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Hofesh Shechter Company:

'Uprising', 'The Art of Not Looking Back'

by David Mead

September 23, 2011 -- Patrick Centre, Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK

Inspired partly by the 2006 protests by youths in Paris, “Uprising” opens with seven men in everyday, mostly khaki coloured T-shirts and trousers, striding determinedly straight towards the audience to an ear-shattering beat. For s second they all stand in retiré, symbolising the formality of society that is about to be challenged. And challenge it they certainly do. Not only is the dance is full of the rawness and energy that characterises much of Shechter’s work, but there’s also an undertone of aggression and tension. Even moments of camaraderie fall apart as simple pats on the back quickly become slaps, and eventually a full-blown brawl.

As is Shechter’s want, much of the dance is into the ground. There is plenty of his trademark shuffling and ape-like loping across the stage. And yet, it is very rhythmic. There is a sense of menace, but equally there’s one of brotherhood and of being as one. Structurally, there is plenty to admire as groups break and reform, and individuals move away and return, Shechter cleverly and constantly changing his partnerships. It’s a surprise when the climax comes almost out of nowhere, one dancer suddenly climbing on the backs of the others to wave a small red flag. It’s a moment of triumph, but the minute standard speaks volumes. Yes, it’s a victory, but one that in the grand scheme of things makes little difference.

After the men it was the turn of the women in “The Art of Not Looking Back”, Shechter’s first all-female work. It opens with his voice, and the stark statement, “My mother left me when I was two.” He screams, before continuing to vocalise his feelings of pain, he adds, “No content can fill a broken structure. It’s like having a bucket with a hole, no matter what you pour in, it’s always empty.” The dance may not have quite the power of “Uprising”, but even so, his thoughts and feelings are clearly embodied in the often anguished choreography. The ladies are certainly as precise as the men earlier. The whole work is a metaphor for despair, and just maybe, for thought of what might have been. Every so often his dancers pause in a ballet pose. They even do some tendus. A couple of times we are shown the formality of group folk dance. We are always quickly jolted back to reality, though, and his earthy and primal dance. Right to the end there is no sense of redemption, no coming to terms with events. “I don't forgive you,” he concludes.

A coda to the evening featured a rewind of both pieces. It not only reminds us of what has happened, but the jerky home movie effect projected somehow adds to the personal nature of proceedings as e events unravel in seconds in front of our eyes.

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