BWW Reviews: Hofesh Shecter Gives Master Class to Promote Sun World Premiere at BAM
Hofesh is a seriously cool guy. Normally I subscribe to the Oscar Wilde School of art criticism, but in this special case, the person behind the art is worth a mention. In a world that is often both glamorously and infamously depicted with power and fame hungry choreographers/directors lording over desperate dancers reduced to human body-things, Hofesh's warm presence is calming in its quiet power, exacting in its purpose without a totalitarian bent. Granted, I've only danced with him for a total of perhaps 6 hours over the course of 4 years, but I stand by the assessment. Hofesh Shecter is really, really cool.
Last week Hofesh Shecter's Sun, a new evening length work, made its United States premier at BAM. He also brought a master class to the
Mark Morris Dance Center that Friday for a couple dozen eager and lucky (the class sold out quickly) professional dancers. Many contemporary choreographers use lofty, cerebral images to get their dancers to exist in a world where the physicality of the movement makes sense. We have to transplant our bodies into the artist's headspace, and it takes some creative vocabulary and imagery to get us there. A defining feature of Hofesh's pedagogy was how he used the imagery quickly - "Imagine the floor is made of chewing gum/there is a string attached from the palms of your hands to your navel/it should feel as though your feet are very round" - before reminding us sharply that, "This is not just philosophical."
All too often contemporary choreography can feel, in practice and performance, like a far away thing not to be touched or experienced fully. Even more refreshing than Shecter's easy presence is his insistence that we, as dancers, fully experiment with our bodies while using our imagination - to find a place where the theoretical meets practical. His technical style relies on keeping the core of the body, from pelvis to chest, very soft and open while letting the extremities reach, pull and explore space. What a feeling to let one's feet decide where the body should go and to be truly surprised by the results. This takes a good bit of un-learning, as the softening of the core is completely antithetical to, let's see, ballet, Graham, Horton and Cunningham technique, to name a few big ones. A basic tenet of the Hofesh movement style is relaxation. "The more you relax," he repeated throughout the class, "the more power you have." After a strengthening and stretching exercise that loosens the hip joints as they sit in the pelvis, we were wisely informed that now we needed only to keep our chest open. "And there's no exercise for that," Hofesh said smiling, "besides love."
The anticipated debut of Sun on BAM's main stage was heightened by the fact that this particular choreographer is certainly having a Moment. Following on the heels of the acclaimed Two Boys (scored by Nico Muhly) at the Metropolitan Opera, Hofesh Shecter continues to gain success upon notoriety. With a score composed by Hofesh himself, the work was a thrilling tour of a man's brain - in all its dark humor and ugly thoughts - and the penchant of all of us to cling to a hive mentality for better or for worse. A standout moment was a duet performed way downstage center. Smallish, frantic gestures in complete unison set against the blaring, angry soundtrack proved that there are actually brand new words to add to the vocabulary of dance. So much of what we see is a rearranging of existing steps; to invent new ones, no small how small or twisted, is gasp-worthy. Set against the kinetic bombast of the rest of the piece, the small choices really shine.
Hofesh's Sun is currently touring Europe. And Hofesh's Earth is currently touring around the Sun.
Watch the Sun trailer HERE.
Hofesh Shecter's Sun