sat 18/11/2017

Hofesh Shechter, Sun, Sadler’s Wells | reviews, news & interviews

Hofesh Shechter, Sun, Sadler’s Wells

Hofesh Shechter, Sun, Sadler’s Wells

Sunny, with the odd cloud is the forecast for Shechter

Hofesh Shechter's SunPhotos: Gabriele Zucca

The first time you see a Shechter piece, you feel it, literally as well as figuratively: percussive is a mild word for his forceful choreography, the stamping, churning, yearning of his sweeping shapes and rhythms. Percussive is the music, too (Shechter played drums in a rock band), which he co-writes, and it is played at volumes that make it vibrate through the theatre.

Percussive, too, is his view of the world. Not for Shechter polite abstraction, or even angst-filled explorations of his own psychodramas. His interests turn outwards, to the world around him, and his works are explosive responses to the 21st century's militarism, terror and violence.

Sun ostensibly sets out to be, well, sunnier, than his earlier works, which have tended to the dark and angry. Certainly his jaunty little voice-over before the start suggests that is the aim. Just to let us know that "everything is going to be OK", he soothes, he’ll show us the end before the beginning, to reassure us, adding, "No animals were harmed in the making of this piece."

They probably weren’t, but the piece is, somewhat, by that arch little skitter, a tiny tap-dance of self-referentiality. The humour it promises is not apparent in the work itself, but it takes the audience some time to figure that out and settle down, and for no particular benefit. Fasten your seatbelts: it’s going to be a bumpy night.

The opening section, complete with cardboard cut-out sheep, is a mad pastoral, Danny Boyle’s Olympic-opener-goes-grunge. The movement is both feral and feline, a smash-bang post-punk reinterpretation of Martha Graham elegancies. The second section is presented as a repeat of the first, the same groups, the same chain dances, the same linking steps. But this time the cut-outs are Aborigines, and the wolf that menaces them has become a gun-toting empire-extending coloniser: what had been charming us is now admonishing.

Then we repeat once more, but here Shechter’s narrative breaks down. He may be exploring militarism (lots of goose-stepping) and inner-city riots (the sheep/Aborigine becomes a hoodie), but what the connection is between them, and if he is saying anything more explicit, entirely passed me by.

For while Sun has Shechter’s strengths galore – fabulous unison sections, flicking from folk inflections to classical, to spinning, dervish-like pools of movement – it also has his weaknesses – sections that last only seconds, pell-mell one after the other, as though piling up heaps of incomprehension will in itself force comprehension on us.

 The high point is the pear-drop-sharp acid-sweet references to music-hall – there are Pierrots, and a quasi-ringmaster, set off by a beautiful curved set (Merle Hensel) and French-Revolution-goes-to-the-funfair costumes (Christina Cunningham) in Gap-khaki-tones, lit by the always wonderful Lee Curran. Through them, the themes of militarism, of nihilistic violence, are thrown into sharp relief, almost Joan Littlewood, Oh What a Lovely War-style.

I suspect the piece will evolve further. As it stands now, there are moments of extreme beauty, and of sheer horror. If the choreographer can give us more clues as to how they link, Sun will shine brightly.

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