Hofesh_Shechter Company_Barbarians_c_Jake_Walters

How did the production develop?

Like a lot of my work, it started quite randomly. I trust whatever is floating around in my head. The initial idea was to try to make – like I admit in the piece – a piece of music and dance. Something very simple. Using baroque music and seeing how it affects the way that I make movement material. I wanted to work with fewer dancers this time, only six. During the process, I came up with the idea of an educational situation: A voice that is leading and teaching the dancers.

The second piece concentrates on the groove and the body; it’s quite a physical and materialistic piece. The first piece is rather heavy; maybe the second will take us to a lighter place. The third piece is a duet and I’m not sure where this is going to. I want to create confusion between the worlds of these pieces. It’s like a movie in three parts. Somehow I feel that although the pieces are all completely different, there is something that holds them together.

What could that be?

There is a questioning of the culture of values that we are born into and educated with. There are things that we define as good or bad, and we all agree on them. We are completely indoctrinated. We all know this and we’re swimming in an area of trying to create vagueness between these values and reality. It’s about the culture of values versus our instincts.

Are you also referring to religion when you say “culture of values”?

Yes. If you are born into a religious family, you believe in god. When you are born into a family that supports the left-wing government, then in 99 out of a hundred times you will support the left wing. To play with people’s minds so that they don’t know what to believe anymore might throw us into an evening that is all about sound and movement and energy. There is a conflict between the extremely analytical beginning of the piece and its extremely sensual and almost abstract end.

Was this piece developed by your intellect rather than being driven by emotions, as your earlier pieces were?

The starting point is the mind, but there is a breaking point where it drops into a world of emotions. It reveals that emotions drive everything, even when you think you are being very analytical. When I create the movement material, it comes from emotion. Being cold is an emotion too.

You already used baroque music in “Sun”. Why does this music fascinate you?

I just love it and I feel that it brings something different out of my movement material.

Nobody moves naturally to baroque music; it is all about countenance. It’s the opposite of the very pure, hard, rough movements you used before.

It’s challenging for me to work with this music. I don’t completely believe in it, there is something pompous about it. It creates an interesting conflict in the body; it pushes me to try something different.

How do you start? By composing the music? Creating the movements? With pictures in your head?

Sometimes it starts from an emotional seed, sometimes it starts from musical sketches. Creation is a messy process. Once things start happening, there is a chaos of ideas, emotions and sounds. I’m trying to put it together as if I were doing a puzzle. I don’t have a system, which is unfortunate because it is very exhausting. It’s like standing in the middle of a room full of toys.

How important are the dancers for the creative process?

In some ways they are like kids and in others they are like soldiers. I create a lot of movement material just by watching them.

You use much more text in “The Barbarians” than in earlier pieces. What role do words play?

They are there to confuse us. They create a smoke screen. There is a text in the beginning of the piece and then it just stops, because it has reached a dead end. It’s part of my personality disorder that I want to live in a world of emotions, but I’m complicating things by overthinking the discussion. Words and life are in complete conflict.

Using words to explain movements on stage would be a terrible idea. In your case, it seems the other way around: You want to confuse with words, not explain.

When people come to see dance, they always want to explain and understand the meaning. On the one hand I find this funny and on the other hand I can understand it: You want to know where you are. I’m playing on that. The piece is trying to explain itself, but it fails. Of course you can’t explain anything that happens on stage, each person has their own interpretation. In this piece even more so, because you have the words and the words are playing with your perception and you don’t know what’s real. It’s almost like a joke.

Your earlier pieces were dark, but also ironic. Today you seem to use even more irony.

Sometimes people take things I did in previous works very seriously, so that I think: Gosh, it was a joke, I was being sarcastic! I thought the beginning of “Political Mother”, where the samurai commits hara-kiri, was quite funny, overdramatic and sarcastic. But a lot of people think it’s a very beautiful, strong image.

Those strong images also have to do with the stage lighting.

Yes, we work very hard at this. Even though the stage is empty, the light makes everything appear sculpted. It’s almost like a set location for a film; it’s extremely meaningful to get the light right.

You have danced with the Israeli Batsheva Company. How important are those roots for your current work?

I did folk dancing, I danced with Batsheva, I danced with Ohad Naharin; it will always be where I came from. It’s inevitable that my past influences me. This felt like a bubble of creation that happened inside its own weird world. I didn’t really feel a lot of connection to the past.

What is the difference between Israeli dance and European movements?

In Israel we have folk dancing from a very young age on; it’s very normal for boys and girls to dance and to express themselves. It’s a part of the culture that is very different from England, where people don’t even dance at weddings, especially men. Then it’s a Mediterranean country and the people are very direct and open, very emotional. That combination creates a dance culture that is quite in-your-face. Ohad Naharin, who works with Batsheva, has been working both there and around the world for 30 years now, his impact in a small place like Israel was massive. He’s inspiring a lot of young dancers and choreographers. In a way, I’m a branch of that dynasty.

Would you call yourself a political artist?

No. I don’t know much about politics and I’m not interested. I haven’t been interested for 22 years, ever since Prime Minister Rabin got murdered in Israel. I just remember going to vote afterwards and being completely shocked that somebody from the right wing won after a left-wing minister got murdered by a right-wing extremist. Since that time I haven’t voted and it made me realize that the whole idea of democracy is quite faulty. I also realized that politics goes in circles, it’s always the same. I’m interested in the damages that this highly politicized world is causing me and the people around me. And I’m interested in what kind of people we are born to be, our emotional anxieties, tenseness and craziness. But there is no political statement. It’s very human and emotional, dealing with the little man getting crushed by politics. “The Barbarians” deals with this issue in a smaller circle. It doesn’t look at the whole political system, it just looks at an aspect of it. To me it feels more intimate.

It’s quite difficult to apply overtones in dance – which might be necessary when you deal with political systems, power and suppression.

It’s dance. The people who come to see it have to accept that there is a level of freedom in their interpretation. How much they allow themselves to open up is up to them.

How is dance an instrument to deal with political thoughts?

It’s definitely an instrument you can use to make people have strong feelings about politics. They will only feel what they already feel. When they are angry because of the way the system operates, then a work like “Political Mother” can allow them to feel that. If they feel that the system is a powerful and beautiful thing, they might be able to feel that too when they watch “Political Mother”; there is something enjoyable about the power that we experience. I like the fact that there is ambivalence. There is a level of control and creativity that is demanded from the audience. One of my favorite directors is Stanley Kubrick. You understand what is happening, but your brain is racing. It’s about rhythm, sound and imagery. It’s like the power of dance.

Do you like to overpower people?

I like the idea that people might lose themselves inside the performance. It’s hard to achieve, because people want to maintain control when they sit in their seats. But maybe there are moments when they lose themselves in the sound, the imagery or their thoughts, when they feel that they can’t understand or believe what is going on. I like putting the audience on the edge.

Your dancers usually dance as a group, there are hardly any solos. Do you even believe in individuality?

We are one, there is no individuality (laughs). I believe that we are all connected, this is something strong to show on stage. It’s like an introspective of the world, where every organism is made out of a lot of organisms inside it. I like that feeling. It’s about how an individual survives in an environment that is either crashing, attacking or driving him.

Everything is about where you come from?

It absolutely defines who we are. We can get into an endless argument about what we are born like, but one thing is certain: If you are born into a Muslim family in Iran, in 99.99 percent you will be a Muslim. Are you born to be this? Of course not. But we see the truth the way we think it is.

So freedom and free will is…

… a good idea! You see it on TV, Obama speaks a lot about freedom, but I think people in America are only experiencing a concept of freedom that has strictly defined parameters. You can feel free sometimes, but I don’t know what it is to be free. Being free is probably listening to yourself and doing what you want, but you also have an instinct that tells you what to do.

Is that what makes you sarcastic?

No, but it confuses me. There are places in my brain that are programmed to believe in love, freedom, equality and democracy. But in nature there is no equality, no democracy, but rather quite a lot of cruelty; there are a lot of animals that are submissive to their needs and urges. I try to liberate myself as much as I can from these smoke screens, but without getting killed or put in jail. I think that is what we all do.

How has your work developed in the last ten years? Where are you heading?

In the beginning, I did work that I was quite confident about. Now I’m making work where I’m trying to get across a fence: it’s messy, confusing and uncertain, but I prefer it to the golden cage of doing the same work over and over again. I’m trying to push myself to look differently at the movement, the sound, the stage and the time. There is something clunky and something powerful, something imperfect about the piece, but potentially much more disturbing. I’m extremely aware that I have a lot of young spectators who would love me to put strong beats and choreographies on stage in amazing sequences that just blow their minds like in “Political Mother”. Maybe I will do this again some time, but now I feel that I would become bored and frustrated. If someone loved “Political Mother” or “Sun”, then they can go and see them again, they’re still touring. If there is a film you really like, then watch it again. But I won’t spend my time trying to imitate my own creation, that would be depressing. This period is about challenge, about discovering new areas, so that one day I may be able to master a piece that has richness of composition, groove, sound, emotion and text. I’m experimenting.

Hofesh Shechters new three-part piece „barbarians“ will be shown at Foreign Affairs 2015.