Review: Hofesh Shechter Company - Political Mother, the Choreograher's Cut - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 3 - 7 July 2013
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Thursday 4 July 2013

Hofesh Shechter Company 'Political Mother - the Choreographer's Cut' Photo: Bettina Strenske

Performance reviewed: 3 July

Political Mother: the Choreographer’s Cut is an inspired choice to close Sampled at Sadler’s Wells. Everything about it is rock gig: the audience, (mainly twenty-something year olds), the auditorium, packed and buzzing, with many people standing; a sombre, smoky atmosphere (dry-ice) and a throbbing wall of sound. If anyone is inflicted with thoughts about dance being for elite aesthetes, Political Mother is the show to cure such misconceptions. It’s for rock- music lovers and festival goers.

The curtain goes up late but it fuels anticipation. The gradual layering of volume from first the string instruments, followed by the electric guitars then the drums raises the roof of the theatre. For those unable to tolerate the head-banging intensity of the music, exit now – and some do – but not many.

Shechter’s music is imaginatively textured. There are civilised classical sections played by the strings interwoven with hard-core, guitar riffs and thrashing drumming. The volume of both music and dance ebbs and flows throughout the show, which is necessary, otherwise it would be unbearable.

The physicality of the musicians, especially the drummers and guitarists is equal to that of the dancers and while the excessive volume and domination of the stage by the 24 musicians is the striking feature of Political Mother, movement still manages to hold its own. Largely performed in unison by 16 dancers the choreography responds to the score, and doesn’t try and fight for its own autonomy. It’s obvious from this relationship that the choreographer and composer is the same person. Hofesh Shechter uses the steps, gestures and formations of a generic folk-dance. There is heaps of repetitive hopping on bent knees, hunched shoulders with arms held above the head. The body-language is supplicating and humble; sometimes the dancers look like angry rebels, other times like helpless victims. Unable to stop dancing to the unrelenting, pounding beat, they look like they are suffering from the medieval disease St Vitus’s dance.

While Shechter’s work is non-linear and narrative free there are sub-texts created through sound, lighting, costume and action which suggest middle-eastern wars, megalomaniac politicians and rock stars, military dictators, subjugated peoples, soldiers and prisoners. Lee Curran’s lighting is dramatic and filmic – of the dim and grainy variety. It intensifies both the sinister and violent images embedded in the piece; sudden cuts in lighting plunge the theatre into darkness. Shechter also uses dramatic freeze-frame effects in the action: a couple embrace in a frozen pose, next a man points a gun at their heads. Meanwhile up on the musicians’ raised stand towering above the stage, sudden, short black-outs morph the man screaming into the mike from raging gorilla-masked dictator to thrusting, ego-pumped rock star. Whenever messages veer too close to the political, they are diverted by the hedonism of the rock concert.

Nevertheless this heady mixture of imagery and volume results in some truly terrifying moments which are etched in our brains and are made even more poignant with the recent uprisings in Cairo and the plethora of atrocities occurring further afield.

Shechter, however, doesn’t intend us to dwell on these heavy realities, and injects Political Mother with humour and even a smattering of idealism at the end. The neon text which reads “where there is pressure there is also folkdance” brings giggles while Joni Mitchell’s smaltzy, hippie Both Sides Now defuses the intensity and decompresses our ears.

Continues at Sadler’s Wells until Sunday 7 July (Standing tickets from £8)

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider

Photos: Bettina Strenske

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