Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Hofesh Shechter. Barely a blip on the radar a few years ago, the Israeli choreographer has now launched himself into the dance stratosphere.
Born in Jerusalem, Shechter began his dance career with Batsheva Dance Company while he was doing military service. He then moved to Paris where he studied music and played drums in a rock band, The Human Beings. In 2002, he followed the band to London and then began working as a dancer for fellow Israeli expat Jasmin Vardimon, to whose pithy brand of dance theatre he was well-suited. After two years he struck out on his own with a duet called Fragments, which earned him the position of associate choreographer at the Place in London. Later the same year, his enigmatic sextet Cult – with striking costumes that included crimson cocktail dresses, sharp suits and a gorilla outfit – won the audience award at the 2004 Place prize. The Place also commissioned his next main work, Uprising (2006), a charged, punchy piece for seven men.
Then came 2007, when Shechter’s career went into overdrive. Commissioned to create a new work entitled In Your Rooms, Shechter found himself fast-tracked from the 300-seat Place to the 900-seat Queen Elizabeth Hall to the 1,500-seat Sadler’s Wells, all within six months. The programme – a double-bill with Uprising – not only filled the theatres, it was heaped with praise. Earlier this year, it went on to play at the even larger Roundhouse in north London.
Since then, Shechter has been even busier, with commissions from Scottish Dance Theatre and Candoco, as well as invitations to work for international companies. He has worked as a choreographer for the theatre, from Motortown and The Arsonists at the Royal Court to Saint Joan at the National Theatre. He also choreographed the opening sequence of the second series of Skins, Channel 4’s hit teen drama. In 2008 he formed his current company, which is now resident at the Brighton Dome. As well as choreographing, Shechter sometimes still composes and even performs the music for his pieces. You wonder where he finds the time.
Watching Hofesh Shechter
Shechter’s style is earthy and blunt, powered by action and raw energy. Soundtracks tend to be moody and tense. Very often the movement looks animalistic (predatory swoops, chimpanzee lopes, lizardy wrigglings) which gives the choreography a fierce dynamic. You can also sense Shechter’s background in percussion, as the dancing is often propelled by ragged rhythms. He’s also very good at creating a kind of controlled chaos: sometimes it looks as if the dancers are all over the place, but they can snap into formation in an instant.
Shechter often talks about degrees of individual freedom (or lack of it) and you can see that concern in his work. Dancers seem less like individuals and more like beings caught in the crosscurrents of their own animal drives versus the demands of the group. There’s a lot of struggle in that dynamic. Although Shechter doesn’t go for narratives, he sometimes likes to add his own voiceover, in which he muses on the nature of our existence. (Don’t worry if you can’t follow these – I rarely can.)
Shechter is not just choreographer, but sometimes composer too. Lighting designer Lee Curran is a key artistic collaborator, creating striking patterns and moods for the largely bare sets. Among many fine dancers, a standout is Philip Hulford, who – like fellow dancer Christopher Evans – joined the company while still a student at London Contemporary Dance School.
By wearing a gorilla suit in Cult (2004), Shechter helped to save … a gorilla. Searching online for the outfit, he came across the Great Gorilla Run, a gorilla conservation charity which would give him a free costume if he went on their fundraising run. He missed the run (busy as ever) but they still gave him the suit in exchange for a donation.
In his own words
“If you saw my work, you’d think we definitely are [all doomed]. But we’re going down with a smile.” – Interview, New Statesman, 2009
“[My works] are often seen as reflecting my background in Israel, but they also show something you might see at Arsenal on a Saturday afternoon.” – Interview, Metro, 2008
“Everything I’ve experienced has left a mark on my work, and a lot of that experience has been about conflict, about struggling to make sense of things.” – Interview, Guardian, 2009
In other words
“Remember the name. Ho-fesh. Shechter. He’s more than up and coming: he’s arrived.” – Jenny Gilbert, Independent on Sunday, 2007
“No other choreographer combines such a thrilling command of rhythm with such subtle manipulation of spatial dynamics. Is there a point to it all? No says Shechter, only the void. But he has you on the edge of your seat, dry-mouthed, from start to finish.” – Luke Jennings, Observer, 2007
“Shechter’s ability to keep you looking, hard, at what he is doing is thrilling. And so are these pieces. The fragmented, rich, disordered world they show is the one we live in now.” – Roslyn Sulcas, New York Times, 2008
“The boy wonder.”
Batsheva Dance Company
Jasmin Vardimon Dance Company
Now watch this
Where to see him next
See the Hofesh Shechter Company website for performance dates.