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Review: Uprising by Hofesh Shetcher Dance Company, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, November 23, 2012

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Review: Uprising by Hofesh Shetcher Dance Company, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, November 23, 2012

Blackout, spotlights, Shechter has our full attention. Seven men emerge from the upstage darkness casually dressed striding towards the audience; they stop held in a structured line unnaturally fixed in a passé position. Schechter’s cleverly designed pulsing beats resonate off the brick-walled expanse of the Snape Maltings Concert Hall gradually increasing in volume and pace. This eventually breaks the dancers’ stillness throwing them into rhythmic patterns; duets of testosterone filled boys wrestle tumble and run gibbon-like rippling across the space. The speed and intensity of the movement captures the audience, you dare not look away for fear of missing a moment, accompanied by the deep pounding bass which shakes your bones, witnesses to the performance are exhilarated and in one audience member’s words the piece “abuses the senses”. The lighting shifts from shadowy mist filled central spots to darkness to a strip of bright spotlights creating distorted silhouettes all contributing to the powerful imagery Shechter likes to present. There is an underground secret feeling like they have found a private place where they can allow their boyishness to run wild, but likewise a sense they could be discovered at any moment and the game would be up.  The men syncopate smoothly from an energised instant of unison fracturing into duet or trio moments occasionally trapped in apparent stillness emphasising the velocity surrounding them. In partners they spar aggressively fighting for space and victory glimpses of more intimate duets appear in and out of shadowy spotlights building the tension.

Shechter’s smooth molten style of movement has escalated fluidity to another level; his signature technique demonstrates a new way of flowing energy through the body; the dancer’s suppleness and clarity of movements create a watery undulating effect, passing between the dancers as they exchange the focal point on stage. Shechter emphasises this style by adding juxtaposing flashes of stiff sharp movement and dynamic spikes of suspense, ranging from a subtle hand flick or intake of breath to a powerful leg lift which changes the whole group’s direction. The unique fresh style of the Hofesh Shechter Dance Company expands the borders of contemporary and sparks widened interest in a relatively small contemporary dance world. Uprising crafts distinctive movement with a pulsating score which seizes the attention of many, including the Channel 4 series Skins where extracts from Uprising were performed as part of one episodes opening sequence.

Rhythm is obviously an integral choreographic structure for Shechter, having composed many percussive pieces since his studies at the Parisian Agostiny College of Rhythm and applying these skills to each of his choreographic works. He describes his creative process in a 2008 interview with Verity Sharp, explaining how as a solo composer he can spend time looking and combining sounds which portray the atmosphere and space he wants to create. His next step involves taking sketches of sounds into the studio to shape the movement.  In Uprising the drum and bass accompaniment gives structure to his phrases, dynamics and rhythms which course through the dancer’s bodies. The dance has a reactive relationship with the percussive score, but is not bound by its beats. The metallic echoing snare drum at the beginning of the piece conjures imagery of a lonely factory worker keeping a constant rhythm as he works through the night; the simplicity of the beat is effective creating an atmosphere of expectation and tension. 

The dancers animalistic swinging arms propel their figures across the space, as viewers we are absorbed by Shechter’s imagination and the pure energy released by these performers, recalling our own childhood adventures where we ran, jumped, scrambled and fought totally indulging our own make-believe worlds. The floor work in Uprising is striking where backlit silhouettes shift in unison to create contorted shapes, balancing on unfamiliar areas of the body and utilising gravitational force to release into rolls, ripples and rocking motions. The great breadth and depth of the Snape Malting Concert Hall is ideal for the raised audience to view this intricate grounded movement, unfortunately many viewers at stage level will have missed much of the effective imagery Shechter intended.

Shechter explores the playful nature of boys in their fantasy worlds, where they can be anything, anywhere. A single performer runs arms outstretched as if he is flying through the air circling his playmates that twist and slide in a rhythmical sequence. Eventually all the performers join him running as a group around the dimly lit space. They circle again this time finishing centre stage facing inwards patting one another one by one on the back. The group merge into a stomping rugby scrum, crumping to the new bass line which quickly turns into a seemly un-choreographed bundle of fighting boys. These phrases of almost cliché male behaviour strike a chord of irony which is perhaps born out of Shechters compulsory army days in Israel, where boys are forcibly turned into men in an environment of discipline and competitive masculinity. Is Shechter challenging the stereotyped macho dominance that is encouraged in the Armed Forces? However, although this piece is predominantly intensely raw there is a curious tenderness performed within particular duets; where the men lift, bear one another’s weight and gently rest head to head. This section is softened by a soundtrack of heavy rain and subtle side lighting, a respite from the storm where we see depth and sensitivity alive in these male relationships.

Shechters theatrical themes and percussive experience interjected with creative and dramatic lighting produces 26 minutes of visceral, urban masculinity. Shechters long standing collaboration with lighting designer Lee Curran is an obvious success. Lighting is used vividly throughout Uprising intensifying the atmosphere and enhancing the movement. It is not until the last moment that everything awakens, like revealing a secret: the stage becomes fully lit, an inapt string ensemble plays and the boys clamber one top of one another raising a victorious red flag, it was all a game.

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