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March 19, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre | [ssba]

Review – Political Mother

  • Performed by Hofesh Shechter Company
  • Artistic direction, choreography & music by Hofesh Schechter
  • Musical collaborators: Nell Catchpole, Yaron Engler 

There is a warped drum movement in Political Mother. In the program notes, director Hofesh Shechter colloquially calls this movement the “end of the world” groove. Apparently, the dancers spent a month listening to this beat alone—five hours a day—before any additional “decorations” were added. This fact conjures images of a harrowing devising process where the dancers are immersed entirely in the world of their creation; a world where the music becomes their universe and they are forced to move in accordance to its rules and logic. There is nothing lost in the translation from rehearsal room to stage. I feel like I’ve visited the end of the world, and I’m still reeling from what I saw.

In the beginning, the audience is plunged into darkness. People are still chattering in the blackness when the music starts. It is a slightly alien feeling; we are taken by surprise. The sense that rules are being broken—that we are entirely at the mercy of the dance—is pervasive. The darkness lasts just slightly longer than expected and then we see a lone samurai in a pyramid of light. It is a stunning image. The essence is in the subtleties: the length of the darkness, the contrast of the cold, solid light.

These moments provide only an idea of the grim finesse with which the show is executed and the expertise with which our anticipation is teased out. Political Mother continues to throw anticipation in our faces with singularly striking images, which always stay slightly longer than is entirely comfortable. There are plenty more surprises in the show, each more stunning than the last, but they are too precious to be spoiled here.

The samurai proves an essential opening, as ideas of power, servitude, and rebellion sit at the heart of Political Mother. We follow—though there is no strict, linear sense of time—the experiences of a group of people, their clothing evoking images of slums and subsistence. Occurring in a nebulous world, devoid of a specific geography, Political Mother is essentially about relationships: the peoples’ relationship to each other, to figures of political power, and to figures of rebellion. Yet, out of this ambiguity comes specificity—one may see on the stage Baghdad, Beijing, or Warsaw at any one time, even simultaneously. It is richly evocative and often hits all too close to home.

The dancing is, of course, utterly, bewilderingly good. Often, it does not even seem like the performers are dancing: every movement, every figure is charged with images of oppression, desire, and escape. There is a palpable struggle on stage. We see external pressures become internalised in the performers’ bodies as the psychological aspects of political comformity and non- comformity are expressed through dance. Offering brief moments of respite to the racing-heart onslaught are beautifully rendered “love” scenes, offering a very real ray of hope, but one that is snatched away as quickly as it is offered.

Political Mother’s genius is in its economy of content, and the way it manipulates the information it has already given us. With a form best described as filmic collage, the show constantly forces us to reinterpret what we have already seen. Certain movements are woven throughout the show, accumulating increasingly macabre connotations in a kind of thematic snowball effect. There are relatively few movements, settings, and sounds, but the way they are combined and embellished produces a wealth of material, always surprising, often terrifying. The terror arises out of the way the audience is teased, tricked and manipulated, to the extent that we are implicated in the power struggles taking place on stage. You will never see a rock band in the same way again.

Which brings me to the music. Make no mistake, Political Mother is not just a dance production. The sonic aspect is just as important, and just as physically aggressive, as the visual. Indeed, near the beginning of the show we are left to sit with the music in darkness for what seems like an age. This is, perhaps, a clue from the creators: pay attention to the music too, it is crucial. And loud. Political Mother is rock-concert loud; there was a gentleman in front of me wearing earplugs. Brilliant.

I leave the closing statement to the woman, of sixty-something years, sitting next to me with a look of rapture on her face: “It was astonishing, wasn’t it?”

Yes, it was.



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