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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 20 JUNE 2016 Barbarians, Hofesh Shechter’s 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 choreographer’s 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 wasn’t particularly amusing. It was even less amusing when Shechter’s voice announced that he was a 40-year-old man and wanted to do something for a thrill.

Choreography: Hofesh Shechter
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 didn’t 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 Shechter’s voice, low and pleasant, chanting offstage, "I am you, (That’s 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 Guillore’s Tyrolean dress deliberately provocative, to demonstrate that in this experimental work, an instinctive outpouring of thoughts and ideas, anything goes?

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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