless joy and energy. The performance opened with a slideshow of various theatres around the world in all forms, perhaps to suggest that just as the cast is so diverse, so are the various spaces in which people can perform. The performers then came onstage, and showcased a variety of dance forms, from ballet, to waltz, to moonwalking to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. There was a clear demarcation of various styles and performance, yet somehow, the performance remained organic and well put together.
In the second part of the performance, entitled ‘Company Company’, various members of the cast led different segments, where the rest of the cast had to follow. Of these, Becca d’Bus no doubt stole the show, leading the cast in a rap number, featuring them gyrating wildly and causing great raucous laughter from the audience. Apart from her segment though, Timothy Ng, one of the two professional ballet dancers in the cast, impressed the audience and elicited ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as he flitted gracefully across the stage. Of course, apart from the professionals, the non-professionals also had their time in the spotlight. Margaret Ravelle, a wheelchair-bound woman, led the company in a touching song to the best of her abilities. Samuel Lim who is 7 years old, the youngest cast member, tore across and behind the stage with so much energy in an almost cartoon-like fashion reminiscent of the Road Runner, leaving the entire cast out of breath as they chased after him.
Ending off the performance was Timothy Nga, who led the cast in a rendition of Liza Minelli’s ‘New York New York’, in true musical theatre fashion with a little twist – the cast changed the final utterance of ‘New York New York’ in the lyrics to ‘Singapore Singapore’. The cast then bowed together in unison, in contrast to a previous segment featuring the cast bowing in different ways, showing a strength in solidarity and togetherness in spite of differences.
I clapped heartily at the end of this thoughtful, well-conceived performance that left a deep feeling of warmth in my heart. GALA is the spiritual successor of a 2014 piece by Bel titled Disabled Theatre, and here we see how by virtue of staging this, Theatreworks has proven that there are no barriers to becoming an artist when the stage is set. There is (idealistically) no discrimination, no hate in the theatre world, and seeing the diverse cast onstage perform with their souls tonight makes me believe in that end goal just a little more. Top marks to Tay Tong and Ong Keng Sen for making this possible, instilling belief and hope in a world of arts for all.