Israeli Choreographer Hofesh Shechter's Freedom of Movement

The associate artist at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London can't escape politics.

When the Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter landed in London 11 years ago to start his career, he didn’t think he’d be living there for long. “It was a nightmare at first. I hated London. I thought it was filthy,” he says. But he found a welcome there fairly quickly when a small London theater called The Place adopted him, and John Ashford, the director, was impressed with Shechter and invited him to become an associate artist.

Shechter began choreographing dance works, which were so successful that he was invited to choreograph for some of the world’s leading dance companies, including the Bern Ballet in Switzerland, the Candoco Dance Company of the United Kingdom, the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in the United States, and Carte Blanche contemporary dance company of Norway. Shechter won the audience vote prize at The Place in 2004 for his work “Cult,” the Sergei Diaghilev Prize for “Fragments,” and the Critics Circle Award for Best Choreography ‏(modern‏) for “In Your Rooms” in 2008.

Shechter, 38, is an associate artist at the prestigious Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. His 12-member company, which was established in 2008, is the resident company at the Brighton Dome theater. “The British culture ministry contacted me several years ago and asked me whether I would like a budget of 200,000 pounds sterling per year,” he recalls.

A native of Jerusalem, Shechter was accepted to the Batsheva Dance Company in the mid-1990s with almost no background in dance several years after Ohad Naharin became the company’s artistic director. After becoming successful abroad, he wished to compose a work for Batsheva so his 2006 work, “Uprising,” will close the company’s season as part of the Maholohet Summer Dance Festival, at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv.

A noted dancer in the Israel Defense Forces, who worked as a clerk during his army service, Shechter uses his Israeli identity a bit schizophrenically. On the one hand, he almost always creates out of biographical elements from his life as an Israeli. But on the other hand, he claims that his best-known work, “Political Mother,” was conceived as an ironic protest to people always asking him about politics, while at the same time claiming that it contains “no political statement.”

“They threw the budgets at me before I used the word ‘political,’” he says. “An Israeli doesn’t have to use the word ‘political’ abroad to make his work political. It was for all the people who say there’s a ‘political statement’ in my work and that ‘it’s so political.’ I told myself it would be interesting to put the word ‘political’ in the title and say that it still didn’t talk about politics. I decided that if people were going to come in with that filter anyway, I figured I’d put it at the forefront of their minds.”

Dictators and drummers

Shechter spent the past two months with his company in London rehearsing his new work, “Sun.” Among the many characters in the work are a samurai who commits hara-kiri, a loud dictator, and drummers in army uniforms with blacked-out faces. When Shechter was asked about his political opinion, he answered, “I came from a left-wing home that doesn’t like the army. Politics broke me when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and Benjamin Netanyahu was elected. Since then I haven’t voted again, anywhere.”

He says that after several years in the Batsheva Dance Company, he felt stifled in Israel, for political reasons among others: “I wanted to find rest from this very political place. I was a slave to dance.”

When Shechter was asked about choreographers who influenced his work, he mentioned Naharin, Wim Vandekeybus and William Forsythe. “Ohad’s influence on my work is obvious,” he says. “I was brought up in Batsheva, and those are the language and the fundamentals that I learned. ”

Although Shechter puts iconic political characters such as dictators on the stage, the prominent elements in his choreography are actually abstract and include texts with key words such as “emptiness” and “chaos.”

“In life, we have very strong experiences that are totally meaningless. We know we invented everything, and we play the game we invented. We invented currency, so we play Monopoly. We invented relationships, so we play at love. Creating art is a game within a game, which is something kind of crazy, a place where I can give people the feeling of a game.” He says that the word that motivates him in every aspect of his life is freedom − in Hebrew, hofesh, which is his given name. “In the end,” he says, “the more you realize it’s really a game, that it’s not actually real, the freer you are.”

Tal Cohen