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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 21 MARCH 2012 — Hofesh Shechter, a quiet, reserved young man and winner of the Critic’s Circle National Dance Award for the best modern choreography in 2008, is one of the most inventive, exciting choreographers working in the U.K. today. Born in Jerusalem in 1975, he moved to Britain ten years ago, his reasons being many, he told me after a performance of two of his works at the Theatre des Abbesses in Paris where his company is  appearing for the second time.

"I can’t stand the heat", he explained, a direct reference to the climate in Israel, but with an oblique allusion to the political situation there. "I like the fact that when I wake up in London, I never know what kind of weather it will be, and I just love the rain, the dampness and the cold. I’m not really a true Israeli either, for although I was born there, my parents are of European origin, being of German, Russian and Roumanian descent. But also, I had little or no stimulus from other artists in Tel Aviv. It’s a closed, small circuit there, where everybody knows everyone else, and very little is happening outside the Batsheva Dance Company."

Hofesh Shechter: Uprising
Photo:  Andrew Lang

Although he trained as a dancer at the Academy for Dance in Jerusalem before moving to join the Batsheva Dance Company, directed by Ohad Naharin, he simultaneously began percussion studies, becoming an accomplished musician and composer, talents which were to become an immense advantage when he turned towards choreography and founded his own company, of predominantly British and French dancers, some years later.

"I discovered that choreography gives me a way of expressing my emotions, and yes, my anger," he told me. "Most of my works are autobiographical and a reflection of my feelings. They are about experiences I lived through and the violence and anguish in them is deliberate because that’s the way I am. Like many quiet, shy people, my anger builds up and then explodes; it was like that when I was a child, and my brother would goad me on until my temper flared up".

The first piece presented in Paris was Uprising, a strong, powerful, earthy work. The theatre was plunged abruptly into total darkness, after which a blinding flash illuminated seven men marching to the front of the stage, emerging so it seemed from the mists of time.  Dressed in khaki combat trousers and long-sleeved coloured sweat shirts, these were men, not boys as they surged forward across the stage mesmerizing the audience, and then stood motionless on one leg, defiant, before charging around in a pack such as in a rugby scum.  They were accompanied by a loud, rhythmic, pounding score, music composed by the choreographer himself and ideally suited to the movement created.

Hofesh Shechter: Uprising
Photo:  Ben Rudick

The piece is by turns savage, yet soft, as the men who are all superb dancers, punch, shove, hit and fight, then suddenly lunge into a more humane, soft, lyrical movement which leads on to the next. It’s hard to know whether these men were enjoying the fun of just ripping loose and dancing in a form of tribal war-dance, or whether there was a real conflict going on, with references to torture, to the atom bomb, and to the terrifying fact that these men were reveling in fighting, liking to play at war because they considered war fun.

It was hard to digest such a masculine, turbulent piece, and most people, unaware of Shechter’s reputation, were hoping the tension would lessen with the second work on the programme, The Art of Not Looking Back, for six women. Irony of the sort, it was one of the most anguished and cynical pieces I have yet to see in dance, a work which made me physically sick, due in part to the accompanying score which incorporated someone throwing up noisily and repeatedly, so much so that one could smell the vomit. The score also included snatches of Shechter’s original compositions as well as John Zom’s Six Litanies for Heliogabalus, extracts of Bach, and Fragile Wind, composed by Nitin Sawhney.  There was also the voice of Shechter himself, elucidating us on the fact that his mother had left him at the age of two, and that he would never forgive her.

Hofesh Shechter: The Art of Not Looking Back
Photo:  Matthew Andrews

He most certainly took his audience into another world, but a world in which one did not particularly want to go. It made one feel uncomfortable, because although one can identify with what he says, it jars. His choreography is uncompromising and pessimistic and one leaves the theatre decidedly more upset and bewildered than when one arrived. It is hard to leave a theatre with the notion of an unpardonable action being flung in one’s face.

Maybe a few more years spent in England’s green and pleasant land, with its sunshine and its rain, will free Shechter from the demons possessing him. Instead of venting his fury on an unsuspecting audience, he will turn his unique choreographic gifts to more positive works, pieces in which we are given a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

Title image: Hofesh Shechter
Photo: Andrew Lang 

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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Book Review: Water in the Wine: Jews, God and a Modern Crisis of Identity

Einstein's Views on God and Religion Set Auction Record

Please click here for Patricia Boccadoro's archive of interviews with international choreographers and dance stars.

Please click here for Patricia Boccadoro's archive of dance reviews of performances by troupes and companies from all over the world.


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