Folk with a rock edge

Taking the stage by storm artistes of the Hofesh Shechter Company. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Spelled out in lights towards the end of Hofesh Shechter’s contemporary dance work Political Mother is the message: “Where there is pressure there is folk dance”. It is at once enigmatic, absurd and absolutely literal: folk dance is one of the unexpected languages that the Israeli-born, London-based choreographer uses in his hard rock-driven piece.

As for the “pressure” — well, there is one heck of a lot of that created onstage by the increasingly wild rhetoric of a dictator, manic military drums, the thrash of electric guitars and the high-energy dancers.

A lot created offstage too, what with the pounding music generating a tangible, physical response in us. The decibel levels, acutely uncomfortable at times, made my heart beat faster, and I felt the anxiety, the fear and the adrenaline rush. Not for the faint-hearted.

Shechter, one of the international stars of the contemporary dance world, himself created the score for Political Mother, his first full-length dance piece that premiered in 2010.

The piece opens with a series of vignettes: a Japanese samurai soldier performing hara-kiri, two men dancing with spiky energy, a row of military drummers, and on the upper tier of the two-level stage, a crazed dictator in full oratorical flight. Words can’t be distinguished in his diatribe, but it isn’t necessary: the imagery, the music, and the movement speak strongly of repressive regimes and those it seeks to repress.

But the work doesn’t end there; the dictator morphs into a rockstar, and also an animal-faced oppressor. The citizenry are seen to be lovers, friends, the audience at a rock gig, prisoners and soldiers. Certain movements, shapes and gestures repeat to different effect — hands held high by dancers, for instance, are read differently as supplication and surrender or as solidarity and strength.

There is a sense of danger; at one stage a dancer waves a gun, and I hold my breath. You know the gun will be fired, and it is, but the moment immediately spins to something else, with the “gun shot” realised visually as a group of dancers rushing on to the stage.

The changing emotional register of the work is underscored by the subtly changing costumes and the lighting. The dance moves rapidly within spotlights, cones of light, coloured lights, very dim lights and extended black outs between movements.

It also changes pace with an unanticipated spell of classic music, softer sounds and even, would you believe, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’. The work goes into a rewind mode at the end, and if a criticism has to be levied on the work, it is the length.

Shechter’s lighting and rapid jump-cuts have elicited, for understandable reasons, comments about the work being cinematic.

If the increasingly frenzied dictator stands for tyranny, and the full-on electric rock guitar sounds for freedom, the energy-levels are similar. As the dancer changes from rebel to victim, or from weak supplicant to strong citizen I couldn’t help but think of how life turns on a dime. And how the energy of a rock concert mosh pit can twist into the savagery of a protest march being crushed.

In these troubled political times, Political Mother hasn’t lost its urgency.

(The event was presented by The Hindu and the British Council as part of Impulse Season 2)

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 8:07:51 PM |

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