tue 27/02/2024

Hofesh Shechter Company, Double Murder, Sadler's Wells review - a well-intentioned but misjudged double bill | reviews, news & interviews

Hofesh Shechter Company, Double Murder, Sadler's Wells review - a well-intentioned but misjudged double bill

Hofesh Shechter Company, Double Murder, Sadler's Wells review - a well-intentioned but misjudged double bill

After the killing spree, a warm group hug. How to send an audience home feeling numb

Having a bad night?: a member of Hofesh Shechter Company in need of some serious TLC in Shechter's 'The Fix'photo: Todd Macdonald

If I had to sum up in a single impression the work I’ve seen of Brighton-based, Israeli-born choreographer Hofesh Shechter (now OBE), it would be that of a rock gig. His shows are noisy, populous affairs, and he writes his own drumbeat-driven music.

There is invariably dry ice, harsh stadium-style lighting, and looping crescendos so long and so loud that your vertebrae start to thrum. Double Murder, however, is not like that. It’s a bit of a puzzle, not least because its title suggests a two-part onslaught that doesn’t transpire.

“There’s always an assassination at some point” asserts someone in the foyer. Well, not this time. I’d clocked about three dozen executions before I lost count in the first half (Clowns, from 2016, which takes as its theme our peculiar penchant for watching violent death as entertainment). But its new companion piece, The Fix, created in response to it, seems to be all about the need for a hug.

Hofesh Shechter Company in 'Clowns'I think I prefer Hofesh the cynic. Clowns starts off like some fey Jane Austen-themed party, the 10 frock-coated, ruffle-shirted performers linking hands in a tippy-toe line dance. But in a flash they transform into crook-backed hobgoblins, the ugly underbelly of humanity breaking through. From then on Clowns (pictured above) is an orgy of deftly choreographed violence featuring every means of death-dealing known to man. Despatch by sword, knives and various firearms, strangulation, garrotting, disembowelling, electrocution – it’s all very specific – is played out multiple times at breakneck speed in a merry-go-round of human slaughter, the victims switching to perpetrators and back again with indifferent glee.

The lack of props is surprisingly disturbing. It’s a credit to Shechter’s directoral skill that we can be sickened by the sight of a gunman shooting with two cocked fingers, or tap-dancing legs whose hidden top halves have just been pretend-beheaded. More, that these macabre vignettes are woven into an intricate fabric of loose-limbed, vitally energetic movement that is undeniably enjoyable. That’s his point, I think. He wants us to consider why we’re so drawn to death and destruction in our entertainment choices, and what it does to us.

Hofesh Shechter Company in 'The Fix'The Fix (pictured above), in proposing an antidote, takes an enormous gamble that doesn’t come off. The devil, as we know, has all the best tunes, and however noble it might be to present half an hour of dance imagery of mutual caring and tender concern, it’s unlikely to set any pulses racing. Shechter’s performers being the finely honed movers that they are, there is naturally pleasure to be had. A knot of bodies in constant writhing motion is a lovely thing. There is the recurring Shechter signature of east-European folkdance. Even a segment that looks like tai-chi on zopiclone has its charm. But the longueurs, ah me, the longueurs. Forgive me, but if I want to watch seven people sit cross-legged and motionless for several minutes I can join a class. And all variations on that therapy mainstay, the group hug, are frankly a non-starter dramatically.

Finally, how’s this for not getting the memo? As great waves of choral sound – possibly sampled from South African township choirs – wash around, the performers step down into the stalls and start to hug random audience members. In any other year this would be merely cheesy. In 2021, it’s both cheesy and irresponsible. I salute that man in row D who offered a bunched fist instead.

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