It knocks you off your feet: Hofesh Shechter on the power of dance
Hofesch Shechter is a hero of epic dance theatre.
"Epicness is just part of the world I'm dealing with," he explains to Time Out Melbourne. "It's something I look for, because if there's a sense of epicness, then there's a sense that it is about all of us."
His new work, Sun, is his largest piece to date. It has a cast of 14 and uses a huge stage area. But it is also a more playful work than anything we've seen from him before, an almost ironic reflection on his epic tendencies.
"With Sun I think you find yourself in a different room," he says. "It's playful on stage but it's also playing with you, in the audience. It plays with the question, well, where are you: are you part of a community? And there's something very threatening in that."
Sun began life as an attempt by Shechter's to make a layered work of light and dark, one with a bright and breezy surface but something dangerous beneath, something hidden from the light of day.
"I started by thinking about wanting to make a very positive piece. As I was trying to begin the process, I kept returning to the question, what price? What is the price of happiness?"
It's seems appropriate that a work about happiness and sunshine should have its world premiere in Australia, a place that for most of the world is synonymous with bronzed bodies grinning on an endless beach, but the message here is universal.
"People are asking themselves that more and more, 'How did we get here?' 'How were we born into this heaven?' Someone had to pay the bill," he insists. "I think it's a question that people ask more and more of themselves."
This is a rare opportunity for Australians to see a world premiere from a choreographer who is at the very top of the contemporary dance game. But Shechter is less Merce Cunningham or Pina Bausch, and more Led Zepplin or Pink Floyd: the spectacle of the stadium, the lights and noise and the stage magic are what interest him.
"The things that move me are things that move, you know?" he says. "I find it hard to be moved by only an idea."
Music is central to Hofesh Shechter's choreography. It's where he started, first as a pianist, then as a drummer, now as a composer. His influences span from the Jewish folk music of his childhood in Israel, to the classical music of his early efforts at the piano, to the hard-rock of his teenage years.
"It's very rich, very eclectic, very playful, and a time sarcastic," he says of the music he has written for Sun, "and at times more like my style of music which is more rhythmical and carries a bit of a heavier atmosphere."
The "heavier atmosphere" is what characterises his Political Mother, a colossal piece of choreographic storytelling which toured Melbourne in 2011. There Shechter strives to capture the euphoria of mass political action and the demagogic instinct, fusing a wall-of-noise live soundtrack to a tumultuous onstage processional, described by Time Out London as "a compelling chorus of wailing electric guitars and driving drums, folk dance, hara-kiri, crazed dictators and dramatic lighting".
"I think there is a craving for this work," says Shechter. "I think in a way not so many people do it at the moment, so I think it's something that gives people new experiences."
Shechter seems to have no fear of overwhelming the human form with the spectacle of the stadium. But is the human body durable enough to support his brand of artistic expression?
"I think the body is an extremely powerful thing," he says. "It is what caries our life and everything that we can experience. It is exactly as powerful as we can experience. And I think it's interesting that contemplator dance is trying to rediscover that primitive or ancient capacity, to bring people back to that powerful thing."
According to Shechter, we seem to be slipping out of our bodies more and more, into a kind of electronic dream.
"But there's something about dance that brings us back to the real world, it's this very ancient, ceremonial function."
Back, that is, into the world light and shade, sun and shadow.