High Decibel Musical Accompaniment to Political Mother

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Shechter , Political Mother – The Choreographer’s Cut-(transcribed and arranged by Allen and Engler) Hofesh Shechter Company, Sadler’s Wells, London, 6.7.2013. (JO’D)

Dancers: Maëva Berthelot, Winfred Burnet-Smith, Chien-Ming Chang, Sam Coren, Frédéric Despierre, Christopher Evans, Bruno Karim Guilloré, Edouard Hue, Philip Hulford, Jason Jacobs, Yeji Kim, Kim Kohlmann, Erion Kruja, Merel Lammers, Sita Ostheimer, Hannah Shepherd, Diogo Sousa
Drums: Yaron Engler (Band Leader), Chopper, Dominic Goundar, Edward Hoare, Norman Jankowski, James Kean, Moshik Kop, Jordi Riera
Guitars: James Adams, Joseph Ashwin, Joel Harris, Vinz
Strings: Christopher Allan (Cello), Rebekah Allan (Viola), Laura Anstee (Cello), Jub Davies (Double Bass), Alison Gillies (Cello), Andrew Maddick (Viola), Desmond Keysmith (Cello), Colin Norby (Viola), Richard Philips (Cello), Stephen Upshaw (Viola), Natasha Zielazinski (Cello)

Choreography and Music: Hofesh Shechter
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
Costume Design: Merle Hensel

A notice outside the auditorium warned of ‘very loud noise, flashing lights and haze’. Inside, the seats in rows A to I of the stalls had been removed to make an area for standing and/or dancing. The atmosphere at Sadler’s Wells, before the house lights went down, was that of a rock concert about to begin. Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother had its premiere at the Brighton Festival in 2010. This ‘Choreographer’s Cut’ of 2011 includes more musicians, more dancers and, presumably, more noise. A wall, literally, of amplified sound is created by drummers (eight of them), electric guitarists, cellists, violinists and viola and double bass players, with the addition of a guttural and incomprehensible human voice.

The work begins with an ending. The first figure to appear on the darkened stage, after the music has started, is a samurai warrior in the act of committing hara-kiri. In a series of shifts in time the scene then changes to the 1930s where the Holocaust may be the ending that awaits the two men who appear next. Dressed in shirts and trousers with braces, when they begin to move it is in gestures one associates with Jewish folk dance. These are echoed in the music of the stringed instruments. As they dance, the men occupy very little space. With shoulders bowed and arms either raised above their heads or pointing downwards, they keep their bodies straight as they lift first one foot, then the other, not joyfully, not even mournfully, but automatically or as if controlled by an exterior force. It is the choreography that becomes the ‘trademark’ of the piece. When a ‘huddled mass’ of dancers makes its entrance between columns of spotlights at the side of the stage, the sheer volume of the sound that accompanies their movements seems to cancel out all meaning, all human emotion.

The fact that the music is always on the verge of becoming ‘noise’ is perhaps an ending in itself. There is a point about two thirds of the way in, however, at which the piece seems to be in danger of relying too much on its own shock value: the shock to the ear drums and the shock of its uncompromisingly constricted, though exhilarating, choreographic language. In an interview with the dance critic Mark Monahan that is published in the programme, Shechter says: ‘I wouldn’t want anyone to come out with a horrible heavy feeling about the final destination of modern culture, but maybe to feel a little bit more hopeful.’ So, after dealing with the themes of death and oppression from the start, the piece suddenly makes a joke. The music shifts register, too, to a version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’. For the curtain calls the ‘wall of sound’ returns. As they take their bows, though, the dancers turn their backs and make a single, saucy ‘grinding’ motion with their hips, as if to show what they are really capable of if given the chance. There would have been more point to this gesture had they all demonstrated the same compelling control of their bodies, earlier, like dancer Christopher Evans. Most of the audience were, however, delighted.

John O’Dwyer