July 8, 2023
Originally developed for the GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, then later adapted for his own young talent ensemble Shechter II, Hofesh Shechter’s Contemporary Dance 2.0 is stamina-sapping. It demands precision. It demands total commitment. And it got all three in full from the eight dancers of Gauthier Dance. The beat never stops, and neither do they.
The dance is familiar but different. The trademark Shechter sense of controlled hysteria is there. The same loud rhythms (mostly). The same overpowering energy. The same grounded dance full of shoulders jerking and arms thrown into the air. Missing is the usual underlying socio-political commentary however. Contemporary Dance 2.0 is about just that. Hofesh-style.
While still darkly lit, it feels less depressing and gloomy in mood too. Osnat Kelner’s costumes help. Gone are the uniform greys replaced with colour wherever you look. Joggers, shiny leggings, sweatshirts, bomber jackets, crop tops, a blue bandana. One man wears a shirt and tie, albeit scruffily, collar undone.
The work comes in five sections, each announced on cardboard signs held Boxing ring-style. There is ‘Pop’, ‘With Feeling’, ‘Mother’, ‘Contemporary Dance’ and ‘The End’, although there is a lot of the same in most. The differences are subtle. Only in the last is there a real change of mood.
After starting with a bang, the dancers quickly surrender themselves to an almost hypnotic, trance-like state. They move constantly but so does the stage picture as groups form, dissolve and reform. When a single large group, like birds murmurating or shoals of fish they sweep across the stage, splitting into two before coming back together. In what is surely a deliberate contradiction, one repeated motif sees them skip lightly in a circle like children. Elsewhere they strum air guitars and adopt exaggerated pick-up poses like in a club.
It all calls for absolute togetherness and got it. Unison sequences were are in split-second synchronicity, adding to their impact.
‘Part II: With Feelings’ is much the same but marginally more refined. ‘Part III: mother’ is full of anger. A dance of rebellion, you cannot help but recall Political Mother.
Shechter quotes here and there from other works too. The macabre comedy of Clowns resurfaces when four of the cast make as it whipping the others. There’s a moment from Grand Finale when women leap repeatedly into the arms of men only to be immediately dropped. Another scene sees them dragged away, bodies limp.
The ironic ‘Part IV, Contemporary Dance’, sees the genre lightly mocked. The start, to Bach’s Air from Suite No. 3 in D major, feels a little soothing. But we are back to contradictions. Although the choreography is slower, more indulgent, it’s very much Shechter, very much connected with what goes before.
If the Bach comes as a surprise, an even bigger one is hearing Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’, which accompanies ‘Part V: The End’. It works brilliantly. It’s brighter; like a new dawn. The tension releases immediately. You can’t help but breathe, relax and even smile. As they reprise the beginning, the dancers seem released too, their faces wreathed in happiness too, full of the pleasure of just dancing.
Shechter certainly does it his way too.
After what was Gauthier Dance’s final Stuttgart performance of the season (they still have performances to come at Jacob’s Pillow in the US), and in what artistic director Eric Gauthier called “a little goodbye thing,” he took time to pay tribute to the four dancers and two junior dancers leaving the company. It was a really nice touch, perfectly judged, with each also getting their chance to say a few words. The evening then ended with a bang too; this time streamers raining down on them and us.