Hofesh Shechter talks about his return to BAM with Sun

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

Hofesh Shechter Company presents Sun

Hofesh Shechter Company presents Sun Photograph: Gabriele Zucca

After a brief, but informative run as a member of Batsheva Dance Company, Hofesh Shechter left the "powerful" world of Ohad Naharin to become a choreographer in his own right. The Hofesh Shechter Company is indeed a powerhouse, returning to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House with a new work: Sun. In anticipation of his New York season, the London-based choreographer talks about humor, the meaning of beauty and his love/hate relationship with folk dancing.

Born in Israel but based in London, Hofesh Shechter is a choreographer who can’t escape tension—at least not in his work. As a follow-up to last season’s raw, charged Political Mother, Shechter returns to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House with Sun, a slightly less hostile look at darkness and light. In the piece, Shechter juxtaposes heavy subject matter with a playful structure. “That, in essence,” he says, “was the game I was playing in choreographing it.”

Time Out New York: Was your point of departure actually the sun?
Hofesh Shechter:
You know, it’s funny how the creative process is quite a chaotic thing and doesn’t always make sense, but there was a moment about two years ago where I thought, Okay the next piece I want to make for my company I want to call Sun. It was a challenge to myself: Can I make something that is light and maybe funny and that has a general positive energy to it, a kind of beauty? I can humbly tell you that I failed on all of these levels. [Laughs] But it was a really interesting starting point that brought other subjects to the table: questioning what is beauty? What is right? What is wrong? Also, socially, what do we consider right and wrong, and who decides? My head went there, and it created a very ambiguous space that is playing with darkness and light, and when I say darkness and light, I mean the subject matter sometimes becomes very heavy while the structure is very playful. So there is quite a disturbing and perhaps amusing tension between the heaviness of the piece and the playfulness of it.

Time Out New York: Can you give me an example of the heaviness?
Hofesh Shechter:
I think there is a layer of sarcasm in the piece; there are little puppets that we are playing with—sort of cutouts of cardboard characters—and there is something extremely amusing about that. At the same time, some of these characters can bring an ominous atmosphere into the theater. I don’t want to give away too much, but some of the subjects that the piece deals with are in a way completely obvious, something we all know, but something that we are very uncomfortable speaking about. It can bring a heavy silence on the audience, which I enjoy. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: Do you still feel it has a positive energy?
Hofesh Shechter:
I do. When I started to see the heart of the piece and understand a bit about the things it was dealing with, it was my way to approach it with sarcasm and humor. It’s a way to deal with something. There are many moments of being able to see the pure movement and the staging; I think it can produce a lot of positive energy, but the piece is always in tension with something ominous, and it depends a lot on the audience. It’s there to be found if someone is looking for something positive. Humor is a positive thing, you know? So it’s all over the place.

Time Out New York: How is it funny? 
Hofesh Shechter:
It’s not necessarily ha-ha funny, but there are a lot of elements that are comical, and it depends, again, on the audience members and the energy of a whole crowd. Humor comes from things we don’t quite expect, things that are a little bit out of place, and I think some of the things that people will see, they would certainly not expect to see in a contemporary dance show. For good and for bad. Some people will find it an atrocity, and some might enjoy it so much because it shouldn’t be there. But humor is possible in contemporary dance. 

Time Out New York: You mentioned the idea of beauty earlier. What did this piece teach you about how you see beauty?
Hofesh Shechter:
I don’t know what the piece taught me about beauty, but the process—thinking about who defines beauty—was something I considered. Our culture is defined by the victorious, by the ones that won. The ones that lost have died, and those who won are ruling the world, and they define good, bad and beauty. It’s kind of obvious: We know what’s beautiful, we can feel it, and we are very much programmed to know what beauty is. And that is an interesting and perhaps dangerous path to go on, because everything that is the definition of good and bad is made by the victorious ones, and the victorious ones had to kill to be victorious. That is what we define as bad. I enjoy this conflict of thought, that the ones that slaughtered and murdered and took over are us, those that survived. It’s an obvious rule of nature, but we are living now in a world where we hope to find a very high place in the cultural way, a sense of freedom and a sense of human rights, yet in our history—our very recent history—there are primitive animals that are murdering each other with joy, day in and day out. In thinking about beauty, it’s very interesting to ask, what is absolute beauty? If there was an answer for me, it’s to reveal human nature for what it is. There’s something beautiful about seeing something bare and for what it is, whether it’s sad, hard or beautiful in the sense of bringing kindness; it’s something about revealing human nature.

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