Hofesh Shechter Company
June 22 - 25, 2022, 1 hr 45 min
“We’re back!” is the triumphant cry that heralds Hofesh Shechter’s dance company’s return to HOME, with a double bill of Clowns and The Fix, a show that began touring (titled Double Murder) in 2020, resurfaced in 2021, and finally has made it to Manchester this year.
There’s no doubt why the Barnum-like ringmaster character who greets you with those words is keen to whip up some cheering right at the start (and succeeds so well that he didn’t really need to exhort the Manc audience to do it better second time round), and why the show gets its standing ovation at the end. It’s designed to celebrate the end of lockdown and a return to peace and love and freedom: bye-bye Covid, bye-bye.
In a kind of prologue to the main part of Clowns, the dancers cavort to the jolly upbeat tune of Offenbach’s Can Can (or Galop Infernale, as it was when he wrote it), but the cavorting suddenly turns to images of brutal death and killing. The rest of the piece is a 40-minute expansion of these alternating themes, to a thudding crescendo of drum-based sound by Shechter himself. It was originally created in 2016, but the point of the evening is to present its danses macabres in contrast with a positive message in The Fix.
Clowns, however (which was the centrepiece of the programme by Hofesh Shechter II, the “young” company we saw in 2018) can stand on its own and is as riveting as ever. The dancing is technically superb and hugely attractive in visual terms, with Shechter’s varied phalanxes of performers in relaxed, cheerful and often unison jogging movements. With one build-up, a brief interlude and then a return to the intensities of seeming ecstasy and faked violence, it poses the same questions as it did before, but perhaps more in-yer-face and less spooky in this version, though the final mock curtain call sequence is more deadpan and sombre in effect.
So that was Clowns updated for the Covid/lockdown era. What would The Fix, the new piece on offer, add to it? It develops some of the same choreographic ideas, but in a different way. The sound is more humming than rhythmic, but again making a long crescendo which gives way to vocal harmony and gentle guitar music (acted out in simple, almost facile terms) as the dancers discover tenderness and human contact, to replace agony and death. A tortured soul is comforted, and all is hugs and loving.
Then they descend to the stalls and share their hugs with the audience – watch out if you’re on the end of a row or otherwise within reach.
PS: The irony is that they have to put face masks on to do that. With new virus variants and infection numbers on the up again right now, you might say it’s simply inappropriate to make hugging the key symbol of a return to vital human values, no matter how much we wish it. Maybe Covid hasn’t been fixed just yet.
Info and tickets here