When an audience is entertained, its members are infinitely more open to hearing facts or opinions that would otherwise be disturbing. The physical act of laughter opens a pathway into the psyche, circumventing resistance and preconceived notions.
“In 2023, there are so many taboos. Comedians are the ones who can speak about things freely, express their truths,” says choreographer Hofesh Shechter by phone. This is the thought that was at the heart of the process that led to “Clowns,” a short work that will be performed next month as part of a double bill by Shechter’s company at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.
Shechter is one of the world’s most celebrated choreographers. Born and raised in Israel, he made his way through Europe playing the drums with a rock band before settling in London. There, he established Hofesh Shechter Company followed by Shechter II (a company for young dancers), for which he has created acclaimed works such as “Uprising,” “Political Mother” and “Grand Finale.” Shechter has been commissioned to create pieces for companies all over the world, and his works have also been captured extensively for the screen.
During the company’s last visit to Israel, in June 2019, they presented “Grand Finale,” a massive production for 10 dancers, five musicians and a huge set. This trip, the company will show two short works.
“I have this cycle, which I don’t know, it’s sort of how it happens,” explains Shechter. “I make what feels like a large-scale evening for my company, which has more strain and demands on me. Then the next time I make a work, I make something that is more compact, more tour-able, and less of a saga on myself as a creator.”
The double bill starts off with “Clowns,” which was originally commissioned by the Netherlands Dance Theater II in 2016.
“I think clowns are really interesting phenomena. They have an interesting function inside society, in the court of the king. They are the ones who can do whatever they want. They have the freedom, because of their position, to throw the truth in the face of the king. Maybe he’s still laughing, maybe he’s going to separate their bodies from their heads if they pushed it too hard.”
In this work, the dancers are placed in the role of entertainers. “There’s a certain motivation that the performers have on stage: trying to grab our attention. They just try to grab our attention by every means available. Whatever we will watch they will do. That’s the feeling. Narrative is a big word, but there is this feeling that there are many masks. You don’t quite know what is serious, what is real, and what is just a joke. It’s all for the sake of entertainment.”
In the studio, Shechter led his dancers in a little game. “We did these theatrical killings of one another,” he says. “The more we played this stupid game of how we can kill each other and entertain each other, the more interesting and disturbing it became.”
Shechter transfers the creation
IN 2019, Shechter transferred the creation to the dancers of Shechter II company, but still felt there was more he wanted to do with “Clowns.”
“I really loved it and felt there was more to it. We had never touched it with the main company. When I was watching it on the young company, I felt it wasn’t really finished. I experienced it as a dark, depressing piece, though very entertaining. I felt I want to put another option on stage. So, I thought for my new evening I will make another bite-sized creation.”
The resulting work, “The Fix,” offers an energetic counterpoint to “Clowns.” “‘The Fix’ is a very different piece. It’s more of an energy flow. I was trying to give space to the audience, give some time to the audience, to create a flow that transforms the energy into something completely different.
“If ‘Clowns’ is a filter through which you can watch reality and experience the world, ‘The Fix’ is a very different filter."Hofesh Shechter
“If ‘Clowns’ is a filter through which you can watch reality and experience the world, ‘The Fix’ is a very different filter, a different entry point to what life can be. I saw ‘Clowns’ many times, and I felt there must be another angle to that. ‘The Fix’ hopefully produces a very different energy.”
Shechter created the lion’s share of the music for both these works. The ability to compose the score for his choreographies is one of the things that has made Shechter’s body of work so compelling. The music and movement communicate on the same frequency, and the viewer experience is deeply enhanced by this synergy.
“It’s like a tree growing, and it can grow in different directions. Sometimes the music and the movement grow together literally, sometimes I will work on the music in the studio as we work. It’s much less glamorous than going to a recording studio. I make it all at home, in the evening.
“Sometimes I work with musicians and we go to a recording studio. But mostly I make it on my laptop; laptops are very powerful. There is this restructuring, editing, adding. Sometimes I use found pieces of music. Otherwise, I really enjoy the chaos of making the puzzle,” he explains.
The evening, entitled Double Murder, will not offer escapism for Israeli audiences, but rather an opportunity to process and connect. “I understand that it’s a particularly tense situation right now in Israel. I can’t remember a time in Israel that wasn’t tense. Israel is a tense and politically-charged place. Where I grew up in Jerusalem, I was awakening into a very complicated reality and tense one.
“There is no way for me to conclude what will happen, how people will feel, what will be the reaction to my work. I did my work in order for us to sit in the theater and feel these human emotions and share the quests, doubts, pain – all these feelings. I hope that it’s a place for people to feel and digest things.
“My hope, which is always my hope, is that when people come out of the theater, they feel connected to each other,” Shechter says.
Hofesh Shechter Company will perform at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center from April 19-23. For more information, visit www.israel-opera.co.il.