Preview – Hofesh Shechter Festival #hofest and Review – Barbarians – Sadlers Wells

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I’ve been watching Hofesh Shechter since he first burst onto the stage in the Linbury Studio in 2006 with “Uprising.” It blew me out of my seat – for once, I was seeing a wholly masculine approach to dance that felt uncontaminated by balletic vocabulary – dancing suitable for soldiers, for football players, for the wonderful athletes that male dancers are. It felt like I was getting a little window into how men act with each other when they’re not competing for women (or fighting off wizards) – it was a natural, grown moment that felt completely at ease with itself, like two grown men playwrestling and laughing.

Now it’s nearly 10 years later, and we have the good luck of an entire festival of Shecter’s work in London. It looks like a chance to see to what heights he can soar – or, possibly, where the limitations are on his current capability. There’s certainly no limit to its scope, which would be challenging to any choreographer. It started with a new work at Sadler’s Wells – Barbarians, which opened Friday, September 18th – and ends with a revisit of Political Mother (which I saw in 2010), being staged rather daringly in Brixton at the O2. In between, he’s hitting the bread-and-butter – a restaging of two old works (“Cult” and “Fragments”) as well as one new – done by his youth company at an East London location – and also shooting for the stars with a slot at the Royal Opera House for the opera Oprheus and Euridice (by Gluck).

Now, picture me, people. Baroque music is my little embarrassing fandom I tend to live in by myself, amidst the flock of silver haired regulars. I don’t see them at rock music dance shows (except for poor old Clement Crisp); they ignore me when I’m getting my viola da gamba groove on. But I was going to get BOTH at the SAME TIME in one show. You know I went and got a ticket as soon as I found out. Awesome baroque opera slamming face to face with a fully bad assed, in the now, ultra modern choreographer? It’s the kind of thing that makes me go LIVING IN LONDON IS AWESOME!

Meanwhile, I’ve been to Barbarians (thanks to a kindly invite from a publicist) and my thought is: it’s a bit of a work in progress, and it’s not surprising that it would be given that Mr Shechter is probably just a little bit busy right now, and in this case, if I had “Sadlers Wells where everyone loves me” versus “Royal Opera I need to prove myself this isn’t entirely my comfort zone and the world is watching,” well, I’d be making sure that I kicked ass for the opera. It’s in three parts, which look like 1) the ones where the people wear white, a computer voice talks to them, and for some reason the music of Marin Marais plays between more crunchy stuff – 2) the part where people wear gold and talk to the audience – 3) the bit where it’s a bit of a male/female duet, the man wearing lederhosen. There’s some existential stuff where the computer voice talks to Shechter, giving him an opportunity to say that he’s choreographing a mid-life crisis – gold lame body suits being perfect for this – and beautiful moments where bodies gleam in the (asthma-attack inducing) smoke. The lights are always impeccable, the sound design is perfect (if too loud) … but the dance to me felt flabby and in need of cutting. Also, I consider both flashing lights in the audience’s eyes and dancers speaking to be shorthand that says, “I need to impress you but I have run out of ideas, so I will blind you and then I will have people talk to you because I wasn’t able to say what I wanted to in movement.” I’m okay being confused or needing to think about what I’ve seen, but I hate very much having things literally explained to me. Unless it involves strange curses and possibly wizards, in which case it just might be necessary.

Anyway, there’s three more events happening in this season, and I consider it all a tremendous chance to catch up with and enjoy one of the best choreographers out there. See what you’ve missed, catch where he is aspiring to, see if he makes it – if nothing else, I promise it won’t be boring.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, September 18, 2015. Barbarians continues through Friday, September 25th.

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