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Jewish Journal

Steps from another dimension

by Mark Monahan, The Telegraph

October 12, 2011 | 2:45 pm

Hofesh Shechter company photo by Andrew Lang

Hofesh Shechter company photo by Andrew Lang

Choreographer Hofesh Shechter, one of the top new names in the world of dance, doesn’t create shows that deal directly with the realities of life in Israel, but his roots can’t help but emerge in his work. After studying at the Jerusalem Academy of Dance and Music, training with Israel’s leading dance company, Batsheva, and serving a fraught term in the Israeli military, Shechter relocated to London for artistic opportunities eight years ago; since then, he has become one of Britain’s most esteemed choreographers, exploring broad themes such as personal identity and conflict. His 2007 work, “In Your Rooms,” which “bears traces of Shechter’s traumatic time in the military,” according to The Guardian, earned high marks for its exploration of group dynamics versus the individual. In “Uprising,” seven men emerge from shadows to bombard viewers with furious energy, bonding and sparring, making up and falling out. And in his first full-length work, “Political Mother,” which has its United States premiere at UCLA on Oct. 19 and 20, Shechter examines tensions between the state and society as a samurai commits ritual hara-kiri, a dictator shouts guttural commands, and a Chinese puzzle of encounters spurs amusing, sad and shocking events intended to confuse our values and challenge perceptions of what is “normal.” The article below is reprinted with permission from The Telegraph.

Hofesh Shechter is unlike any other choreographer. Not only are his charged and awe-inspiring steps instantly recognizable, the 36-year-old Israeli also writes the powerful and personal music that accompanies them. And he often plays it himself, live.

It was four years ago that he gave modern dance a sublime kick up the backside. In an unprecedented piece of collaboration between prestigious London venues, his double-bill of “Uprising” and “In Your Rooms” was “fast-tracked” over just a few months from The Place (small), to the Queen Elizabeth Hall (medium) and finally to Sadler’s Wells (large).

Effortlessly hip, overflowing with energy and ideas, and darkly cinematic (not least in its use of stark lighting to “cut” instantly between performers doing different things on different parts of the stage), this felt like dance from another, thrilling dimension. And after further ventures — including a restaging of his diptych that felt as much barnstorming rock-gig as dance show, and the soul-searching all-girl piece “The Art of Not Looking Back” for 2009’s Brighton Festival — Shechter launched his first full-length work, “Political Mother,” which debuted at last year’s Brighton Festival, is now touring the world and will have its United States premiere at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Oct. 19 and 20. The piece ambitiously aims to take the frantic, fractured, existentially angst-ridden qualities of “In Your Rooms” up another gear.

“What I’m trying to do is mix more worlds in,” says Shechter. “In ‘In Your Rooms,’ I had a serious editing challenge. It’s dramatic and fragmented and takes you between different places and different times, but you’re essentially in the same world. And I thought, how interesting would it be to create an emotional tension that comes from zapping between absolutely different worlds.”

Does he mean psychological states, or celestial bodies? “Different worlds in a lot of senses!” he replies. “You will feel as if you’re being slapped around between different realities, and that excites me.”

Plunging us deeper into these mysterious parallel universes will once again be a score by Shechter himself. When I catch him and his 10-strong cast in rehearsal, they’re working to an excerpt on his laptop. Although only half-finished, it is full of his trademark percussive fury — “An insane groove!” as he puts it — yet it also sounds considerably richer than his past sonic creations, thanks to its elaborately layered washes of swirling strings.

Music is almost invariably the starting point for choreographers — and yet it is tricky to think of even one other who writes his or her own.

“It started,” Shechter says, “because most of my life, I was really interested in music. I studied piano until I was 6, and I loved recording myself. But then I went into dance, and at certain points I really missed the world of music.”

Shechter was born and raised in Jerusalem. He studied dance intensively from the age of 15, and after three years joined the celebrated Tel Aviv-based troupe Batsheva. “But then,” he says, “when I was 21, I thought, just a second — I don’t know if this is what I want to do with my life, and I left the company.”

Teaching dance in schools in order to make a living, he decided to take up the drums, and before long it occurred to him that he just might be able to fuse his two creative passions.

“Getting into choreography,” he says, “one of the more attractive things for me was that I would be able to do the music for it. I remember when my first piece, the duet “Fragments,” was first performed, my girlfriend at the time asked me, ‘Are you excited?’ And I answered: ‘I’m really excited about people seeing it — but more than that, it’s unbelievable that 500 people will sit in a theatre and will listen to my music!’ So I have to say I’m deeply excited about presenting music plus dance. It’s not a secondary thing.”

Shechter has been based in the UK since 2002, when he moved to London both to escape post-9/11 turmoil at home and to work with fellow Israeli Jasmin Vardimon. He was associate artist at The Place from 2004 to 2006, during which time he began to make a name for himself as an exciting choreographer-for-hire, and in 2008 founded his own, terrific troupe, while also finding time to whip up a cracking little piece for the opening of the second series of the British Channel 4’s teen-drama “Skins.”

Watching just 10 seconds of Shechter’s company in rehearsal — with its fluent and belligerent mixture of hunched frames, clenched fists and elaborately simian floorwork — is enough to tell you whose steps you are watching. Indeed, his movement has a clarity that his attempts to explain “Political Mother” sometimes lack. He talks, for example, about his aim to explore “how people feel inside, not experiences themselves but the emotions buried under them.”

It’s clear that he is aiming typically high.

Mark Monahan is a dance critic for The Telegraph.

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