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Sadler’s Wells Theatre
July 14–17, 2010
Reviewed by Barbara Newman
Photo by Gabriele Zukka, Courtesy Shechter.
“Where there is pressure, there is...” what? Like everything about Hofesh Shechter’s enthralling Political Mother, those words, appearing in dots of light on a black backdrop, compelled the viewer to think about the possibilities and then complete the thought himself. Shechter’s eventual choice provoked a surprised laugh, the only laugh of the evening but certainly not the only surprise.
To the thunderous blast of amplified drums and guitars, ranged on platforms behind them, 10 dancers in nondescript street clothes fused a remarkable lexicon of jittery, rippling movement into a frenzy of desperation. Frequently dancing in unison groups that expanded by degrees and split along unpredictable fault lines, they shivered and crawled, flailed and stumbled. They flung their limbs out and twisted their torsos in perfect control of an incremental collapse that logically would resemble chaos.
Trapped in a nightmare of undefined threats, shadowy figures sprinted silently back and forth across the dim stage, hunting for escape, or punched the air to fend off invisible attackers. They loped loosely in a ragged circle, more like animals following their instincts then humans enacting a ritual, and revolved mechanically on the spot, interchangeable as oiled pistons in three lines of three, propelled by their swinging arms.
Couples clung together briefly and separated without regret. Isolated individuals flowed into a unit like drops of mercury coalescing, abandoning their independence as a single phrase absorbed them all. At times, a man harangued them from above, half-speaking, half-singing, while they knelt submissively beneath him, limp arms raised.
Were they prisoners? Victims? Fugitives? A mob of devout worshippers or political fanatics? They could have been society’s castoffs or the willful, anonymous crowd that can, unexpectedly, turn the tide of history. They danced—you chose.
Israeli-born and now based in Britain, Shechter has made his name with an all-male company and short, fiercely aggressive works that seem to spring from our mean streets and violent private impulses at once. This first “full-length” piece, longer than its predecessors but only 65 minutes, would improve with judicious editing. A certain slackening of energy occasionally left it dangling in space, as if Shechter couldn’t quite devise a unifying structure to link and sustain the striking vignettes.
But overall, the nervous juddering vocabulary and its meticulous execution, the dramatic tableaux (inexplicably frightening), and the intercutting of Shechter’s percussive score with lyrical passages of classical and popular music lifted contemporary dance to its challenging best. The work ends with a choreographic coup de théâtre, racing backward like a speeded-up film through many of the previous sequences, also performed in reverse, to its opening image. You can hardly imagine the stunning power of this conceit, so imagine the imagination that created it and the extraordinary pleasure of watching it develop before your astonished eyes.
See www.politicalmother.co.uk for international tour dates.