Hofesh Shechter is a choreographer who uses dance to make powerful statements in quite an oblique way. He does not define a storyline or delineate strong characters that can catch the audience’s sympathy. Rather, he combines the theatrical elements to suggest ideas and create moods, presenting them in disjointed fragments that the audience must put together after reflection. His creations duel in the territory of identity, either collective or individual, and they always possess a potent dramatic force. The double bill presented at Sadler’s Wells this weekend combines two works with many of these signature elements. Uprising was created in 2006 for an all-male cast and explores political issues such as authority, submission and collective action. The Art of Not Looking Back, premièred in 2009, is an all-female dance about individual concerns, such as abandonment, grudges, and lacking emotional roots.

Hofesh Shechter Company in The Art of Not Looking Back, Brighton Dome, 13 May 2009 © Dee Conway
Hofesh Shechter Company in The Art of Not Looking Back, Brighton Dome, 13 May 2009
© Dee Conway

Uprising is a landmark piece in Shechter’s career. It was an outstanding success that built his reputation as an acclaimed choreographer, and it contains many of the choreographic devices that Shechter has developed since then. Its set is extremely simple, bare and black, so that all the emphasis relies on the dancing bodies. The lighting is a key element, creating suggestive shadows and unexpected spots of brightness. The extremely loud and highly percussive music possesses a hypnotic rhythm that even the spectators can feel in their own blood. The choreography for seven male dancers is very energetic, with constant changes in dynamic, space and level. It contains several recurrent movement motifs that suggest ideas of power and submission, brotherhood and friendship, aggressiveness and unrest. The work finishes with an impressive image that surprises for its unexpected appropriateness and force. A bunch of men help to raise a protesting fist with a banner. This sculptural symbol for an uprising explains the fragmented motifs of the production and, as a denouement, leaves an imprint of patriotic rebellion.

The Art of Not Looking Back is also built upon sharp contrasts. Loud music against silence, brutal movements against lyrical music, and bursts of brightness against a dominatingly dim atmosphere are prominent juxtapositions of the production. Its most distinctive feature is, however, the commanding role of words. Spoken by a cutting male voice, they mark the tenor and the rhythm of the choreography. Movements are either a direct visualization of the words or a further commentary of their sense. “My mother left me when I was two”, dispassionately states the man in the opening lines. “This story begins with emptiness”, he adds a bit later, setting the chief image of the piece. The production investigates the emotive impact of the lack of maternal love though recurrent motifs of hollowness. The mood is increasingly resentful, using unpleasant sounds and movements that disdainfully abort any emergence of tenderness or forgiveness. After a tough journey through strong emotions and feelings, the end returns to the idea of emptiness. Following a statement of hatred, “I don’t forgive you” to a helpless dancer at the centre of the stage, the work culminates with an empty, white stage that shines bright while the last notes resonate in the score. Shechter’s meditation is unsettling and disturbing: not only is the absence of maternal affection a hole impossible to fill in, but also a source of rooted rancour.