Political Mother: Hofesh Shechter Company at BAM 30th Next Wave Festival
When I walked into BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House someone kindly tried to give me earplugs, she said “It’s very loud”, I smiled, declined and an informed her I expected it to be. I was slightly aware of Hofesh Shechter’s work, having seen his Violet Kid performed by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet during their Joyce Season, I was somewhat prepared for what I was about to see.
Entering the theater you enter a world that is dark and smoky, a world of mystery and a world of the unknown. A lone figure is seen on stage dressed as a samurai, standing there not moving and we see the words Political Mother, illuminated behind him. He kneels and taking a sword he commits seppuku, a form of ancient Japanese ritual suicide, he falls forward and we see a bloody sword protruding from his back. He withers in his death throes. The lights fade to black.
Lights fading to black are used continually through Political Mother. Think of Political Mother as a written narrative and the lights fading to black acts as periods at the end of each sentence.
In this darkness we are exposed to loud blasts of music, it is so sudden and so loud we all start unexpectedly. Percussion joins in, not just as in percussion joins in, but as in PERCUSSION JOINS IN.
The percussion, here and throughout the work is a driving tribal beat that speaks to you soul. Your very essence is pulled by the resounding drumming and you want to get up and dance, to become tribal yourself.
We see dancers on stage, but there are within deep shadows, the stage lighting is very dark. Everywhere shadows cling to people, faces appear out of darkness only to disappear back into darkness. Figures playing electric guitars and men on drums haunt the edges of the stage like some otherworldly presence. Did I mention it was loud?
Mr. Shechter’s movement style is shuffling steps, bent backs, arms over head with tension filled shoulders. There are moments of absolute stillness, the dancers seem like a frozen frame of a film, their movements stopped in mid-transition. The dancers stay grouped as if from some herding instinct, safety in numbers. The body transitions in a very relaxed state from one shape to the next, it’s almost lazy the body is so relaxed. At times the dancers seem to exist in a state of insanity where personal expression is denied hope and the only solution or comfort is constant movement, back, forth, in circles, either individually or altogether. Running is continual, arms reaching forward as if being chased by the very essence of fear. The arms are moving constantly, always close to the body, elbows bent, every now and then they would individually, but still as a group turn tightly with one finger pointed up, to the sky, to god, or perhaps just to ask a question, it is never clear.
Above all of this, another level exists, a level of authority, where adamant expression is pronounced in garbled languages of oppression. The dancers stop and stare in awe at a militaristic figure in uniform that exudes authority. He stands before a microphone and shouts out his vision of the world’s needs, evidently convinced his is the only vision of hope, his the only solution
This same place of authority transitions to a place of primal pain, Bruno Karim Guillore screams into a microphone, soul-speaking with guttural yowling and repressed sexuality that struggles and succeeds to express itself. He was fantastic, alternating between an authoritative dictator figure to this person expressing rage mixed with repressed pain and struggle. In the end he succumbed to his passion and evolved into a creator of startling sexuality. He became as sensuous as a leopard’s purr.
Hofesh Shechter created a place of dark fears and deep desires that struggle to compete with the light of day. There is an expression of rage, and of acceptance of that rage expressed. Primal pain is shouted, insanity seems a more viable solution then sanity.
But in the end we see Mr. Shechter has a sense of humor. As we watch the unfolding of Political Mother and we are nearing the end of the 70 minute work the words “Where there is pressure” is illuminated in the background. We are all expecting some great statement of social change, of a reordering of the world’s agenda, but what we get is, “Where there is pressure there is folkdance”.
Is Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother really a dance piece or is it more movement theater? I lean more towards Movement Theater. But, it must be stated that Mr. Shechter’s approach is fresh and an unexplored terrain of expression that holds infinite possibilities.. Martha Graham spoke of Blood Memories, those primal memories that reside in all of us, buried deep within the sub-conscious. I think Mr. Shechter taps in those deep memories for Political Mother at times seem to be ritualistic in nature, a pagan rite laid bare. It was a folk dance, but with new interpretations as to what we call tradition and culture.
Think of Hofesh Shechter as an innovator, a visionary. I like to refer to him as the artistic offspring of Pina Bausch.