REVIEW: Hofesh Shechter’s ‘Political Mother’ at BAM
It is rare that a viewer can describe a dance performance as a full-bodied experience, but that is exactly what occurred for those seated in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House, during Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother.
Israeli born, British based musician turned choreographer, Hofesh Shechter, engulfs viewers with loud, thrashing music of three percussionists, four guitarists, and an inaudibly booming vocalist. In an elaborate, yet strategic stage design the musicians are revealed in dim pools of light in two tiers – militaristic percussion below and fear-invoking vocalist wedged in the middle of piercing rock guitarists above.
Shechter does not politely offer an idea to his audience, but boldly throws it at them with a “take what you want,” confidence that is refreshing amongst an age of choreographers whose attention to movement ideas can often leave little room for the audience to form interpretations of their own. Political Mother, Shechter’s first evening-length work clearly shows that he is a voice with something to say.
The power in which production creates tone is almost enough to make you forget about the movers onstage, but their finesse and control is an essential part of the audience getting lost in the work. I did not look at them and think dancers but instead saw a group of people sentenced to the world created before me.
An ensemble of twelve dancers works as a unit throughout. Shoulders slumped with outstretched arms, their movement suggests a human predisposition to being controlled and conversely a universal susceptibility to a rise of power.
The deafeningly amplified music is at times abruptly interrupted, either by silence or soft sparing strings or piano– a contrast so powerful, that your senses seem to heighten at the change. Such contrast emerges throughout the work. His powerful and athletic dancers take the space with strength and yet their downcast gazes, shuffling feet, and broken reaches portray a helplessness bound to unwilling subservience.
Images are carefully controlled with no shortage of blackouts separating intense and emotional tableaus. A haunting suicide by sword, a gun pointed at a fearful pair, and a taunting masked and suited man all emerge among low lights and fog. A single lighthearted moment occurs when the final words of an orange lit phrase is revealed, “Where there is pressure, there is… folk dance.” An appropriate sentiment when looking at the constant footwork strung throughout the entire work. The power in which production creates tone is almost enough to make you forget about the movers onstage, but their finesse and control is an essential part of the audience getting lost in the work. I did not look at them and think dancers but instead saw a group of people sentenced to the world created before me.
The element of production cannot be overlooked in Political Mother as frequent costume changes, strategic lighting, and the use of props are a vital part of what draws the viewer in. Shechter is ambiguous in connotation, but the emotive aspect of the work is inherent in the nature of the movement. His dancers have the pleasure of choreography that does not require them to put anything atop what is already there. An emotive quality is inherent in the detail and dynamic range of the choreography and is enough to draw you in, grasp your attention firmly, and rarely relinquish it to your own will.