Hofesh Shechter often gets annoyed when people only see Jewish or Israeli references in his choreography. “It’s a very interesting, conflicted way the world sees Jews,” he told me a while back. “People [in England] refer to me as Jewish rather than Israeli. There’s this pigeonhole, this file that says ‘Jewish’ on it.”
But Shechter, an Israeli-born choreographer who’s lived in England for a decade, is wearing his roots on his sleeve this week. He’s choreographed a new piece, “Violet Kid,” for the modish Cedar Lake Ballet Contemporary that’s now being performed at The Joyce through May 20. It’s striking work, at times sensually Orientalist, evoking the dusty side-streets of an old Arab shuk. At other moments, you sense the martial intensity of a boot camp.
(The piece shares billing with a cliché of chic-religious imagery, a piece titled “Annonciation,” by Angelin Preljocaj, as well as Crystal Pite’s only somewhat better subway-set city piece “Grace Engine.”)
Shechter says his work isn’t political, but he never denies the way politics effects all Israeli life: “My work is not political,” he told the Jewish Journal recently, “but it definitely deals with the effects of politics on the individual; the emotional experience of people living under big and powerfully oiled systems.”
I don’t think it takes must projection to see how Israeli life infuses Shechter’s work. The most captivating sections of the 33-minute piece are the Arabian dance referents. The piece is set to a score played by a live string trio mixed with electronica—all of it composed by Shechter, a former rock musician. And for the most part, we watch dancers crouch and explode, criss-crossing the stage in loosely-congealed groups. But occasionally they pause, slow down, and bring their hands above their heads, twirling them around their wrists. It’s as if they’re doing a seductive belly-dancer twist.
Those moments are a necessary break from what might otherwise be an exhausting experience. And it’s one that’s also made more pleasing by the magnificent staging: smoke lingers above the stage, as does the string quartet, which sits on an invisibly black plank high above the floor. Playing from behind a scrim, they seem to float like angels, though black ones—their music is ominous, quiet yet unsettling. You might at times think you’re in Jerusalem, all three of the city’s great religious cultures—Muslim, Christian and Jewish—dancing around one another. There is co-exist there, yes. But also tension, a palpable sense of dread.