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Hofesh Shechter Company

November 9, 2012

Photograph by Tom Medwell

Political Mother

Reviewed November 9, 2012

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Repeat performance November 10, 7:30 p.m.)

It’s gritty and brash and emotional. It’s raw and disturbing and painful. It’s energetic and direct and loud. Undoubtedly, it’s a glimpse into contemporary choreographer Hofesh Shechter’s vision of what performance should be about. One of the most talked about young artists in the United Kingdom, originally from Israel, Shechter has only been on the choreographic scene for the past decade, and Political Mother is his first foray into a full-length work for the stage.

The three live drummers and four electric guitarists are as much a part of the performance as the hour-plus-long powerfully physical movement of the 12 dancers. While much of the piece is unnervingly insistent, driven by the percussion and the wired ear-splitting strings, one can almost sense Shechter’s need for a breath now and then as he interjects an intermission of recorded Bach and suspends all movement, and his mischievous wink of humour as he suddenly twists the work with unexpected notes that allow you to push back from the edge of your seat, if only for a minute or two.

Political Mother was commissioned two years ago by Brighton Dome, where Shechter’s company has taken up residence, and then toured around the world on the strength of its success. A former rock drummer himself, Shechter interweaves his own musical compositions into his choreography and, for Political Mother, throws in some strobe lighting and a bit of smoke.

A couple of people slipped out of the audience several minutes into the work, a gesture I would guess Shechter not only expects, but perhaps welcomes as a definitive response to his soul-on-his-sleeve creativity.

Schechter shapes his dancers for this work into an ever-moving throbbing mob, or separates them into reverberating organisms with punching or flailing arms, hands that grasp for something out of reach, faces that look down at the floor, beaten, burdened, suppressed.

A dictator-like figure, who sometimes becomes a rock star, stands above the stage and directs the animated mass of dancers below, blurting out unintelligible threats or exertions that drive the humble beings beneath him. Electrified into exhaustion, the performers generally exude a sense of defeat. At one point, masked as a monster, the dictator figure walks behind the dancers, lined up stage front, their arms above their heads as if hanging or waiting for execution. He points a gun at the heads of a man and a woman, but does not shoot. The couple embrace, relieved to have been spared.

Throughout, this is a highly physical work for the dancers, who bravely and unwaveringly portray humanity imprisoned by something seen and threatening or something only imagined.

The overall result is an entity that speaks of power and repression, arrogance and humility, control and lack of control. It opens cinematically: a Samurai warrior drives a sword through his trunk, crumples onto the stage and gasps his last breath before darkness and blaring rock music take over. And it ends with the lightest of touches — a bit puzzling after an hour of in-your-face aggression – as Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now falls like a poetic hush over the performers. “I really don’t know life at all,” she sings. Is this what Shechter wants to leave us with? This is how I see it, this is what I want to say, but what do I really know?

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From → Contemporary

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