By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 20 JUNE 2016 Barbarians, Hofesh Shechters new
trilogy is not a piece one can either like or dislike. Rave or rock show?
Gratefully accepting the ear plugs offered, one submits to the loud
crashing score, the blinding but spectacular searchlights which roved
around dancers and audience alike and sit bemused by the fast-moving,
pulsating energy of the interpreters, all Shechter trademarks, which left
the audience as exhausted as the dancers themselves. Despite the explicit
title, it was hard to know what this highly personal work was about. One
thing was sure. It owed little to the Israeli choreographers origins and
much more to his London base and to the smoky Berlin basement where the
second part of the work originated.
The Israeli dancer and choreographer, who began his career with the Batsheva
Company, has been based in the U.K. since 2002. He studied percussion,
playing drums in a rock group in Paris and subsequently began composing
scores for his work, but Barbarians benefits not only from his
loud, pounding rock-creations, but also from 18th century baroque music by
Francois Couperin to which Shechter added his own voice-overs.
The trilogy began on a high note, "the barbarians in love", with the
arrival on a stage devoid of all décor of nine white-clad dancers moving
in unison. With the booming score and dazzling lighting moving in circles
and squares, there was an air of expectancy; one felt immersed as if in a
science-fiction film. The music was slow, the dancers fast. Sometimes they
moved with the music, at other times, they fought against it.
Intermittently, the amphitheatre was plunged into sudden darkness with the
audience and interpreters subjected to voice offs, where Shechter
himself questioned his own work even asking the audience whether there was
a psychiatrist present. The audience tittered, but it wasnt particularly
amusing. It was even less amusing when Shechters voice announced that he
was a 40-year-old man and wanted to do something for a thrill.
Photo: Gabriele Zucca
The rest of the voice-offs belonged to a robotic woman, who began, "I
am you, you are me, love is complicated." At times, the dancers chanted a
reply. It was more puzzling than pretentious.
It was all very bitty. The appearance of six naked people in dim
crepuscular lighting was gratuitous. During the intermission, one could
question as to what the choreographer was doing, as apart from the clever
lighting effects and sound, the piece so far was empty.
Matters improved slightly with part two, tHE bAD, for five
dynamic dancers clad in slinky golden catsuits, who skipped, clapped, and
charged around the stage. But as soon as something began to happen, the
movement was discarded, leaving only the phenomenal force of the
interpreters whose stamina one could only admire. This was becoming more a
rock show than a dance production, with the work becoming a free-for-all
where anything goes. But it was sad to see such an outpour of energy going
nowhere. All the hip-thrusting and gyrating seemed pointless.
One could fear the worse reading the title of the third and final part
of the trilogy. "Two completely different angles of the same fucking
thing", but while it could have referred to the first two parts, it
certainly didnt to the third, which began with a theatrical duet between
a woman in a white, silky blouse, and a man in Tyrolean dress. Never mind
their outfits, the choreography proved fascinating, with beautiful, fluid
movements from the woman. The couple embraced, clinging together yet at
odds with each other, with Shechters voice, low and pleasant, chanting
offstage, "I am you, (Thats not me!), breathe what I breathe." This
seemingly one-off duo was linked to the earlier parts by the arrival on
stage of both the dancers in white, and those in the clinging bodysuits,
who formed a semicircle around them.
It was loud, it was brash, but it was ultimately disappointing given
the usual quality of this exciting choreographer. It was barely saved by
the remarkable duet in the third part, featuring the lovely British
dancer, Winifred Burnet partnered by Bruno Guillore. Was Guillores
Tyrolean dress deliberately provocative, to demonstrate that in this
experimental work, an instinctive outpouring of thoughts and ideas,
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