Dance visionary Hofesh Shechter is putting on a SHOW in Belfast
For the first NI performance in five years under his name, the revered choreographer has narrowed a thousand young dancers down to just eight and says it's 'euphoric' to see his twisted tale of fools and kings brought to life
Israeli dancer, choreographer, musician, composer Hofesh Shechter is widely acknowledged within the international cultural sector as a force of nature. His works are a heady, visceral cross between rock gigs and hard-hitting pieces of dance theatre. They generate a powerful physical effect, leaving on audiences a lasting impression that is less about seeing or hearing as about feeling, deeply, darkly, intensely. His style is unique and entirely original. Nobody else at present is making work like this. Leaving a Hofesh performance can be challenging, when one’s knees are weak, one’s spine is tingling and one’s head is spinning.
In March 2013, he was back, this time with his own company in Derry~Londonderry, to present his explosive Political Mother as part of the city's year as UK City of Culture. His plan was to embed the performances within the local community and he was as good as his word. Over a two-week period, 16 phenomenal professional dancers worked with young people from the area in a spin-off dance project, while over half the musicians playing live on stage on the night were from the city and its surrounds.
Now his name is once more on our radar, as the intriguingly titled SHOW comes to the MAC in Belfast from May 17 to 19. It will be performed by Shechter II, the eight-strong apprentice company whose young members, aged between 18 and 25, represent some of the world’s most inspiring rising talent. Shechter speaks of them with a mixture of affection and admiration:
SHOW started life as a single piece called Clowns, which premiered at Nederlands Dans Theater in 2016. It is a piece that is both mischievous and dark, wild and dangerous, a kind of danse macabre set in a circus tent. Shechter has since framed it with two new compositions, which he describes as the Entrance and the Exit to Clowns. The trio piece opened at Teatro Ariosto Reggio Emilia in March and Belfast audiences will be experiencing its first tour. The Financial Times review of the London premiere colourfully summed it up:
'SHOW casts Shechter II’s eight dancers as jesters and fools in a disquieting, atmospheric circus. A ringmaster presides over the action, which is full of Shechter-isms: the bouncy, folkloric stomping, the hunched shoulders, the primal-looking response to a heavy beat. The choreographer also composed the percussive score, a throwback to his Israeli folk influences. As is often the way with Schechter, violence lurks in SHOW’s court of miracles.'
The central theme has evolved from a single thought which he says he wrote down a very long time ago - 'a topsy turvy world in which fools can be kings and kings fools.' One’s immediate response to this statement is that the perception seems strikingly relevant to the crazy, perilous world in which we are currently living, but Shechter doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
'These are the kind of thoughts that were in my head when I was creating this work. I’m trying to not make it specific to a place or a time – it is a dance piece after all - but everything about it is made up. It’s not made out of words but out of imagery and as our thoughts are subjective, the response is about what we feel. It was created from within that atmosphere.'
'Yes, but I wonder if it was not always like that. It’s just that now we pay attention more. The extreme realities of today bring it to the surface. It’s a matter of appearances. One way or another a king is a performer. A person who stands up there and leads is a sort of a performer. We have seen horrible ones during the history of humankind. When I was a kid, Reagan was the President of the United States. I remember my big brother telling me he’s just an actor and I thought no, you’re just making that up. But he was actually an actor and he was acting being a president. I remember realising that’s what leaders are - actors and performers.
'It’s euphoric to see these guys on stage. I’m really happy about how this whole piece came together. It looks great and I really hope that people in Belfast will take it all in.'
He has worked across genres, with the Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells Ballet, in musical theatre, television and opera; he composes the high energy, percussively driven scores for his pieces, developing them side by side with the dance, rather than the other way round. He readily admits that his life experiences form the bedrock of his creative imagination - growing up in Jerusalem, joining the Jerusalem Academy for Dance and Music, graduating into the Batsheva Dance Company, studying drum and percussion in Tel Aviv and Paris, being conscripted into the Israeli Defence Forces for a year (something he has described as being '… like an electrical short circuit in my brain'), and, in 2002, moving to London, from where he travels the world. In spite of having lived in the UK for 16 years, he still views himself as an immigrant and expresses mild bewilderment at the way interviewers and critics regularly seem more interested in Hofesh the person than Hofesh the artist.
'To be honest, thinking about my country brings quite a lot of frustration. People speak of whether the situation there is hopeful or depressing but I mainly get downcast thinking about how futile and pointless everything is for reasons that I can barely understand. There is a weird obsession in the whole world with Israel. I’m not really clear if it’s the same with other choregraphers and their work. But people are curious about me somehow. They think about me as the creator, rather than about the creation. When they speak about a dance piece, I feel there is always some desire to speak about what I mean in the work. Is that because I am from Israel? Someone told me that it’s weird how when people speak about your work, they speak about you. I wonder if it’s connected to Jewishness and Israel and so on.'
'I know about it but, one way or another, I think political parallels are dangerous because they can be a tool for politicians to gain power for whatever reason, even if it may be for very good causes. I think people have to look at the situation that they have at hand and try to solve it their own way.'
'As far as my work is concerned, I only see the people who walk in through the doors. My feeling is that even though audiences for contemporary dance are still, broadly speaking, middle class – in that it is mainly consumed by art lovers - there are a lot of people and audiences that we are expanding into. New places, more and more young people. I really hope that we are taken down off that tree because there is something in dance about celebrating life in an almost spiritual way, giving a deeper layer to our lives. You don’t have to be rich to understand that. Quite the opposite, you don’t need anything but your body to come and experience it.
SHOW by Shechter II comes to the MAC, Belfast from May 17 to 19. For performance times and ticket booking visit www.themaclive.com/event/clowns-by-shechter-II or call 028 9023 5053.
Images via www.hofesh.co.uk.