Hofesh Shechter rocks. No, really. The Israeli-born choreographer and composer was once in a rock group – and in Political Mother, more than any other piece, it shows. His “director’s cut” version of this 2010 work features an expanded band, arrayed on three storeys like a wall of sound. Snare drums are at ground level, strings are on the first floor, while electric guitars, percussion and screaming vocalist up in the gods. With dramatic lighting, smoke effects, and the stalls seats cleared for standing, it has the heightened ambience and throbbing volume of a gig.
The piece feels like a live set from a concept album, its scenes linked more by style than story. The style is certainly familiar – ritual jiggling, wolfish lopes, flinches and punches – but Shechter has sharpened the jagged energy to a steelier edge. He also marshals the enlarged cast of 16 dancers with panache, through militarist drills and freeform scrambles, so that the often relentless repetition never grows numbing.
And the concept? In true prog-rock spirit, it is both grand and nebulous. The piece begins and ends with a warrior impaling himself on his sword. A backlit dictator figure sometimes appears with the band, in the same exalted position as the thrashing vocalist. In the dancers we feel, above all, the chill pulse of power, whether galvanising their bodies with primal force, surging like a current through a mob, or shepherding them in cultish subjection to the godlike figures fronting the band.
It’s tense and thrilling, but on two occasions near the end Shechter lightens things, once with humour, once with sentiment. I couldn’t help feeling that a better director’s cut would have shunned such audience relief, leaving us with just the knife in the gut.