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[DANCE REVIEW] Hofesh Shechter Company at Jacob's Pillow


In Your Rooms by Hofesh Shechter Company (photo by Andrew Lang)

Hofesh Shechter Company
Ted Shawn Theatre
July 9-13, 2008

Uprising, 2006
In Your Rooms, 2007

by Seth Rogovoy

(BECKET, Mass., July 10, 2008) -- First there was darkness, a void.

And then there was light. Blinding light. Klieg lights. The kind of lights one would find in a war zone.

And out from under the lights jumped out seven men, in tan pants and pastel-colored shirts, lining up at the front of the stage, assuming positions of strength and power.

And as quickly as they appeared, they faded back into the lights, and the darkness.

Except for two, one tall, one short, the short one seemingly supporting the tall one, seemingly hurt, or injured. But then the two break into a fight, a kind of stylized combat.

This was the beginning of Uprising, the dance that opened the program by the Hofesh Shechter Company at Jacob's Pillow last night. The London-based company, whose personnel come from all over the world, including Egypt, Greece, Taiwan, and Germany, are led by the Israeli-born choreographer, dancer, and composer.

Given that bit of biographical knowledge, it might be useful to know that "uprising" is the generally accepted English translation of the Arabic word, "intifada," the name given to the so-called uprising of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians in the late 1980s and 1990s.

This isn't to suggest that Shechter's dance was in any way a literal rendering or commentary on the "intifada," but one couldn't help drawing associations between that historical event and the relatively brutal, all-male dance. In spite of its harshness, it was a beautiful and at times entertaining work, with fluid movements based in everyday gestures and also influenced by jazz and hip-hop, but all very stylized by Shechter, a young choreographer who comes seemingly fully grown with his own signature -- call it Mark Morris without the folk and frills.

In Your Rooms, fueled by a remarkable original score by Shechter performed live by an avant-garde quintet of violin, cello, bass, and two percussionists, also made great use of dramatic lighting, sudden blackouts, and attacks of spotlights on dancers. Constructed out of seemingly dissociated vignettes featuring soloists, duos, trios, and groups of dancers, male and female alike, the dance was also colored by a serio-comic voiceover, mostly discussing chaos theory.

Shechter's dancers moved in diagonal lines in sync with the music a la Morris, but invested with tension and hints of violence. Dancers alternated freestyle expression with ensemble parts, rarely in lockstep unison but rather in pre-arranged ways that always emphasized their individuality. It all added up to a very natural, organic feel that almost shouted out, "THIS IS NOT DANCE!"

Rather, they were stark, theatrical but abstract vignettes built of movement, occasional vocalizations, music, and lighting that was as much a part of the dance as any choreography I've ever seen.

In its first appearance in the U.S. -- an exclusive engagement at the Pillow -- Hofesh Shechter, a company only just formed earlier this year, proclaimed itself a bright star to watch on the contemporary dance scene.

Seth Rogovoy is Berkshire Living's award-winning critic-at-large.

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