A dance performance requires many feats. There are rehearsals, technology, tour arrangements, box offices, and (in LA, anyway) maddening Friday evening traffic. Once these come together, it’s easy to forget an important little question: Why? But in their West Coast debut at UCLA Live, Hofesh Shechter Company seemed to have built the query into the first dance on the bill.
The program notes for “Uprising” opt out of expository artist statements. “Seven men emerge from the shadows to bombard the stage with furious energy,” and so on. (And with dancers ever poised to roll, spar, or run, the energy in Shechter’s work is not to be ignored.) What truly makes the piece, though, is its fragmentation. A stage of modern dancers becomes a circle of runners; the whole group devolves into a circle of back-patting, then slaps. These quick shifts are so jarring that it’s natural to ask what’s really on view: Is this a political rant? Is it an over-energetic boys’ club? Is it a show of the total control these dancers have over their limbs?
It seems like a bit of each in turn, as Shechter’s accompanying music drives the piece along, almost forcibly. (Throughout the evening, physical dynamics are frustratingly obedient to musical ones.) But the reminder to question is omnipresent. The “why” in “Uprising” has as many answers as audience members; added to the appeal of group mentality, tableau, and precision dancing, it makes the piece a worthwhile mental jog and aesthetic delight.
“In your rooms” certainly begins with a mental jog, when a voice chats about cosmic philosophy. The piece also makes incredible use of theatrical tools, most notably with shafts of light, and live musicians coming in and out of sight on a raised platform. But despite its impressive introduction and stagecraft, the piece fails where “Uprising” succeeds. Solitude and routine are so impressively stylized that plain kisses, embraces, and looks of concern seem like cheap tricks, and Shechter’s greatest strength – the power of contrast – is lost.
This is not to overlook the dancing itself – every glance, every movement from the performers appears absolutely natural and exquisite. There are ensemble movements that recall Shechter’s work with the renowned Batsheva Dance Company – without overshadowing his originality. In the end, “In your rooms” pairs so well with “Uprising” that the performance would feel incomplete without the double bill.
With contrasts and questions, the work pleases and challenges. The question of “why” is invaluable, and the changes in “Uprising” keep it coming – even if it slows down for “In your rooms.” Though this is the company’s first West Coast performance; it certainly won’t be the last. Shechter’s style is a refreshing one, and an invitation to remind ourselves what we’re seeing… and why.
The second (and final) Hofesh Shecther Company performance at UCLA Live is tonight (Saturday, Oct. 17) at 8 in Royce Hall. Tickets are $24-$48; for more information or to order tickets, visit www.uclalive.org.