United Kingdom Shechter, Sun:Hofesh Shechter Company, Sadler’s Wells, London, 20.3.2014 (J.O’D)
Dancers: Maëva Berhelot, Winifred Burnet-Smith, Chien-Ming Chang, Sam Coren, Frederic Despierre, Bruno Karin Guillore, Philip Hulford, Yeji Kim, Kim Kohlmann, Erion Kruja, Merel Lammers, Sita Ostheimer, Hannah Shepherd
Apprentice Dancers: Marla Phelan, Attila Ronai, Diogo Sousa
Special Guest: Chloe Walshe
Choreography and Music: Hofesh Shechter
Set Design: Merle Hensel
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
Costume Design: Christina Cunningham
Additional Music: Let’s Face The Music And Dance (Berlin); Tannhauser WWV 70’ (Wagner); Sigur 1 (Sveinsson/Birgisson/Holm/Dyrason); Abide With Me (arr. Cresswell)
Musicians On Soundtrack: Strings: Christopher Allan, Rebekah Allan, Nell Catchpole. Guitars: Joseph Ashwin, Joel Harris, Vinz
Scenic Artist: Kirsty Glover
Puppet Artists: James Ward at jimbobart (with additional work by Rebecca Cusack). Sheep on loan from John | Gordon. Wolf courtesy of Framestore
I did not go to see Hofesh Shechter’s Sun when it premiered at Sadler’s Wells last year. My ears were still feeling the effects of his high-decibel ‘Political Mother: The Choreographer’s Cut’, which I had seen a few weeks before. This year, thinking ‘It can’t be as noisy’, I decided to take the risk. There were the same notices about ‘loud music and haze’ outside the auditorium, but the atmosphere inside was less like that of a rock concert. None of the stall seats had been taken out. The audience, though talking more animatedly and more loudly than Sadler’s Wells audiences usually talk, looked almost sedate.
Uncomfortable levels of noise, and ‘Sun’ contains its share of them, may reflect the conflict that Shechter (quoted in the programme) says a lot of his experience has been marked by. ‘This is a story of light and dark,’ announces a voice, speaking out of blackness, at the beginning of the piece. As if to reassure us, there is a preview of the ‘happy’ ending that is to come. In Hofesh Shechter, this means a group of dancers in white on the ochre-coloured stage, shouting and with their arms raised. (When we actually get to it, the ending is not happy at all.) What we see next is a sheep, the life-sized drawing of one on a board held up by a crouching dancer. If the ‘sun’, as the voice implies, is that which was supposed never to set on the British Empire, is this a British sheep in a British field? Recorded bagpipes play a version of ‘Abide with me’, but this pastoral idyll (problematic in itself if you think about the enclosure of common land) does not last for long. A wolf soon makes its appearance.
While ‘Sun’ is less of an aural assault than ‘Political Mother: The Choreographer’s Cut’, it is more sophisticated in its performances, choreography and design. Shechter knows how, and when, to bring his dancers on to the stage. Dressed in clothes that gesture in subtle ways to period (the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with two, intriguing references to the Pierrot), the dancers make their synchronized (Jewish?) folk dance derived movement in groups. At times there is a leader, at times an outcast. In general, they move en bloc, each dancer occupying, as if dispossessed or oppressed, a small space on the stage floor. (Shechter would, I think, make a good job of choreographing Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’.) Rarely do the dancers look at one another, even when they are standing side by side. That would imply individual emotion, something that in this choreographer’s work seems to be an unaffordable (or impossible) luxury. At the end, the voice is heard again. The house lights come up as it lectures the audience on the evils of colonialism. This could be yet another example of words and dance not mixing (what has been implied is made explicit, even banal). But I, for one, found it strangely difficult to meet the eyes of the single dancer who stands looking out from the stage as the lecture is delivered.