Hofesh Shechter @ Roundhouse, London

choreographed by
Hofesh Shechter
Hofesh Shechter is the current darling of the UK contemporary dance world.

Since winning the Audience Choice Award of The Place Prize in 2004, Shechter has been pretty active in the UK dance scene. But it’s not until 2008 that his name was propelled into the mainstream limelight, after he secured the ‘yoof’ vote by choreographing a short sequence for the E4 series, Skins.

In January this year, he won Best Modern Choreography, for In your rooms, at the Ninth Annual Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards.
And the youth was out in force at the Roundhouse. To be perfectly honest, dance performances really do not get any cooler than this: aside from the dancers, Shechter has brought 20 musicians to play the scores live, on a stunning tiered stage that housed the musicians on the top level, while the action happened on the stage level. Billed as a live gig setting, Shechter has reworked and edited the two pieces to create this special edition for two nights only.

Limited seats circle the stage on a higher level, while the main space is reserved for standing, just as it would at a gig. The age divide is astonishing, too: the seats were filled with over 25s while those in the standing area definitely had a mean age of below 18, looking very Skins indeed.

First on was Shechter’s 2006 work, Uprising. The sheer energy displayed from the seven-strong all-male cast, an observation on male behaviour, is impossible to resist. It is tempting to associate political elements to the piece: the dancers move in packs, like the gangs plastered across tabloid pages; they run around the periphery of the central spotlight, like true outsiders.

Uprising has a military feel to it, with the use of percussion accentuating this. There is a lot of floor work, and although the dancers throw their arms out as if freeing themselves, ultimately their movements are restricted. They writhe around, crawl on their forearms as if in combat. Some movements are actually more of a street style than contemporary, which is exactly why Shechter is popular among young people, and particularly boys, who may not necessarily know or care about contemporary dance, but can certainly appreciate the spectacle of a well-choreographed street sequence.

There is a lot of conflict on show, perhaps an inevitability in any testosterone-filled situations. One part sees all seven dancers standing in a circle, and what started out as a congratulatory pat on the back soon turns more heavy handed, then into face slaps, then into a full-blown fight. The piece ends with an actual uprising, with one dancer held up high by the others, holding a red flag: the opposite of a surrender.

In your rooms has a much larger, mixed-sex cast, exploring the very existentialist feelings of frustration and struggle of the human experience in an empty world. There are many points in which the entire cast move in unison, and yet it’s as if they do not notice the presence of anyone else this motif of alienation is developed throughout the piece.

The repetition of several sequences enhances the feeling of alienation. The cast stands in one line, banging their hands in exasperation, but no-one is listening; they pump their fists and kick their legs in protest, but their increasing frustration goes unnoticed.

Music and electro beats are intertwined with sound clips of musings on communication and self-expression. The vocals help to sustain the piece, as the score at times did feel too similar to that of Uprising.

At one point a dancer spreads white powder across the stage in one straight line, which is then smudged by others as they dance, and eventually by himself. Later on, as the dance progresses, there is no longer any trace of the powder left. Does everyone have a chosen path written out already? Shechter’s answer seems to be a defiant no.

The beauty of Shechter’s choreography lies in the fact that it is full of movements that you feel like you are able to do, without any professional training. Whether this is true is irrelevant, as this is precisely why he is proving so successful: he is bringing contemporary dance to a whole new demographic, to the boys who think dance is for girls and Billy Elliott does not relate to them. He even makes it sexy, for heaven’s sake we need this man in the UK.

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