“It felt a little like the Hofesh Shechter Company’s Uprising, which begins with its seven male dancers marching to the front of the stage and solemnly striking a pose – arms in first, feet in passé – which they hold for a good minute as if to say ‘this what you want? Some mother-fucking ballet? There. Done.’ From that point on, there is nothing remotely traditional about their movements.”
I wrote that in August as part of my response to Einstein on the Beach. I was referring to a piece I had seen in 2009. That’s the thing about Hofesh Shechter: he stays with you. When I speak to actors about suppressed movement, (as opposed to standing still) I talk about In Your Rooms. When I talk of defying our expectations, physical humour and the ultimate dissatisfying ending (and I love dissatisfying endings in theatre, I’ll tell you why some day), it is Uprising. When I talk about an inarticulate scream for action, it will be his newest work, Sun to which I turn. You’d be surprised how often this comes up in conversation.
I’m not saying that Sun does not possess the other elements, which are so recognisable in the work of UK-based Hofesh Shechter: its wit is biting and charged, the suppressed movement is magnetic and its ending ultimately dissatisfying. However, for all the incredible action of Sun – percussive, visceral, anachronistic, masculine, grounded, limbs simultaneously fluid and tight – what I will retain most is the inaction. The stillness. The silence. The moments when the bodies and the overwhelming cacophony of sound ceased and the dancers turned to the audience and stared us down. Oh the urgency of that stare! The silent challenge: ‘do you get it yet? Do you get it?’ You know, I’m not quite sure I ever did get it but I sure as hell got something.
The Hofesh Shechter Company is the ultimate global dance ensemble. Shechter himself is from Israel and his dancers hail from all over the world: Egypt, Bolivia, South Korea, Amsterdam, Albania, France, England, Taiwan, Germany, the USA, Hungary, the Netherlands and Portugal. The choreography is as eclectic as the company. I am an unskilled amateur when it comes to identifying dance traditions but even I could spot Greek influences, Afro-pop, belly-dancing and traditional courtly moves. Even heavy-metal thrashing and twerking got a look in. Add to this gesture, pedestrian movements – movements which individually the average punter could almost mimic – and Shechter’s own brand of slippery, aggressive Fight Club-esque dance and the cumulative affect becomes a sweaty heaving, urgent mass, somehow both primal and deeply refined.
Individually, the elements are inadequate to express the pulsating insistence of the piece. The company highlights this by opening the show with perhaps twenty seconds of the final movement to let us know that “everything will be alright in the end”. The glimpse we get is perhaps the most stiff and traditional twenty seconds of the work and, by the time we reach them at the climax, they feel utterly impotent. The ringmaster figure – for Sun is a sort of mad, political circus – screams in frustration at the audience and his fellow dancers. How inadequate, how frustrating are those simple movements and yet, and yet, and yet… And yet the cumulative affect of these many disparate styles and images create a truly articulate voice and a truly significant work. A work which encompasses a global history: a history of dance, of praise, of race, fear of the wolf, fear of the coloniser, fear of the kid in the hoody, fear of the unknown, of rage, of what it is to rage without a voice, to rage against a government and against being human. It encompasses all of this and looks to a future without borders; to a global society.
A moment: Five dancers, in a disarmingly simple single movement, leaped onto the bodies of five of their companions, wrapping themselves about them and are carried by slow deliberate steps across stage. The carriers are vulnerable, their bodies weighted, their arms wide, faces passive.
Another moment: Four men beat a fifth man, who curls in on himself for protection against their truncheons. They beat him for too long. There is no sound except the striking of the sticks. The ringmaster shakes his tambourine. They all stop, turn to the audience and bow.
Another moment: Nine sheep head bang.
Another moment: A woman screams.
Another moment: Three women painfully try to recall how their bodies work.
Another moment: In two spotlights, two men gesture as if trying to impart to us a piece of crucial knowledge.
Another moment: The wolf is behind you. It is behind you.
Clapping felt inadequate. I wanted to riot.
Note: my response to Nicola Gunn’s In Spite of Myself is up on aussietheatre.com.au if you want to read it.