From Violence To Hugs: Hofesh Schechter’s Double Murder At Harbourfront

Double Murder (Clowns, The Fix) by Hofesh Schechter (Photo: Todd MacDonald)

Harbourfront Centre Torque Series/Double Murder (Clowns and The Fix), Hofesh Shechter Company, choreographed by Hofesh Shechter, Fleck Dance Theatre, Oct. 27 to 29. Tickets here.

You don’t become an international dance darling by being ordinary, and choreographer Hofesh Shechter is one of the favoured few.

His Hofesh Shechter Company is currently in town presenting a contrasting double bill of works that show off his inimitable style — a frenetic fusion of contemporary dance, ballet, folkdance, and created physicality. By the latter, I mean he makes up movement as needed, and the body follows. And oh yes — he composes his own music.

The Israeli-born, London-based dancesmith doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. The first work on the program, Clowns (2016), presents violence as entertainment, and is a sweeping condemnation of our casual acceptance of bloodshed. The second piece, The Fix (2021), is Shechter’s attempt to present compassion as an antidote to savagery. In other words, The Fix is his response to Clowns and the irony is writ large.

One of the hallmarks of a Shechter piece is dance as community. Yes, sometimes company members break away in solos or small ensembles, but basically, his stage work is armies marching. The dancers are treated as a group of swirling patterns. They may sometimes be doing their own thing, but there is no doubt that they are part of the bigger picture. When they are all in sync, performing as one, that is when Shechter unleashes his choreography as power.

In both works, it is the group that stands out.

The ten dancers of Clowns are terrifying. Shechter’s score is a relentless continuum of throbbing rhythmic percussion that mesmerizes. The audience can’t escape its thrall, as we watch the company commit act after act of a killing spree, cutting throats, shootings in the head, skewering stomachs, strangulation, which are repeated throughout with utmost glee.

In between the slaughter, the dancers break out into folkdance riffs, or wild African ritual dance moves, or walk casually together in rhythmic symmetry, or freeze in stylized commedia dell’arte poses. In fact, led by a ringmaster, they present this carnage with pride, as highlighted by the extended curtain call. Just when you think the performance is really over, the dancers take another synchronized bow.

The piece is a whirligig of movement, flowing from one grouping to another, from one patterning to another, swirling together, breaking apart in typical Shechter manner.

It is, however, when they move as one, that Clowns is at its peak of viciousness. The power, the force, the strength of this oneness conveys the philosophy that motivates gangs and bullies, made all the more horrifying because clowns are supposed to make us laugh.

Christina Cunningham’s costume design cleverly evokes clowns by putting a ruffle here, a patch there, while Lee Curran’s garish, hazy lighting, glows bright on the killing, and brighter still on the joy. There are also moments when the group is in silhouette, seemingly enjoying themselves dancing in a circle.

In short, Clowns is horrible and wonderful at the same time, while it holds the audience in its poisonous grip.

Double Murder (Clowns, The Fix) by Hofesh Schechter (Photo: Todd MacDonald)
Double Murder (Clowns, The Fix) by Hofesh Schechter (Photo: Todd MacDonald)

Alas, The Fix, does not have the same impact as Clowns, but then, how could it?

The piece begins haltingly, as the seven dancers, in ordinary casual wear, tentatively greet each other, as if slowly coming alive, a reference, no doubt, to coming out of prolonged Covid lockdown. The Fix, in fact, is the first piece Shechter presented at Sadler’s Wells after the enforced pandemic hiatus.

If the main thrust of Clowns is violence, the group images of The Fix evoke caring and compassion. Dancers fall and are picked up. Others are cradled in arms. Tantrums are calmed. The group spreads comfort and succor.

The movement is still the Shechter swirl, but with a calm deliberation. When groups form patterns, it is with images of growing assurance that replace the tentative beginnings. The individuals accept that they are not alone. Shechter also builds in scenes of quietude. For example, there is group meditation sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed. At another point, they are in a circle listening to a mimed guitarist.

So what is the ultimate final fix against violence? Dispensing hugs, of course. After embracing each other, the dancers radiate out to the audience to give hugs, which the audience members really wanted to have, it seemed. The public literally threw themselves into the waiting arms of the dancers. It really was quite emotional.

Now the cynic in me looked at the warm fuzzies of The Fix thinking, just what is Shechter, known for showing the darker side of life, trying to get away with here? Upon reflection, however, I sensed a gravitas, and I accept that The Fix is one man’s response to our inhumane world.

Shechter’s music for The Fix is one long discordant drone, but it does work, because it represents the world that the group is trying to escape or overcome. Designer Tom Visser bathes the dancers in a warm glow. There is nothing garish here.

Perhaps Shechter’s greatness lies in his ability to evoke responses in the audience. His dances are definitely not sit-back-and-take-it-in kind of pieces. As for the title — Double Murder — that’s anyone’s guess. I know what one of them is, but maybe the second is killing with kindness.

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Paula Citron
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