Hofesh Shechter Company
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; July 14, 2010
It begins in silence. A solitary Eastern warrior impales himself on his sword. And then it explodes in a seat-shaking cacophony of ear-splitting sound that pummels the eardrums for most of the next 70 minutes. It can only be Israeli-born Hofesh Shechter, very much the rising star of choreography in Britain, and whose company is fast becoming the Metallica of contemporary dance.
“Political Mother”, Shechter’s first whole-evening work and which had its world premiere at the Brighton Festival, is a noisy, attack on power. He sends a loud message about indoctrination, and shows us where unquestioning obedience and loyalty can lead - whether to mindless following of some despotic leader; to be prisoners in a dank, forbidding institution; perhaps even to become prisoners of our own minds.
The work is an enigmatic compendium of images and scenes, often full of intense physicality. Shechter’s ten dancers become soldiers, warriors, and most commonly prisoners as they dance to the largely heavy soundtrack composed by Shechter, himself a rock drummer, and performed live by a band on platforms at the back of the stage.
A series of tableaux come and go in the dark - often very dark - and smoky atmosphere as parallels are drawn between the oppressors and the rock music. A dictator, who rants incomprehensibly into a microphone, morphs into the lead singer, both hypnotising their audience. Below the drummers look like military automatons trapped in boxes as they beat out a blazing rhythm. Above, the rest of the band blast away on their electric guitars.
Down on the stage the dancers show what Shechter sees are the results of power on the masses. They shiver, shuffle and lope as if their ankles are shackled, their arms frequently outstretched above their heads as if also in chains. Hunched over, heads bowed and often dressed in ragged prison-like garb and moving in a single-line or circle they look for all the world like part of a demoralised chain gang or inmates in a penal institution or concentration camp. Shechter draws heavily on his folk background, and the choreography is at its best when in the folk-like ensemble sections, but even movement with such joyous roots finishes up looking battered and mindless here.
For all the rawness of the music and much of the dance though, it is the quieter moments that are the most powerful. Around half way through, and in a moment of calm, a piece of Bach gradually surfaces from beneath the rock as the dance becomes almost tender. It seems as if Shechter is saying that even in all the control and oppression humanity survives. Later, and with similar effect, Verdi also puts in an appearance, while another section is backed by the sound of a chill wind.
Despite being powerfully and superbly staged, "Political Mother" leaves an odd sense of leaving one unfulfilled. There is one particular period, about half an hour in, when it starts to drag. I know, I looked at my watch! It is a spectacle, forceful and full of energy, but the music rather drowns out the dance, and tends to hide the fact that Shechter returns to earlier ideas time and again. Having said that, the final section, danced to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and that reprises much of what went before, is most striking and the most enduring memory of what, overall, is a startling evening’s dance“Political Mother” runs at Sadler’s Wells to July 17.
For details of future performances in Galway, Hamburg, Seville, Breda and throughout France; and in the UK at Bracknell, Coventry, Sheffield, Nottingham and Truro see http://www.hofesh.co.uk/calendar.html