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Hofesh Shechter’s SUN

Choreography and music by Hofesh Shechter
Hofesh Shechter Company
Sadler’s Wells

Hofesh Shechter's SUN Credit: Gabriele Zucca
Hofesh Shechter's SUN Credit: Gabriele Zucca
Hofesh Shechter's SUN Credit: Gabriele Zucca
Hofesh Shechter's SUN Credit: Gabriele Zucca
Hofesh Shechter's SUN Credit: Gabriele Zucca
Hofesh Shechter's SUN Credit: Gabriele Zucca

Jigsaw pieces, Hofesh Shechter gives you the jigsaw pieces but you have to put them together yourself. Some are misleading, diverting, others deceptively simple, but at the end of SUN’s seventy minutes you do get the tragi-comic picture.

Abstruse and obvious, garbled and clear, portentous and trivial, tongue-in-cheek and deadly serious, SUN is not sunny at all. Not many laughs either. Bitter ones maybe. At what man and his savage heart can do to his fellow creatures under the sun. Shechter’s personal is always political, and, of course, vice versa.

Cardboard sheep, held like shields, graze peacefully but there is always a wolf. Cardboard natives find a colonising David Livingstone in pith helmet amongst them. A shaman ringmaster cracks the tambourine, his unruly ragbag troupe, Hamlet’s players, jump to his tune—sometimes.

Costumed by Christina Cunningham in shades of beige and off-white, in motley period garb, some in white Harpo Marx wigs, some in Pierrot suits, Shechter’s company of some sixteen dance in harmony and in conflict, in upper body balletic grace and countermanding feet.

Commedia dell’arte gestures and silent cryptic mime, hands linked in medieval chain dance joyful and macabre (as in Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal), feet stamping in folk dance rhythm.

A gorilla bays at the stars (bare light bulbs—dusky lighting is by Lee Curran, sombre set by Merle Hensel), women strip and dance an angry haka, there’s a moving duet, and a man shouts, ‘behind you, there’s a wolf behind you, there’s a fucking wolf behind you’, as Wagner’s Arrival of the Guests at Wartburg from Tannhäuser plays.

The Holocaust, the burning by the sun, can it ever be exorcised? A women in the front row screams at three crucial moments, but is anyone listening? The shutter comes down again and again and we are left in the dark.

There’s a fierce energy in Shechter’s works driven by his own visceral musical compositions that crowd the space, batter the ears and reverberate in the body—he does intend to move you by any means possible.

Abide With Me, Scottish bagpipes and a hunting horn, Wagner, Irving Berlin’s Let’s Face the Music and Dance (‘there may be troubles ahead’), ambient Sigur Ros, and apocalyptic percussive sound surround hard rock dissonance sketch out as much of the underlying metaphors as does the sketchy repetitive dance.

I love Shechter’s work, but SUN did not warm me. Was it meant to? Maybe it was the swirling mist that got to me first. Maybe it was his barely concealed pain at the human condition that dancing cannot assuage.

He wrong-foots us with a prelude that promises a happy ending, but happy ending there is not, nor can there be. A bleakness pervades the snapshot chapters of frantic activity. A blazing Japanese sun chills the bone.

‘No animals were harmed in the making of the production’ his voiceover claims, but he is being flippant, mocking us again, spelling out the treacherous duality of man—Orwellian doublespeak and Nazi lies.

In an interview he says SUN is light, bright, easy, but balanced by the demons of nature—and heavy in the sense of a clown telling a king what others can’t say.

He’s just kicking a ball in the air, but he does want to make audiences think. His ambition is big, “but it’s just a dance piece, can’t expect too much”… And his heart is written all over it.

Make of it what you will. Edit the messiness of life, if you can. Every century has its malefactors. A cut-out cardboard hoodie and banker join the dancing circus. The end is always a Goya-esque corpse on the end of a rope.

Two weeks ago SUN made its world première at the Melbourne Festival, this is its UK première, and it continues to tour. Next year Shechter is to be Brighton Festival’s Guest Director. That should be something.

Reviewer: Vera Liber