Political Mother - The Choreographer's Cut

Choreogaphy by Hofesh Shechter
Sadler's Wells
(2011)

Political Mother - The Choreographer's Cut production photo

At about exactly this time a year ago the seventy-minute no interval dance-rock gig, Political Mother, hit our senses for six. It is back, amplified, now with twenty-four musicians and sixteen dancers. More bangs for your money. The front row stalls seats have been ripped out to form a mosh pit, and it's only ten pounds - not bad for a rock gig - to stand at the front of the stage, and bathe in the atmosphere.

Shechter claims the reworking is to make it lighter, more joyful, a celebration. To my mind what he has done is change the dynamic. The musicians, a visual and aural mosaic, dwarf and dominate the dancers, whose muddy clothed, bent, stamping trembling bodies, arms raised up, circling, moving in waves as one, raise the spectre of Fritz Lang's Metropolis shuffling downtrodden workers. My young artist photographer companion, a lover of horror films, thought the dancers were zombies.

Both choreographer and composer (with the assistance of musical collaborators Yaron Engler and Christopher Allan), Shechter is in total control of his work. A director, so to speak, and he does seem to be signalling his film director ambitions with the Choreographer's Cut subtitle Dramatic lighting (by Lee Curran), which holds the piece together, a Leni Riefenstahl searchlight forest of spots, blackouts, jump cut editing, film noir misty sets, and a son et lumière wall of sound.

A three-row frieze of musicians appears and disappears on the back wall (now you see them, now you don't, but you can still hear them), the nine-strong string section sandwiched between tiers of drummers interspersed with electric guitarists. A Dante's Inferno of sound, the drums are awesome (at least ten drummers, but then percussion is Shechter's speciality) - huge earth-shattering Kodo and rapid Gatling gunfire drums.

Visually striking, aurally compulsive, repetitive pounding heartbeat rhythms drive the scenario on, and make no mistake there is a strong scenario. It might be lost amongst the sound and the fury, but it is there. Kodo drummers are often called samurai drummers, and Political Mother opens with a solitary samurai warrior committing ritual suicide.

Men are psyched up to war by music, these days by heavy metal rock - how many Hollywood blockbusters demonstrate that... And Verdi's Requiem covers their return Counterpoint strings and drums - music to soothe the beast, and music to rouse the beast. Torpor and ecstasy. Music to cloud the senses, and as Joni Mitchell sings, to 'block the sun'.

Demagogues rant and rave above; the marionettes down below take the brunt of their folly. The recent Middle Eastern uprisings add poignancy to Shechter's prescience - Uprising the name of a former dance piece. But, as he says in neon lights: "Where there is pressure, there is folk dance."

This breaks the ice, the stunned silence. The audience laughs and from this moment on the cheering doesn't stop. The choreographed curtain call - he knows how to work the crowd - keeps the applause coming. How easy it is to send us into a mass hysteria - the very premise of Political Mother.

The shock of the new is gone. I envy the first-timers. But it is still a thrilling evening, and what a meteoric talent. At the moment he is milking Political Mother, and it has plenty of juice left, but I am curious to see how he develops. In what direction will his signature style, so inclusive, so infectious, so hypnotic that one wants to join in, move?

Reviewer: Vera Liber