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The first dance: unrelenting, bitter and stunning

Categories: Events, Extra-curricular, Learning things

Photo of Hofesh Shechter's Uprising by Andrew Lang

I was lucky enough to be invited to Dancexchange's 10th anniversary season launch and opening performance last night; a double bill by Hofesh Shechter Dance Company. Despite having seen plenty of dance on TV and online, until last night I'd never been to a live contemporary dance performance, so it was quite an experience.

The evening kicked-off with a pre-show drinks reception (in the same Hippodrome suite which houses the BRB Coppélia exhibition) and a talk from David Massingham, DanceXchange's Artistic Director. David reminisced about the work done by DanceXchange over the past ten years, and that of the various associate artists and choreographers who've developed work in the DanceXchange studios.

One such choreographer is Hofesh Shechter who created the first show of the season, Uprising, in the very same building in which it was about to be performed. Nice aptness.

Ear-plugs were provided

Performance time! Having been ushered into the Patrick Centre auditorium (via a man doling out earplugs which looked like sweets, as you can see), we took our seats and during the usual ambient chatter in what appeared to be a full house, the lights went out. They didn't fade; they went out. Suddenly. And completely. Which caused a few gasps.

Then the music started and I understood the earplugs thing; I could feel the booming, bassy, percussive, repetitive soundtrack in my feet.

I won't do a detailed recap of the entire show as I'm not a dance reviewer but Uprising was quite amazing. As far as the dancing goes, the fluidity between perfectly synchronised movement and faux-chaotic, faux-fighting was technically incredible.

Towards the end, the sound became a bit Amon Tobin, with electronic whirring, whizzes and twists – I subsequently learned that Shechter produces the music himself, which makes sense really as sound is an integral part of the performance. As is light. This was seamless; moving from single spots to moody half-light to bright, squint-worthy floodlights. Lee Curran clearly knows his stuff.

Afterwards, a single word seemed to describe Uprising: unrelenting.

During the interval the auditorium had been transformed from Uprising's raw, industrial space into a blank white canvas for The Art of Not Looking Back. A strangely oppositional match with Uprising – the style of dance fitted together but the tone this time was shrill and brittle, and included a screaming, spitting soundtrack which was uncomfortable listening.

The booming, brash, constancy of Uprising was clearly the male to this piece's stereotypically changeable, highly emotional and volatile female. (Not least because all Uprising's dancers are men and The Art of Not Looking Back is performed by women. Makes me wonder how it'd work performed vice versa …?)

A single word to describe The Art of Not Looking Back: bitter.

The performance ended with a literally awesome sequence in which both the female and male dancers became silhouetted and appeared to rewind at top speed through several of the core moves we'd just seen. It felt like watching a film being rewound, it was that convincing. Stunning stuff.

David Massingham running a Q&A with Hofesh Shechter

An interesting after-show Q&A followed, with David Massingham and the audience quizzing Hofesh about his creative process, what influences him and whether he minds other choreographers stealing from him. (He doesn't.)

There was even a point at which I thought Mr Massingham was about to reveal his favourite film is Love Actually. (He didn't. It was a Joni Mitchell song on the soundtrack he was referring to.)

So; that was my first experience of live contemporary dance. Would I go again? Yes. In fact, I'm off to see some sinister-looking dancing clowns next month. And I will be taking those earplugs, juuuuust incase …

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