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The Sunny Side of Shechter: Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” | BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival

November 20, 2013
Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival  Photo: Ian Douglas

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival Photo: Ian Douglas

On Nov. 14-16, as part of BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival, London-based Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter presented the U.S. Premiere of his newest work, Sun. Mr. Shechter is joined by longtime collaborators Lee Curran (lighting designer) and Merle Hensel (set designer) for this work. Christina Cunningham of Théatre de Complicité joins the artistic team as costume designer. The 70 minute work also features original music by Mr. Shechter.

This is not the dark angry world of Mr. Shechter’s 2010 work, Political Mother, or his Violet Kid, which premiered in 2011. Sun, given its world premiere at the Melbourne Festival this year, is a work much lighter and with its own, though at times a little macabre, sense of humor.

Sun begins with an announcement from Mr. Shechter, who, with his lovely accent informs the audience that the company will be showing a small bit of the ending “to prove everything is going to be just fine.” As Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” blasts we glimpse the dancers in a jumbled sort of 21st century commedia dell’arte costumes. When I say a glimpse, I mean a glimpse, brief seconds of dancers convoluting about the stage in a semi-state of rapture…then black out. We are then assured that “no animals were harmed during the making of this production….”

Still in darkness we hear traditional bagpipe music, but somewhere within it is a trumpet, this builds to a full orchestra score and in a small pool of light we are shown a cutout of a sheep. Then blackout, there’s a lot of blackouts, the music we now hear, unless I’m wrong …(though I am seldom wrong, ask anybody)…is “God Save the Queen.”

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival  Photo: Ian Douglas

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival Photo: Ian Douglas

Lights up and we see the company in a tableaux standing silently, then moving slowly they lift their hands to hide their faces, similar to that done with a toddler when you playing peek-a-boo. Then, everyone slowly moves their heads to the right to peek out at us with just one eye.

Erion Kruja is the mad conductor for this orchestra of flesh. He appears, disappears and reappears throughout the work, berating, chastising and attempting to guide the dancers into cohesive phrases of movement. But, poor man, it was rather like trying to herd cats. He also occasionally has a tambourine that he employs to make an emphasis. He is manic, seemly has had way too much coffee and is brilliant with every move, shout and inclination he gave. Bravo Mr. Kruja.

Dancers enter and leave the stage in the most pedestrian of manner, walking. Mr. Shechter’s choreography explores small, minute movements. With the body stationary, the dancers move up and down quickly by bending the knees. This is accompanied by small hand gestures that reach, pull back and then the body bends slightly at the waist as if studying the floor, the body still moving up and down. There is element of madness, like overly medicated inhibits of an insane asylum, but still keen intelligence that can be seen in dancers’ eyes. This builds to a sudden, but brief stop, and begins again, but it is altered and expanded with more varied movement vocabulary. Exact moments within the music are highlighted by either sudden stillness or abruptly changing the dynamics of the movement.

The stage is a place that holds few shadows, the work’s lighting design ranges from bright noon to dawn or dusk. The flooring is white; the costumes are all white or light earth tones, fog travels slightly across the stage adding an element of dreaminess to the work. But still there resides an undercurrent of anger. It is not overt as in Political Mother or Violet Kid, but it is still there.

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival  Photo: Ian Douglas

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival Photo: Ian Douglas

Several cutout sheep appear, moving with little hops across the stage, suddenly a cutout wolf appears while an actress in the front row jumps up and screams loudly while pointing at the stage. This scenario is repeated, but with cutouts of African warriors and a European explorer/colonialist, then with a cutout businessman and a suspicious looking slouched youth wearing a hoodie, the actress each time jumping up screaming and  pointing.

Sun is not a linear work, but rather pieces of a puzzle that we are shown piece by piece, one segment at a time. As mentioned earlier, multiply blackouts were used to change the mise-en-scene, it was akin to the eye blinking or a cut away as used in film.

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival  Photo: Ian Douglas

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival Photo: Ian Douglas

Violence was sudden as Bruno Karim Guillore appeared on stage shirtless; he is immediately surrounded by dancers that start to beat him with small clubs. The audience as a group jerked each time the clubs contacted flesh, so loud were the blows. Suddenly they stop, Mr. Guillore stands, he and his assailants all gave a brief bow and exit the stage. Perhaps Mr. Shechter was commenting on the amount of violence seen in media today and our gratuitous acceptance of it?

As with Mr. Shechter’s past works that I have seen there exists elements of folk dancing, but bent, revamped and updated for the informational age. There is a sense of community and its shared experience that lies at the heart of his work. Mr. Schechter continues to surprise me and I am looking forward to my next opportunity to see his work.

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival  Photo: Ian Douglas

Hofesh Shechter Company in Hofesh Shechter’s “Sun” during BAM’s 2013 Next Wave Festival Photo: Ian Douglas

After graduating from the Jerusalem Academy for Dance and Music, Hofesh Shechter moved to Tel Aviv to join the world-renowned Batsheva Dance Company. Here he began drum and percussion studies which continued in Paris at the Agostiny College of Rhythm. Subsequently he began experimenting and developing his own music whilst participating in various projects in Europe involving dance, theatre and body-percussion. Hofesh Shechter is renowned for creating the musical scores for each of his dance creations with his raw, atmospheric music complimenting his Company’s unique physicality.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will be performing Hofesh Shechter’s Violet Kid, June 11-14, 2014 at Bam…

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