Hofesh Shechter Company: Sun -
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 27 August -
The sun is a symbol of life – warmth, light and heat. Something that is beautiful and desirable (particularly in England where the Hofesh Shechter Company is based); something that illuminates. But, there are also tales that hint at its danger, like that of Icarus. Fly too close and you will burn; what is brightly illuminated and beautiful may hide darker truths. Shechter’s Sun is another such sunlit parable.
“You will never catch us … we hide within you.” A loud, accented voice speaks through the darkness of the Drama Theatre with such deliberate portentousness it is almost comic. The seeds are planted. There are giggles of anticipation. But the voice, next reassures that all will be well by providing us a glimpse of the ending – a bright, white scene of gay abandon.
Company director, choreographer and composer, Hofesh Shechter, is renowned for taking on big, emotionally charged, political themes. Whether he starts with the intention or not, his work inevitably ends there. Growing from a set of ideas, sounds and moves in the studio, his finished works have a distinctive voice which beats, slams and lilts around a persistent theme of order and conflict.
Unfortunately, this production is somewhat self conscious. Snippets of light and dark, chaos and barely-contained order flash by with dramatic cuts in sound and light. Very quickly these edits and theatrical devices become expected, as do the screams, discord and juxtaposed silences that follow. “There is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) raised by Shechter in a post show Q&A, is certainly expounded through such repetition. And caught in this repetition without a sense of development, our senses are dulled.
Through seventy minutes we watch fourteen dancers entering and leaving the stage repeating various gestures and moves, rarely with any meaningful interaction. Dressed in many shades of white pantaloons and loose smock shirts they frolic, prance, gesture and gyrate in and out of unison. The groupings and dispersals are often very effective on the eye – there is something appealing in watching patterns emerge through chaos and Shechter, like fellow Israeli choreographers Emanuel Gat and Ohad Naharin, is skilled in such stage craft. The material, however, is on the lean side of developed, and does not evolve. The same physical ideas and positions re-emerge time and again. Reinforcing what? Circularity? Like so much in this work, Shechter puts it upon us to decide.
The dancers themselves were strong and feisty. They were clearly comfortable in themselves and in their movements, relishing every form their bodies touch and writhe through. A mixed bag, yet made to appear homogeneous and herd-like except for one or two who were offered moments to step into the sunlight alone. One male dancer, though not credited, was particularly powerful in his presence with a solo which finally made me feel some kind of empathy.
The lighting is certainly exquisite. Designed by Lee Curran, it washes the stage with various shades of bright; hides, distorts and shades using a ceiling of perfectly distributed starry light bulbs. The set, designed by Merle Hensel, is quite sublime and simple. With drifting smoke looking like dust, it appears at times a desert, at times an empty warehouse or just a bright canvas on which the action takes place. My favourite device was the corps de ballet of cut-out sheep and other characters, which delight and intrigue with more originality than the movement vocabulary for the dancers themselves. And there is inherent power in the stillness, precision and vulnerability of these puppets – perhaps due to the fact that they are forced, by their very form, to confront one another.
If Shechter truly wants us to be intrigued, shaken and experience a powerful bag of emotions in this work, then he must take a little more onus on himself. The jigsaw pieces are small, scattered and disparate and almost too insubstantial for us to feel anything more than amusement and occasional interest, coloured by a degree of peevishness at having been lectured to by a man who admits himself to having no answers.
- Emma Sandall