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October 15, 2012 6:03 pm
A few years ago, I met a young Australian actor who had gone through a conversion experience thanks to Hofesh Shechter. Forget theatre, he had decided, dance was the thing. Critics in the UK, where the Israeli choreographer-composer settled a decade ago, have also been stirred, exalting the 37-year-old for the originality, contemporaneity and completeness of his vision. From the first evening-length work his Brighton-based company has presented here – until now New Yorkers have only been treated to an excerpt and to commissions for the local, Cedar Lake ensemble – I can see what they mean.
Political Mother is total theatre, beginning with its sophisticated use of the stage – high and low, front and back. At ground level, 12 hunched dancers clumped together, raising feeble arms to a higher power as their feet sketched spritely folk steps. Behind them in stalls of light, five martial drummers repeated a single, low apocalyptic refrain. Arrayed on a high platform, four electric guitarists thrashed out rumbling melodies beside a mush-mouthed rock star cum leader. Rarely did we see everything at once, though. Designer Lee Curran carved out regions of light against walls of darkness as crisply as Shechter’s heavy metal riffs stopped and started.
The 75-minute Political Mother consists of many abrupt episodes. Shechter is not telling a story, he is describing a condition that has survived, he implies, like the cockroach, for ages. The dance’s allusions roam history, from medieval knights to Hasids dancing for joy of God to mosh pit ruminants to demagogue worshippers. Political Mother suggests that people will always form tribes, whether for worship, entertainment or survival, and they will always make themselves beholden, whether to God, Hitler or the mastermind behind this choreography.
The dancers mainly moved as a single organism, no one leading or following. No one stood out or even stood up: my back ached for the hunched shoulders and collapsed spines. Political Mother got me to feel the human condition as a constant – the dance eventually proved tedious – but not believe it. I am not persuaded that in a tribe wracked by obedience, someone would not break ranks. The monochromatic Political Mother is powerful but the price is patchy truth.
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