‘A work of galvanising, challenging power.’ ‘Mind-blowing.’ ‘A marvel of son et lumière, as ambitious and as heads-down, hair-prickingly exhilarating as modern dance gets.’
For once, the critics are unanimous. Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother, first seen in 2010 and since toured to huge acclaim internationally, is a modern multi-media masterpiece, ‘the ultimate, cinematically immersive, ideas-driven fusion of dance show and rock gig', as one commentator put it.
The good news is that Shechter is Derry-Londonderry-bound, to re-create Political Mother as part of the City of Culture 2013 celebrations. This time round, however, there will be a few crucial differences. At the heart of these is Shechter’s desire to fully embed the two performances within the Derry-Londonderry community.
‘The really exciting thing,’ he says, ‘is that 20 out of the 30 musicians live on stage will be young Derry musicians.’
The process of identifying local talent has already begun, with auditions held in the Nerve Centre in Derry~Londonderry during September 2012. Shechter emphasises that what he’s offering is not work-experience style internships, unwaged skivvying for those seeking to beef up their musical CV a little. On the contrary – this is a serious employment opportunity, and it’s fully professional.
‘They are going to be paid for every second of the seven weeks they’re with us,’ Shechter comments. The aim, he adds, is simple. ‘To give them a sense of what is out there, what it is to be part of a huge show. The feeling of what it is to be part of something that is dance and music, and nothing else. No agendas, just being part of a really powerful performance which brings people together.’
And it doesn’t stop there. Shechter’s troupe of 16 professional dancers will also be working with young people from the Derry-Londonderry area, in a spin-off project significantly augmenting the value of Political Mother's visit to the city.
‘We are going to work with four groups of local young dancers for two weeks,’ he explains. ‘On the day of the first show people will be able to walk from one site in the city to another, and see pieces performed by the young dancers, inspired by Political Mother.’
Prior to a recent planning visit, Shechter had never actually been to Derry-Londonderry. The city made an immediate impression. ‘I found the place extremely interesting,’ he says. ‘It had quite an interesting effect on me.’
‘Interesting’? Is Shechter being gently diplomatic? He is, in the event, perfectly happy to explain himself further. ‘I got the impression that tension in the city is quite palpable,’ he admits. ‘Even something about the way the city is built. I got the feeling that people feel the city is still very much divided, something still very much happening in people’s heads.’
Shechter draws clear parallels with his birth-country Israel, where a period of traumatising military service was instrumental in shaping his haunted, powerful vision of how human beings seek to control and dominate one another, if necessary by use of sickening levels of violence and oppression.
‘I come from a divided city myself: Jerusalem. Even though Jerusalem is divided not in two, but into a lot of little particles! So that sense of tension was something I kind of recognise. I think young people’s lives in Derry are not simple. So I got very excited about the idea of doing something in Derry. Exactly because what I do in life is art – music and dance. And that’s something that actually defuses tension and separation.’
Despite the evangelical zeal with which he approaches the business of devising and staging his dance-works, and his genuine belief that art breaks down barriers and changes lives for the better, Shechter is adamant that he is not in Derry-Londonderry to preach to people, or offer easy solutions.
‘I don’t care much about politics,’ he says, feelingly. ‘We can talk about politics forever and we’ll never solve it. I’m not coming with agendas, I’m not giving lectures. There are no conclusions here, I’m simply bringing questions out. It's a perfect place to ask these questions.’
So why, then, is his greatest work entitled Political Mother?
‘Even though the word “political” is in the title of the piece, perhaps sarcastically,’ he explains, ‘I don’t really deal with political issues. I deal with the social structures and human behaviour they give rise to. What really interests me is trying to reveal and bring up to the surface emotions that are developing in such situations of control. This is something I am personally obsessed with,’ he laughs. ‘I’m stuck with it!’
So what can Derry-Londonderry audiences expect from the finished product? The short answer is, a pretty full-on sensual experience. ‘The show is sort of overloading you with images,’ explains Shechter, ‘like a Clockwork Orange-type film.
‘It’s a sort of attack on the senses,’ he says, referring to what one critic has called the ‘strange, parallel universe of oppressed peoples and cultures’ explored in Political Mother, to a soundtrack ’played at the sort of volume that rearranges internal organs'.
Amid all the sound, fury, and visceral imagery, what effect is Shechter ultimately aiming at? ‘For me a beautiful feeling is actually how futile this all is,’ he muses. ‘It doesn’t matter. We’re stuck in that cycle together, and you take a step back and you look at it, and you say “My God, how stupid is all that?”. It sort of makes you feel good, in a weird way.’
The human body itself – dancing, feeling, suffering, expressing – is, for Shechter, central to any process seeking to move beyond conflict to peace and resolution. ‘To reveal and discover the simplicity of the body, the feeling that we all have of brotherhood,’ he reflects, ‘this is the feeling that I love to discover in the end of Political Mother.'
At the conclusion of the piece, he says, ‘You feel that everything just collapses, and what matters in the end is very, very simple human qualities we have, a feeling for what’s right and wrong. What matters is the connection between the people. I can’t wait to be there in Derry to do it.’
Political Mother will be performed at the newly refurbished Ebrington site in Derry~Londonderry on March 8-9, 2013.