Hofesh Shechter has carved out a name for himself as one of the high flyers in the world of dance. Two years ago he created a ‘choreographer’s cut’ of his pieceUprising/In Your Rooms, which was performed at London’s Roundhouse as a dance-meets-rock gig. The music was impressive, the sightlines a horror.
Now, back at Sadler’s Wells where Shechter is an Associate Artist, he has assembled a 23-strong band (half of whom seem to be drummers) to rework his Brighton Festival 2010 production Political Mother. Half of the stalls seats have been removed to make room for a mosh-pit-like gig set-up and there is a stirring sense of anticipation, not often felt in a theatre, as we wait for the curtain to rise.
The opening ten minutes live up to this hype. A long line of cellists seem suspended in midair as they are individually picked out by Lee Curran’s bold lighting design. As the music builds, drummers pop up underneath the row of cellists before the lights and music explode together to illuminate another two tiers of drummers pounding out dramatic beats that pump through your body. Two male dancers appear out of darkness staring straight into the audience, arms outstretched. Their movement bursts into the empty space surrounding them as their shoulders hunch and heads drop. They are defiant but defeated.
It is a powerful sequence that repeats numerous times throughout the performance, with the company of sixteen dancers all joining at one point. Elsewhere, the cast, all dressed in rustic, diffused colours, continue to represent a people surviving through a violent dictatorship. A fighter stabs himself with his sword, a line of drummers evokes the image of tin soldiers, and an evil oppressor screams and shouts inaudibly high above his subjects. It is a strange choice of Shechter’s to perform this role himself – one can’t help but be confused by the image of a rock star-like portrayal of a dictator played by the choreographer who also wrote the music.
As a whole, the piece fails to connect emotionally or in the gig-like fashion which Shechter sets out to do. Taking out the stalls seats at Sadler’s Wells is an exciting prospect, but never once does the performance invite the audience to dance or engage with the material in a different way to traditional set-ups. The pounding music, impressive at the outset, becomes oddly obsolete halfway through due to its repetitiveness; and the choreography itself is rarely illuminating. The occasional moments of quiet have the most impact – it’s a shame Shechter didn’t allow these scenes to form the heart of the piece, saving the excessive drumming to punctuate and startle instead of banging us over the head.