BWW Review: SHOW, Lyric Hammersmith
The programme notes that accompany celebrated choreographer Hofesh Shechter's latest production, SHOW, are just as sparse as the title is nondescript. The most that can gleaned about what the performance might constitute is contained in three small words: comedy, desire and murder.
This puzzlement is intensified on entry into the auditorium, hazy with odourless smoke. As the performance starts, the audience is plunged into an inky blackness. When gold footlights finally illuminate upstage, a row of eight dancers prowl through the gloom like apparitions, their faces rendered featureless by shadows, arms raised as if about to perform a traditional line dance.
For the next hour the young dancers give it their all, channelling raw kinetic energy powered by a soundscape of primal percussive drums and otherworldly voices composed by the Shechter himself, into patterns veering between homicidal violence and devotional jubilation again and again. Is it a comment about the fraught political times in which we live? Or is it an elaborate joke?
Performed by Shechter II, Hofesh Shechter Company's apprentice branch of dancers aged 18 to 25, SHOW is an iteration of Clowns, a work the choreographer made for Nederlands Dans Theater in 2016.
It is less visceral fare, both in sound and motion, than that of a work like 2013's Political Mother, which played out like an assault - albeit a pleasurable one - on the senses. But it bears all the hallmarks of a Shechter production: the tension between bleakness and optimism, the hunched shoulders and loping, skipping gaits of the dancers, the relentlessly driving drums, the underlying humour that inevitably bubbles to the surface to undercut despair.
The costumes, reminiscent of commedia dell'arte characters, the interjections of baroque music and references to various stylings such as maypole dancing or ballerinas in a music box all aid to create this effervescent mood, despite the unrelenting carnage.
Even as the dancers, to the tune of disquieting, stabbing crescendoes in the music, slit each others' throats, garrotte an opponent, take a bullet to the head or get shot in the back with an arrow repetitively, there is a constant return to defiance and a quest for joy.
That's a trope which seems to be a major preoccupation for Shechter throughout all his works, and it's a preoccupation that makes for absorbing, vital and uncompromising theatre.
But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. An extended curtain call to a soundtrack of South Korean rock star Shin Joong Hyun's naïve stylings sees the dancers freeze-framed in a series of tableaux vivants that recall major themes of the show.
This has the effect of stretching the repetition of violence and counterpointing blitheness to such a point that it threatens to overstay its welcome. Nevertheless, this latest production whets the appetite for where Shechter might turn to next.
Photo credit: Gabriele Zucca