Brighton Festival 2022
An astonishing double bill from my all-time favourite contemporary choreographer.
Clowns, the first piece in this double bill, has gone straight into my top 3 choreographies of all time. (The other two are Political Mother, by the same choreographer, and Cacti, by Nederlands Dans Teater, the company with whom Clowns was originally made. So yes, I arrived with extremely high expectations, and I’m delighted to say that those expectations were met and surpassed.) It’s a grotesque medley of murder upon murder upon murder, interspersed with gleeful Riverdance-esque jigs and the most aggressive jazz hands I’ve ever seen. Stupendously precise ensemble choreographies spring forth when you least expect them, my favourite being an all-too-brief slithering snake image. The music is extraordinary – thumping, irregular beats and haunting counter-melodies that never upstage the action, juxtaposed with a joyous can-can to kickstart proceedings. Clowns delights and horrifies in equal measure, a shocking commentary on the human tendency to take gratification from the infliction of misery upon other humans.
The second half of this double bill, a newer piece called The Fix, is somewhat less easily readable, though still shot through with the dancers’ sheer energy and focus, and the director’s keen eye for image and space. The dancers are dressed in smart casual attire, and flit between images ranging from toddlerdom to old age and all the trials and tribulations that occur between the two. In the most memorable but least choreographic moment of proceedings, the entire company just sits down and meditates in lotus position for a couple of minutes, before deciding one by one that it’s time to get up and carry on. It’s all rather bizarre, but also bizarrely mesmerising.
Too often in contemporary theatre, the dancers’ faces remain as neutral as possible, in the belief that the body can portray more emotion if the dancers themselves display none. That isn’t a problem here. Every single dancer onstage is utterly beguiling, and is a perfect synecdoche of the whole: several times, over the course of both pieces in this double-bill, I’d deliberately take my eye off the mesmerising overall picture and focus in on one face in particular, and I was never disappointed. All the dancers seemed to envelop themselves completely, and understand utterly, every moment. Their faces and eyes are as much part of the choreography as their limbs and interpersonal relationships.
The Fix ends with a beautiful moment of personal connection between the dancers and audience, the perfect antidote to our pandemic-induced restriction upon seeking the warmth of another’s embrace. I saw tears streaming down the faces of at least half a dozen audience members as the final bows were taken. While the intention may have been to leave us with a feeling of hope and togetherness, it is the barbaric images of death in the first piece that will stay with me the longest.
Double Murder is terrific stuff. Hofesh Shechter is an incredible choreographer. I found the whole thing just a little bit life changing.