Online via Battersea Arts Centre
July 2-4, 2021
It was eleven years ago that Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother exploded on to the stage. Visceral and raw, the surging dance and seat-shaking cacophony of ear-splitting sound pummelled the eyes and eardrums for most of the next 70 minutes. It went on to be revamped for a larger ensemble as Political Mother: Choreographer’s Cut and then as Political Mother: Unplugged, a new version for Shechter II. When Covid-19 put paid to the planned tour of the latter, Shechter turned his attention to creating a film instead. Shot at Battersea Arts Centre, Political Mother: The Final Cut is a superb 33 minutes that captures completely the spirit of the original, albeit with a slightly quieter, more reflective feel.
Like the original, it opens with a figure thrusting a sword into their stomach. But they are far in the distance. More striking is the quiet and the foreground emptiness and the black-and-white scene. Cut to indoors, and we find a small group watching the same scene on a small television. Their eyes in particular draw you in. Some stare blankly, some are brighter as they smile, some just lower them, it seems not wanting to look.
Over the next half-hour, the dance shifts from wild revelry full of Shechter’s trademark urban, folksy, fluid movement vocabulary, to moments of reflection and back again. Even more than on stage, you do get the feel of a narrative, albeit one that is loose and broken.
The original themes and messages about indoctrination and where unquestioning obedience and loyalty can lead are still there. Perhaps it’s the times we live in, but more than ever it feels like a commentary on society and the world. More than once there is a sense of reflection on what was and what now is, that line between flashback and present always blurred.
It is beautifully filmed. In the close-ups, the camera gets you right into the heart of the action, so close that you feel you could almost touch the performers. That, and the brighter lighting than on stage really let you see the dancers as individuals.
Shechter also makes fine use of BAC’s architecture including the elegant and vast Grand Hall. It’s the quieter, more intimate spaces that really ramp up the atmosphere, however, especially a long corridor that leads to the unknown and down which see dancers running. When they pause to look back, you sense to that previous room or time, again eyes and faces speak loudly.
They wouldn’t work without the more raucous scenes that surround them, but like on stage, it’s the quieter moments that really hit the hardest, especially that to ‘Abide With Me’, the hymn that asks God to remain with us through the trials and perils of life and then death; and the beautiful end to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’, her song that reminds us there are always two sides to things and in a lot of cases many more than two.
Ecstasy, freedom, hope, despair, agony, uncertainty. It’s a potent mix. Political Mother: The Final Cut is a complex emotional cocktail that, if anything, hits harder on film that it does on stage. It does take a few minutes to grab hold, but it soon becomes utterly compelling.
Political Mother: The Final Cut can be watched via bac.org.uk at 7.30pm on July 2, 3 & 4, 2021. Pay what you can.