Hofesh Shechter talks about his return to BAM with Sun

Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter returns to BAM with his latest dance Sun

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Time Out New York: How did you progress from there?
Hofesh Shechter:
I joined the junior company of Batsheva, and I was there for a couple of years and then I went into the main company, and I was there for about a year and a half. I kind of rolled from one thing to another. From the folk dancing to the academy to Batsheva. Then came a point where I felt I wasn’t sure if I made a decision there; I kind of felt like, what about music in my life? I really missed being connected more to music and decided to leave and to try to find a way back. But I couldn’t get rid of dance in my life. I went and studied percussion, and was traveling around the world a little bit and searching for myself, for what I wanted to do in my life and eventually I arrived in London and thought, I will deal with music until I run out of money. Then it was, I’m a professional dancer—I’d better find a job. It brought me back to the world of dance. After a couple of years in London, I became so curious about making my own work; I was creating music in my room for myself, but I was curious about putting it out there and making choreography and making the music for it. I gave it a go. That was in 2004.

Time Out New York: Why did you leave Batsheva? I notice that many choreographers that come out of that system make fairly derivative work. Was it a conscious decision on your part to preserve your own artistic voice? 
Hofesh Shechter:
I don’t know. Maybe. I was very young. I was 21 or 22 when I left, and I joined when I was 18. It was amazing to be in Batsheva, and Ohad Naharin—the artistic director—he’s an absolutely amazing choreographer, a very powerful man and a very powerful creator, and I learned so much being in the company and working with him and with the dancers. At the time, Batsheva was more of a rep company; there were other choreographers coming to work with us like Wim Vandekeybus and Tero Saarinen. There was a lot of powerful stuff going on, and it was an amazing school, but I think perhaps there is a bit of something in what you’re saying. I felt if I stayed there, I might just get buried in that very powerful company. There was a sense of, I want to run away and find something else. But I’m so thankful to Batsheva and to being there—it was really where I discovered myself as a dancer and possibly as a creator as well. I recently staged Uprising, which is a boy’s piece I made in 2006 on the junior company, and it was nice to give something back. It was a really exciting experience. Actually, it’s unbelievable: It was 20 years ago that I was there. It seems like yesterday.
 
Time Out New York: So you were in the army, and you got out of it by working on a night-duty shift while dancing?
Hofesh Shechter:
Yeah! I had this special status that was called something like “excellence in dance.” Sports people, musicians and artists get it—basically, any career that could be violently interrupted by the army and perhaps ruined, the army gives special status so their career can continue. I had this status, which meant that I could be in the junior company at the same time that I was serving the army. My service was sort of a clerk in an evening school registering people; it was pretty fun and also gloomy in a way. It was a very weird existence of being in a dance company in the morning and in the army in the evening. It was very bizarre.

Time Out New York: I can see those two elements in your work. Can you?
Hofesh Shechter:
Yeah. My work is full of conflicts. I don’t know if it’s to do just with my double life during that period, but it surely focused something about life in Israel and the way you grow up in a place that is, on the one hand, about progress and freedom and is a rich and very interesting place culturally, and on the other hand, there is war and an army that is a must for everybody. Once you get into the army, the rules are completely different. It’s kind of a schizophrenic reality, a reality within a reality, and you no longer know what is real. Are we playing when we are in the army or are we playing when we are out of the army? I think the extremism in Israel is very serious, because the situation there is always tense. So perhaps something about this schizophrenia made its way into my work.

Time Out New York: Okay, why London?
Hofesh Shechter:
Pretty random actually. The band I was playing with and my girlfriend at the time both wanted to come to London, so I said, cool let’s do it. There wasn’t a big plan or anything. I really hated London. I felt it was horrible, cold, gray, expensive, big—it was a combination of absolute richness and poorness. But why stay? I fell in love with the city and with the idea that there were so many possibilities and opportunities; as long as you keep working hard, there will be a chance for you to do something. My company was created in England. London is such a multicultural place. It’s sort of the city for all the lonely people and all the lost souls. [Laughs] So, yeah, I feel at home.
 
Time Out New York: Does your history with folk dance affect your work now? Perhaps in the way you structure movement and the way you like to work with big groups?
Hofesh Shechter:
Yes. I think there is something about it. I think there is something also—folk dancing has an impulsive energy to it and there is, again, this double thing, the duality of everything. I think there is something that folk dance gave me, but also I have a love/hate relationship with it. There is a part of me that thinks folk dancing is a tool to get people to feel a sense of nationalism and devotion, so it scares me as well. I think you can see it in some of my work. But that was how I started to dance and they say that if a couple started out with a feeling of really falling in love, whatever happens they can always find it again because that was the starting point. It was my starting point with dance: the powerful folk dancing. Whenever things go bad, I can always go back there.

Time Out New York: Do you have a sense of why you became successful so quickly?
Hofesh Shechter:
No. It’s an abnormality. I don’t know. I would have never imagined that it would go that way so quickly. I feel there must be something about the work where audiences find a connection, and it might be something about the simplicity of it, or the way that people can connect very easily with the dancers. There is a sense that the dancers are real people—there is something very human about the whole experience. I’m speculating. It might be a combination of things. But I’m trying to enjoy it as long as it lasts.
Hofesh Shechter Company performs at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Nov 14–16.

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