Choreography by Hofesh Shechter
Co-commissioned by Sadler's Wells and Brighton Festival
Hofesh Shechter follows the re-staging of his astounding Uprising and In Your Rooms in the Roundhouse last year (February 2009) with a more daringly overt statement in his senses-pounding Political Mother, which premiered in Brighton last May to good reviews. A simple statement made with a lot of noise.
What he calls 'end of the world' music drives the dance drama, for this is what it is - dramatic dance theatre. Sadler's Wells theatre is barely able to contain it. The Roundhouse would have been the better venue. Close to the stage the decibel level is unbearable. It penetrates the body and the soul...
Death Metal is what my music producer companion calls it, as five electric guitars thrash in unison on a platform high above the smoky stage, whilst below them drummers beat a military call to arms, and a demagogue harangues his public under glaring searchlights. Is there any difference between the highs of a rock concert and the hypnotic rant of a charismatic orator?
Ten dancers respond to these exhausting buffeting tirades, puppets pulled here and there by irrational hysteria. Twisting circle dances in Middle Eastern folk tradition, collective delusion, shaking prisoners in internment camps, and soldiers in desert khaki who wheel and fall.
A forest of arms wave in the air - in support, or is this submission? Arms reach out in supplication to the audience. Their political mother is destroying them. A sad weary people is driven mad.
Blackouts break up the scenes, the chapters of this colour-drained narrative. Bach and Verdi give us moments of respite and quietude, and gentle sounds of the sea lull us before each new fierce assault on the eyes and ears. Then back to the seat-shuddering implicating sound, and its compulsive propulsive beat. One is sucked into the vortex.
A cynical Brave New World or is this 1984? - a state that controls its citizens from birth to death to believe one thing only - that it is under constant siege. A whole nation in a prison camp and they know it. One big gulag.
The Israeli-born artist is making an obvious but bold statement, and we feel it in our guts. He really does not need to spell it out with a gorilla head mask on the demagogue, but bitter mocking tongue-in-cheek fun comes with the angry territory. Crude imagery, patchwork scenes, primitive sound, shock tactics - there's no other way to grab attention. And Shechter grabs it.
Where there is pressure in neon lights on the back wall is completed with there is folk dance. Let the people dance, as long as they are compliant. Music leads us a merry dance. Can music sooth the savage heart? All is metaphor. Head-banging music takes us somewhere else. Dance as release, dance as exorcism?
Round and round the dancers circle, the whole piece a circular repetitive work. Opening with a warrior waving his samurai sword before committing ritual suicide, it ends with a solitary fighter flashing his sword. In filmic gloom borrowed from the old masters of cinema, and old-style shadowy lighting (Lee Curran) the cinematic score leaves us in no doubt about its narrative.
Shechter puts his two consummate skills, choreography and music composition, to dramatic purpose - evolving together, they lead each other on in an unstoppable organic creation, which at the resulting 70 minute length would benefit from some objective editing, but that is not to deny its visceral vociferous power. Political Mother is an astonishing work in every sense.
Why it ends with Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now is anybody's guess. To send us happy into the night or to illustrate our own delusions? We are so easily manipulated - that's the sorry state of affairs. And so it goes. On and on. Coercive, corrosive manipulation.
Till 17th July 2010
For touring dates and venues see www.politicalmother.co.uk/politicalmother.html
Reviewer: Vera Liber