Bojana Jankovic: Hofesh Shechter‘s name might induce considerable amounts of respect and plaudits in the New York Times, but it’s still a struggle to explain why Sadler’s Wells is reviving a revival of one of his shows – as a director’s cut . For better or worse however, Political Mother: The Choreographer’s Cut is back. Originally produced in 2010, expanded in 2011, and then reworked with local artists in Derry earlier this year, the title of the piece refers to Shechter’s decision to revisit the original and make it bigger and louder, to fill it with more dancers and musicians, an approach he also took with an earlier piece, In your rooms/Uprising.
Behind this promise of a more bombastic spectacle, this allows Shechter to explore ideas that might have been beyond the financial reach of the piece the first time around; regardless of this, both versions of Political Mother, a self-styled dance-gig, are first and foremost framed by Shechter’s ability to take absolute authorship over his piece – not only is he the choreographer, he also created the score. It’s almost as if he were some kind of continental regisseur.
In line with that, Political Mother is a rare beast. Its concept finds its way into all aspects of the show -stage, lighting and costume are all treated as semiologically relevant. In taking advantage of all that theatre as a form has to offer the piece manages to quickly create a poignant atmosphere and then add to it with loose but clear, if half-broken, narratives.
Two levels divide the two groups of musicians – the raging guitars and drums, the band of the angry masses, sits on top of the comparatively quiet, recognisable and somber string section of the elite. The minimal, restrictive lighting seems to force the dancers into tiny spaces and then afford them all the freedom, as they go from protesters to prisoners; Shechter manages to give the dancers a sense of individuality, while ensuring the choreography marks them as the generic ‘people’ – the majority that will, rather depressingly, always end up on the same path. Most of all, he makes the audience part of this deceived, strung-along and manipulated mass – having successfully seduced everyone with the hypnotising hard-core rhythms, he then adds a screaming speaker to the band for good measure.
In a makeshift uniform, mumbling, but following gesticulations now commonly associated with slightly deranged dictators, this new figure transforms the people’s band into a militia within seconds. There might be some all too expected visuals in this show – references to World War II which never develop or get elaborated – and it might even get slightly repetitive, but what’s being repeated here is theatre. Not just a piece of choreography and not just a score, but a piece that’s been devised in its immanent form.
Diana Damian: In all these components there are two features that strike me as unique, and which distinguish Political Mother from spectacular didacticism or physical appropriation. The first has to do with Shechter’s skill at constructing public space onstage. In this mix of dancers, each with their individuality, forming and reforming, responding to those figures of authority so cunningly dominating the higher ranks of the stage, something easily owned and authored forms onstage. Be it the amorphism of these bodies that at times are authored through the choreographer’s distinct and acidic mix of an urban, folk and fluid physical language, or their transformation from individuals to groups, crowds, prisoners and activists, Political Mother dances around a problem, but teases it out too.
The piece is not simply representational or embodied, but it plays with a range of devices – at times narrative-based, at other times conceptual – to deliver a series of questions that the audience can articulate. It’s why towards the end of the show, the sentence inscribed in neon letters on the wall stands testament to both Shechter’s humour and sharpness as an artist, bringing politics to dance. The rock music score, so satisfying epic of scale, occupying and at times dominating the bodies onstage, really spills out emotion without plastering it to the walls. This is urban, digital era folk, an opportunity to engage with seemingly reductive historical tropes, but it also has a specific temporality and spatiality that allows us to inhabit and embody it. This is not just a stage, this is a public square of projections, imaginings and playful enactments.
The second thing I’d argue is about Shechter’s relationship to meaning. In this distinctly dynamic and recognisable repertoire of situations, in which power is deconstructed, attributed and re-distributed, we navigate between bodies and metaphors, critique and irony. The playfully political undertones don’t just emerge from the occasional specificity – from a samurai to a dictator – but from the shifting energy that’s so palpable with Shechter. Visual and physical languages are integrated and placed in conflict, and there’s a quest for moments of transition, for shifts, which are never quite delivered.
That being said there’s something that remains somewhat unaddressed in the discourse of the show. Strongly influenced by his own background as a London-based Israeli choreographer with an interest in the physical jargon of folk and urban dance, and a wider engagement with interculturalism, Shechter’s work embodies some intriguing historical references, most notably to the Second World War. These are visually signposted but then skimmed over, with a tense vocabulary of oppression scaled down to individual-versus-community. Political Mother is full of both optimism and irony, which is a caustic mix.