Hofesh Shechter Company: Sun -
Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse, 12 October -
Hofesh Shechter brought his brilliant and completely engrossing Political Mother to the Melbourne Festival in 2011. So the expectations for his new dance piece, Sun were very high. Immediately noticeable was the strong choreographic fingerprint that marks a work that could only have been created by Shechter. Episodic, cyclic iterations are the bedrock of his structure while the movement cuts between tribal and folkloric influences with some cheesy broadway thrown in.
Cast in muted grey, beige and white, dancers cavort in a carnivalesque cross-section of humanity. Pierrots and peasants dance wildly in clusters. A puppet-master-like King (or coloniser?) conducts the action. The sun marks time. Populations are brutalised and murdered by oppressors. They rise in joy to resist the cycles of victimisation, or to give themselves respite from its inevitability.
While there were certainly strengths in Sun: the dancing was always strong and the concept is well worth exploring, there were many aspects that blocked my commitment to the work as an audience member. The repetitive nature of its organisation would not be a problem if the concept built more or was executed more swiftly. However, the iterations add examples without really amplifying the intensity.
Sun is also choreographically repetitive. Shechter often uses a mob-like swarm of dancers and seldom focuses on the individual. This concentration on a specific movement vocabulary palls after a while. Perhaps it is because we are trained as viewers of western concert dance to expect diversity that is demonstrated in dramatic contrasts. This is certainly the case in classical ballet where there are 'set pieces', (corps de ballet, solos, pas de deux) and most forms of contemporary dance where one has come to expect use of the floor, along with vertical use of space in jumps. Shechter brings an inventive but contained use of patterning and all but eliminates jumps and avoids partnering in Sun. Over the duration of the work I stopped being able to 'see' the uniqueness of the sections because they started to meld.
I also struggled with the repeated use of cut-out flat puppets. Sheep slaughtered by a wolf, an African tribesman slaughtered by colonists. These sailed cheesily across the stage, bringing mirth to the audience as feet were seen scurrying beneath. Call me politically correct, but it felt, well, like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Shechter's stated purpose is to create something "light", but for the most part, it feels rather laboured.
It must be said however, that although the movement feels contained within a particular stylistic world, the intricate articulation of arms and upper torso is, at times, spell-binding and creates a kind of narrative of its own. There are powerful sections, for example, when the 'native' is beaten, and the following solo, the subjection of the women, as well as some moments of ensemble abandon. Music is also vital, pounding and exciting, most of it having been written by Shechter himself. Surprisingly, this work did leave me wanting more Hofesh Shechter, but it left me wanting the next Hofesh Shechter work.
- SUSAN BENDALL