Hofesh Shechter is a London-based Israeli choreographer who started his career as a dancer in Batsheva Dance Company (directed by Ohad Naharin). In 2008, he founded Hofesh Shechter Dance Company, for which he created pieces including The Art of Not Looking Back (2009), Barbarians (2015) and Grand Finale (2017). Hofesh Shechter has also collaborated with prestigious dance companies like The Royal Ballet of England, Paris Opera Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater. 

Hofesh Shechter Company
© Gary Copeland

Laurine Mortha: Tell us how have you been and are still impacted by the crisis?

Hofesh Shechter: I was working on two projects when the lockdown occurred. It was the last week of rehearsals of Political Mother Unplugged with Shechter II, the junior company, before going on a three-month tour. The tour was suspended and it was heart-breaking for the junior company. These ten dancers have been part of the company for just one year and they would kill to perform their work, to travel, to have a professional experience. It really felt like the story of Moses taking the Jewish people out of Egypt: they all arrive to Israel, see the land but can’t go! We are making huge efforts to reschedule the tour, hopefully in the end of this year, but it depends on so many factors (social distancing enabling us to work, theatres reopening, borders reopening, etc.) that it remains very uncertain. We were also about to premiere a new show with my company, a double bill called Double Murder which included a former piece (Clowns) and a new one (The Fix). This creative work too was interrupted by the lockdown. Additionally, some of my pieces were supposed to be staged  in 2020 (at Paris Opera Ballet for example) and I am involved in an interesting project to the music of Bach, in collaboration with the Royal Danish Opera and John Fulljames, which will expose testimonies of people who are facing an imminent death (to be premiered in May 2021 in Copenhagen). So I hope the year 2021 will be busy, even though today we are still unable to go back to the studio in England because the government is unclear about what we are allowed to do and because we don’t know when theatres will reopen. We are also at the mercy of the furlough scheme in England and it would be a real hit to all the performing arts companies if that stops before theatres are able to reopen. So we try to have plans, but our plans are more based on hopes than on facts… My partner and I bought a tent to camp in the countryside and it is the most solid plan I have today!

Have this crisis been an opportunity to take a step back? 

Completely! The crisis caused me a lot of anxiety about my life, my work, and all the people I need to take care about. But it also made me think about my work and gave me the idea that I would like to work more on film projects. On a personal side, there were also positive side effects: I got a lot of time to spend with my kids and partner, which never happened to me in the last fifteen years, and I stopped spending my life in airplanes, which was amazing! The most difficult thing for me was to know in which direction I should put my energy, because the period was really overwhelming, not only due to Covid but also with the awakening of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is still a lot to digest and I am still processing what is the place of my work in light of what happened.

Hofesh Shechter in rehearsal
© Gary Copeland

Will it make your work more political or any different?

I don’t know. I always struggle with the notion of political: for me, every work is political in a sense. Apart from some works which are purely aesthetic, any work which deals with human emotions is political because it actually deals with the human existence within a badly or well-organised structure. My work is often perceived as political because I am an Israeli, although I have no political agenda. I just ask questions. One of my big concerns now is that social media has become even more powerful after the crisis. It seems that it is where life happens now, although real life can only happen in the interactions between people, in a subtle and a chemical way. Social media narrows life down to words and pictures and turns life into a big PR game. Of course, as a company, we need to use it to communicate with our audience, but the place social media is taking now scares me. That is also the reason why it feels so important to me to stage a live performance again, with hundreds of people sitting together and having an experience which is real, human, energetic and chemical. I have not started to create again, so I can only presume, but this concern about social media will probably affect my work. My work is always very clean, like a fantasy. Now I just want it to be more real, to be here and now, to generate a real interaction. I want to strip it down.

You also compose music. Is lockdown a good opportunity to do so?  

That is what I thought when lockdown occurred, but in the end, I was too busy with other things and it was difficult to sit down and be creative. But I drummed a lot, especially at the beginning of lockdown. I moved my drum set from the storage room to the living room. It was a way for me to meditate into nothingness, to clear my mind. 

Hofesh Shechter Company
© Gary Copeland

You have also offered a couple of free open classes online during lockdown...

The idea was really to connect with the audience and keep people optimistic, as we were not on stage anymore. I have taught classes many times, but it had never been my main activity. Suddenly, it became my only activity and the only exchange I had with the audience. It takes a lot of energy to do this exercise with 500 people online and it is very weird to be on your own, but it helped me focus on my ideas, question myself about the foundations I wanted to teach to people. I prepared myself a lot and it was very beneficial and enriching. 

Do you believe that the “world after Covid” will change?

I want to believe that there will be change, especially in the way we fly around the world, in how busy we are, as if we were trapped in the rat race. But I also think that people have a short-term memory and that we might be trapped again as soon as things go back normal. I really don’t know, I am both optimistic and sceptical. I am hopeful that there will be change at least in the consciousness, that we will be much more aware. It is probably the beginning of a change, probably not an immediate change, but I tend to think that there is something irreversible.