I met Hofesh Shechter about 15 years ago at The Place, in London. At the time I was a dance student craving to dance something other than Cunningham technique – widely popular in the UK at the time! Hofesh walks into the studio – looking like a regular dude, zipping off his jacket and removing his sneakers, he was ready to start dancing. As soon as I started moving I realised I was learning something new, cool and different. I was suddenly truly engaged with dance. But who is this man I asked myself? Dancing his choreography on stage was also exhilarating, the cast was ecstatic with the electrifying electronic music and an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience. We were part of a new wave of dancers, a cult even.
Roll on fifteen years and we are speaking on the phone. Hofesh Shechter is a choreographer, dancer, and composer. He rose to fame rather quickly in the short span of fifteen years creating some of the most engaging dance performances in the world. His distinct groove dance material is embedded seamlessly with live music, elevating our expectations and awaking our senses. To say that his performances are unforgettable is quite an understatement.
My first question to Hofesh wasn’t about his creative process, it was neither about Grand Finale coming to Singapore in October.
What I really want to know is if he ever thought he was going to become such a successful and famous artist? The short answer is, ‘no’. Shechter speaks with incredible ease and breaks the ice with a cheeky laugh and I feel like we have levelled up at this point. He continues, ‘I worked very hard, I was very ambitious with my work from the very beginning and I always wanted to create something that moves people, you know?’ Of course, I do, I was rather in love with his performances, much like the rest of London. He added, ‘I was a professional dancer and knew there was a certain quality to my work, but I never thought my work could be seen so widely. It’s a pretty incredible thing that happened to me.’
I have great memories of watching Shechter’s Political Mother at Sadlers Wells in London in 2010, at a time when dictators were on the rise in Africa and the Middle-East: Hofesh staged this immense human-protest-dance performance that somehow woke the endless terrible war headlines from the media in my mind. I still remember to this day – a line of drummers playing hard and loud behind a dancer shouting and jumping at a microphone to the masses while the dancers crawled low on the floor. You could imagine this as a Robert Mugabe speech to the impoverished and starving people of Zimbabwe in election season. Dance was never so current. But, what is also interesting is that I keep seeing a trace of that performance on other choreographers’ work. He left a mark on many people’s minds, artists included.
The energy produced by the cast of dancers and musicians was contagious, to say the least. The success of his performances, not only Political Mother is down to his process. Hofesh says, ‘I discover my choreography as a response to myself and the world around me which is in a constant state of change. Every time I come to create I try to discover what moves me? What would be interesting to put in front of people?’
What I find striking in Shechter’s work is that he offers the audience a show. Not a dance piece. Not one concept for people to diggest with an essay on the way in or out of the theatre. But a show, a performance, that articulates his vision through what sometimes looks like the lighting in an underground bunker, with loud electronic music accompanied by live drummers and the speedy, groovy movement of a cast of dancers identical to the people sitting next to you on the bus. He stages life as it is and the magic happens on the confrontation with reality on stage.
Hofesh Shechter Company performs all over the world with an exciting team of creatives; some people describe them as a tribe. I am curious to understand the common denominator in the team. Shechter comments brilliantly, ‘I look for something very honest in my dancers and musicians. I like when an artist has humbleness and tenderness. I like to see the fragility of the person in performance.’ This fragility translates on stage as humanity, I think. The dancers remind me of exhausted soldiers sometimes, other times they emulate a vulnerability typical of a patient who has fully accepted illness and has nothing else left to hide. Vulnerability turns out to be a great asset for these incredible performers. The shows have a sense of urgency, comedy and beauty. Not the beauty we might find a glossy magazine or the picture of a ballet dancer displaying one hundred different muscles. Shechter’s dancers are incredible athletes but the beauty they emanate seems nearly anthropological. They are citizens of the world, from everywhere with stories written all of their bodies and faces, it borders on theatre.
A decade of successful performances worldwide naturally builds pressure on the creative process, but I learned that Shechter uses this pressure most positively – always looking forward to presenting something new and moving to his audience.
Grand Finale comprises ten dancers and five musicians on stage on a highly produced and visually striking show. ‘This is a very emotional and layered show. It represents the collapse of geographical-political-financial systems. A sensation that everything is falling apart’, Shechter confesses. Grand Finale can be seen as a response to this tumultuous times, the dancers respond by trying to hold everything together on stage as the pressure mounts through moving walls. ’What is interesting for me is to look at the feeling people have inside this situation, Grand Finale has a very dark side, but it’s funny with a good sense of humor.’
When I ask him to describe his work I get a tad emotional. The man is genuinely passionate about what he does. His performances feel like an extension of him into the outside world, a comment on society as well as a message of hope. I believe the global acceptance, response, and respect for his performances can only happen because they come from a genuine place. ‘My work comes from the gut, from the heart. I think people respond to something genuine, something emotional and honest. Bottom line, I try to make work that moves me, that has a real heart to it.’ What a wonderful way to finish our interview. Tickets are still available for this epic performance, definitely one not to miss.
Hofesh Shechter Company performs Grand Finale at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay with da:ns festival 18-19 October.
This post is sponsored by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.