Hofesh Shechter, Joyce Theater, New York

I know there is an upside to the European trend of liberating “ballet” companies from ballet, but Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s second programme at the Joyce mainly testifies to the downside. With Dutch freelancer Didy Veldman’s Frame of View and Norwegian stalwart Jo Stromgren’s Sunday, Again (reviewed last week), the story ballet gives way to lax, latter-day dance theatre, ebullient in its unfolding and only half-committed to its organising conceits. Stromgren’s is badminton and Veldman’s is doors, but the dances cannot seem to remember – wearing us out with distractedness long before they manage to conclude.

Happily, Hofesh Shechter’s The Fools – substantially reworked for Cedar Lake after a 2008 premiere for the Bern Ballet – would be welcome even in better company. Sure, the first full work to appear in New York by this British-based 35-year-old Israeli sensation has its flaws. The black and white title credits that appear at intervals on a small screen upstage, for example, would more effectively evoke old movies and the retreat they offer into hope and memory if the screen were fit for a movie palace too. Likewise, the quick cut from winsome Scarlatti sonata to the sound of hollow wind seems like an accident. Musing stupidly about sound engineering, I almost failed to notice that aspiration and desolation had just collided.

Yet even these unrealised elements do not ruin the mood, which is as dense as a nightmare. Though in his short career Shechter has often favoured bent limbs with the chest concave and the face obscured, the effect here is not creaturely but abject. The seven fools move in a clump before a shadowy tribunal of figures in grey. The fools keep their myopic eyes to the ground while tracing boxes around their heads. Occasionally there are futile outbursts of will. In one affecting solo, Manuel Vignoulle cups his hands to his mouth and screams into the ground. It doesn’t hear him.

In an interview about this anguished dance, Shechter mentioned the fools of Yiddish folklore, but it is their authors – the shtetl Jews – that come to mind. In their one proud moment, Shechter’s losers stand beside a red flag. Like the unheeded diviner Cassandra, they see the danger ahead. () www.joyce.org

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