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Hofesh Shechter at The Roundhouse

Posted on February 27, 2009

Uprising,

In Your Rooms

None of the usual theatrical warnings about switching off your mobiles tonight. Camera phones were sparking all over the place at the Roundhouse in north London, where Hofesh Shechter was storming though a double bill that was more rock gig than dancehouse offering.

The Israeli-born Shechter’s reputation has been building quickly (including a Critics’ Circle award this year), and the venues presenting his work have also expanded. He’s gone from the small stage at The Place to the main house at Sadler’s Wells in a breath and flicker, and the cavernous former railway turning house marked a further up in scale and expectation. Goodbye stalls, hello mosh pit – a packed, unfeasibly excited throng swarmed in front of the stage, maintaining a wonderful growl of anticipation as sulphurous yellow light breathed over the bobbing heads.

The show, featuring the signature pieces Uprising and In Your Rooms, was billed as “the choreographer’s cut” (which sounds cute – but lord knows who commandeered creative control on previous showings). Shechter is his own composer, and assembled live musicians, and lots of them, mostly strings and skins. They occupied a gantry over the stage, jamming until the first piece was unleashed. A monster drum kept the pulse, in a stirring whomp.

In a space like this, studio noodlings won’t do, and Shechter cranked up an intently theatrical register in the all-male Uprising. Bodies scuttle in and out of the light, wheeling through shadows. It’s an unpredictable piece – twitch matched with balance, frenetic caper with a sense that each dancer is stuck in his own pain. Some of the motifs are simple – lying, curled, on one side, an arm hoisted into the air. Others flicker so deftly they barely compute.

Shechter’s cast of seven men allows for wrong-footing, asymmetrical groupings, often leaving one fraught outsider. Under Lee Curran’s darkling gleams of light, the piece takes on an almost anthropological cast – we’re observing a group and its ways. A tag circle of playful slaps builds into an elbowing ruck, while the final image hoists a red flag like Delacroix’s smoky tumult in “Liberty leading the people”. Does this tableau signal an escape from the group’s ingenious confines? A distress signal, calling for rescue? Either way, Uprising is bloody thrilling.

In Your Rooms, after the interval, diffuses the opener’s breathless tension. A bigger group work (17 dancers, men and women), it also collages lightning fragments across the space. Its jolts of energy transmitted well, its intimate layering of images sagged. But as the opening event in Sadler’s Wells’ audacious season of “off-site” shows around London, the evening had undeniable electricity.

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