HOME Manchester and Lyric Hammersmith
Hofesh Shechter’s current production at HOME is a mixture of the old and the new. Clowns, the centrepiece, which originated in 2016, is bookended by two new, shorter, pieces called, appropriately, Entrance and Bow. The titles of the dances suggest Shechter may be commenting upon the world of show business and theatre and, if so, he perceives it as a dark and dangerous environment.
The lighting designs by Lee Curran and Richard Godin rarely rise above murky so the dancers emerge from, and return to, shadow. It is a twilight setting as if the dancers are trapped in a kind of limbo condemned to repeat their routines and never learn from their mistakes.
In addition to choreography, Hofesh Shechter also composed the score—an ominous repetitive drumming that introduces the troupe as they appear backlit in a line across the stage. The opening number Entrance is minimalist with the dancers shuffling in ritualised movements around the stage and occasionally collapsing. It is hard to avoid thinking of people caught up in religious ecstasy pushing themselves to the point of exhaustion. There is no sense of relief, only brutal lust as the dancers lose their inhibitions and indulge in an orgy of barbaric passion.
Even before Stephen King dreamt up Pennywise the Dancing Clown, everyone was aware that clowns were scary rather than funny. That is certainly the case in the main part of the programme in which the company dance around the stage while all around them people are despatched in political style executions or simply murdered.
Remarkably, the choreography for Clowns is reminiscent of a Scots jig—the feet of the dancers criss-crossing while their arms are held aloft. It brings a bizarre formality to the dance; the dancers move to a pulsing beat seemingly unaware of the chaos going on around them until they too fall victim to the whim of a murderer lurking in the background.
There is a grim gallows humour hanging over the dance; a sense of constantly striving for, but failing to achieve, escape. Even a dancer whose imperious movements and frock coat suggest he might be the ringmaster rather than a clown is not immune to destruction. This is a merciless, dog-eat-dog world in which none of us is safe.
Bow is a cheeky little number that does exactly what the title suggests—shows the cast taking a series of bows. There are moments where the ritualised spell of the early dances is broken and a member of the cast looks confused as if waking up. Yet even here, there is danger lurking as violence can erupt when least expected.
Highly atmospheric and stunningly performed, Show is a dance macabre that is perfect for the Halloween season.
Reviewer: David Cunningham