Israeli-born choreographer Hofesh Shechter has been making waves for more than a decade, both in his adopted home in Brighton, England, and around the world. His works are raw, saturated with visceral energy.
With titles like Political Mother, Survivor and Not Looking Back, they have an undeniable point of view. Uprising, which will be seen next week in Washington, punches and pounds, set to driving rock and percussive-infused scores that Shechter composes himself.
On Feb. 5, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater includes the edgy all-male Uprising in its Kennedy Center Opera House programming during the company’s annual Washington stint.
It’s nearly impossible for an Israeli artist to name a work Uprising without the element of politics becoming the subject of the piece. In Shechter’s case, the name; the confrontational, hard-edged looks; the smack down movement of the seven men; rough-hewn attitudes these men emit; the pulsating score; and the harsh prison-escape lighting are exactly the point. Uprising, indeed.
“I believe an audience anyway can’t see beyond the politics when an Israeli choreographer is presenting work,” the choreographer said, “so better set that thought precisely in a way that fuels the work, the energy of it. It doesn’t make the work political, but it recognizes the ‘elephant in the room,’ doing with it, hopefully, something that inspires the mind differently, makes one look at human behavior rather than look at political agendas.”
Intentionally, Uprising gets one’s blood boiling and emotions teeming as men in baggy cargo pants and loose-fitting long-sleeved T-shirts power through Shechter’s idiosyncratic gutsy choreography with thuggish abandon.
“It’s true most of my work exists in the shadow of a political world,” the Israeli allowed, “but which work [doesn’t]?”
Raised in Jerusalem, Shechter, 39, studied piano starting at age 6. But in the mandatory Friday Israeli folk dance classes at school he exhibited talent and a teacher suggested dance lessons, which he took to, because, unlike piano, he didn’t need to practice as much. As a teen, he joined the folk dance troupe Hora Jerusalem, and echoes of folk dances – circles and lines of unison dancers, grapevine steps and more – often find a place in his choreography.
Following high school, Shechter joined Israel’s most important dance troupe – Batsheva Dance Company, directed by innovator Ohad Naharin. In fact, although he stayed with Batsheva for just three years, Shechter credits Naharin as one of his artistic mentors and inspirations, along with Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus. But Shechter couldn’t release his creative voice at home in Israel.
“I first went to Paris where I studied percussion. I came to London in 2002 to join the company of Israeli choreographer Jasmin Vardimon.” He immediately felt London would be the place where he could experiment, unleash his creativity.
Two years later, he premiered his first choreography and soon after started his own company.
Shechter won’t be in Washington to see the Ailey company, with its incomparable dancers, perform his Uprising. He is completing a work for the Royal Ballet, which will premiere this spring at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden. The large-scale piece will feature 20 dancers and a 50-piece orchestra.
“It’s a big job!” Shechter said, likely his biggest so far.
On his need to leave Israel to find what Naharin might call his “groove,” Shechter said, “Israel is a small place. I couldn’t see how the creative being inside me could develop as an artist there.” He added, “In Israel, tension is always in the air. I needed a quiet place where I could sit and think.
I think that Israeli culture and the Israeli reality has a massive influence on Israeli choreographers,” he said. “Something about the energy, the scent of the work, the openness of it, the directness, the harshness, the frustration, the battle – all these seep into the energy of the work,” he continued. “I personally find that frustration and anger can fuel my creative process –
a sense of helplessness that is then transformed into action, through the creation.”
Uprising by Hofesh Shechter is onstage Feb.5, performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, at the Kennedy Center Opera House in the District. Tickets, $30 and up, are available by calling 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324, or visiting www.kennedy-center.org.