Reviews

Dazzling display by a star on the fast track

2 October 2007, The Daily Telegraph, Mark Monahan

HOFESH Shechter has been the subject of an intriguing experiment. London's three biggest-hitting contemporary-dance venues - the Place, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Sadler's Wells - have collaborated to "fast-track'' the Israeli-born choreographer from one venue to the next. The result is that the 32-year-old has gone from a 300- to a 1,500-seater in barely a fifth of the time that it would take most young choreographers, and last week he impressively sold out his two nights at Sadler's. But was all this hoopla justified?  
 
Although not without minor qualifications (to come later), my answer is yes, it was. At each venue, Shechter (who even writes all his own music) has offered two pieces: the fully-formed Uprising, and In Your Rooms, a work in progress over the year.  
 
The first, a witty take on the fragility of male bonding, opens with a bang. The house lights are suddenly and thrillingly cut dead, after which a formidable industrial beat kicks in and the audience is dazzled by a row of lights shining at them from the rear of the stage. From below these spots, through swirls of mist, stride seven men. They stop, pausing in meticulous, balletic positions, before suddenly "crumbling'' and sloping back off. Instantly, you're hooked.  
 
The ensuing tussle between palliness and bestial aggression is a dense, meticulous, and furiously energetic cocktail of steps that range from nightclub-style grooves to an extraordinary, simian lolloping. As with the new piece, there's also a powerful sense of events unfolding beyond the wings, that the dancers are merely passing through our field of vision. The smokiness helps, but so, too, does Shechter's habit of lining the dancers diagonally across the stage, which vividly extends the sense of space behind both the stage and the audience. Atmospheric, exciting stuff.  
 
In Your Rooms, after the interval, is less neat than the earlier piece and definitely too long (despite, I think, some trimming), but beguilingly bizarre. Shechter's voiceover - "If you think about the cosmos, it's a complicated thing...'' - sets the tone for this wry bellow of existential angst, an attempt to show, in dance, the unconscious mind trying to work out its place in the universe.  
 
With two newly added dancers giving it extra heft, and the large Sadler's stage at last giving it room to breathe, it snaps between abstract vignettes and images with the speed of a cinematic jump-cut. One second, a couple are lithely coiling and flexing their bodies in perfect synch; the next, a lone figure convulses alarmingly on the floor; then, suddenly, all 11 dancers are kneeling (again) in meticulous diagonals, pulsating together like perfecly aligned neurones.  
 
From there on, with the voiceover shrewdly implying that this is all happening in Schecter's mind as we watch, he layers order upon chaos upon order until everything finally comes together in a cathartic, kinetic payoff.  
 
And those caveats? Well, although very different in terms of overall theme, both pieces on this programme were noirish, fractured, repetitive battles between opposites, playing out to pounding rhythms and sharing several distinct choreographical tricks, meaning that the first slightly dulled the impact of the second.  
 
And the resolute deconstructedness of both works, with passages liable to last seconds rather than minutes, means that no sooner do you find yourself thinking "Wow!'' at some particular sequence of steps than they generally vanish into the gloom. It's intellectually fascinating, but can be aesthetically frustrating too.  
 
Still, an A+ for ambition and originality, and cracking performances, too. Roll on the next commission.

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