A Bunch of French Wines and Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother
So this is what growing old feels like: the organ in the cranial cavity is whining and the detoxing organ threatened to throw a hissy fit yesterday morning for having to work on a white Burgundy before breakfast.
Hadn’t even made much use of the ethanol department of the liver this week, just introduced a few French acquaintances:
on Friday: several bottles of Jean-Paul Schmidtt Rittersberg Alsace Riesling 2008 (kept cold in rice-cooker ice-baths) and some cosmos while laughing about politics, literature and the difficulties of people who, like some of us, look pan-asian (but not in a gorgeous MTV Asia VJ way);
on Saturday: Jean-Pierre Berthenet Montagny 1er Cru Vieilles Vignes 2006 and Château les Bertrands Côte de Bordeaux Vieilles Vignes 2007, while the brain, after a whole work week of toggling between talking to people in Bangalore, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, tried to absorb a few years’ worth of knowledge on the physiology of taste and wine-tasting procedures, wine chemistry, wine faults, wine service and Old World wines.
So i was grateful for the loud driving rhythms of Hofesh Shechter‘s Political Mother, showing at the Singapore dan:s festival 2011, and the mesmerising energy of the dancers, except it got rather repetitive in the middle and i was almost lost to sleep. After a week of cross-cultural communication and since we had only, a few hours ago, been discussing the different thinking of the Old World wine countries – France, Germany, Spain, Italy – and how this was shown in their styles of wine, wine laws etc, it was difficult not to watch the dance (or really, the theatre, since the music, lighting and costumes were equal partners) without trying to grasp the vocabulary of its movements. I’d been told previously that you couldn’t do this for Hofesh Shechter – he wasn’t like Martha Graham who had her own unique vocabulary (to which i’d countered that one seeking to express a message or theme with bodies as medium must surely attempt to communicate this in a series of movements that are meaningful or that can be made meaningful to the audience).
Already, aesthetic excitement got the camera trigger finger itching from Lee Curran‘s very evocative and effective spotlighting that negated the need for curtains, the grouping of dancers and use of stage space, and the manner in which chaos and confusion suddenly yet organically melted into conformity. The ambiguity of dancers’ movements at first frustrated understanding (eg. were their hands raised in supplication or adoration or were they held aloft by chains? was the vigorous trembling fear or excitement?), then there were the repeated motifs of dancers (prisoners? “the people”? rock band fans?) running in herds before one dropped out/got left behind and also of crowds protesting/celebrating before some of them seemed to lose interest and shuffled off (somewhat like the bear who ferociously attacked a couple in Pennsylvannia, then apparently “lost interest and left”). Also: samurai commiting hari kiri! ape suit inspecting prisoners! The hook in for me was the splicing between ranting dictator and crazed rock band frontman on a raised platform above the crowds – perhaps these scenes were not chronological per se but different interpretations of the same event: were the people being oppressed or were they choosing to be controlled? were they really political activists rebelling against a dictatorial regime or fan boys and girls protesting with the herd? did they really believe in what they were doing or just blindly following the in-crowd of the day?
It’s been something that i’ve wondered about all the political upheavals and other watershed moments in 2011 – the so-called Arab Spring, the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese/Myanmar junta, the ouster of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, the parliamentary and presidential elections in Singapore. “الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام” (“The people want to bring down the regime”) – but for what reason? Did the masses consider both the good and bad of the current regime, the current reality?
(A very humorous and humble Shechter seemed to confirm this interpretation in the post-performance Q&A session, saying that the idea for this dance was sparked by an argument he had with a stranger on a London street and how frustrated he was at the different realities perceived in close proximity to each other, conflicting with one another but that can somehow co-exist because people remember in one moment and then forget at the same time; the issue of parallel worlds within the same reality and the sense of being lost.
When asked if this dance was inspired by the conflict in his homeland Israel, Shechter laughed and said everyone seemed to think that all the conflicts in the world would be solved if they solved the problems in the Middle East, and no, there was no specific link.
In answer to someone’s question where the “Mother” was, he said she was back in Israel and that the title of the dance was not what was seen in the dance. And the sign “Where there is pressure there is folk dance” was just something he bought off Fos and thought he might throw it in for the audience to get thinking.
Perhaps he was being cheeky since he was reported to have indicated something quite different in the education pack for Political Mother, or perhaps there is a continuing evolution to the genesis and theme of the piece, even from the perspective of the choreographer.)
It’s interesting that this awareness of parallel worldviews within the same reality has permeated our ongoing study of the Book of Revelation (and in fact, the whole of the Bible), but without the uncertainty and lostness of Political Mother. Presented with reality, humans think that this world is all there is and therefore:
- we worship created things blindly without thinking that there is a Creator we should worship;
- we attempt to solve the little problems but refuse to see the corruption that attends every aspect of our lives or that it is incoherent to identify problems to be solved without considering why we should even think human rights abuses or the slaughter of dolphins wrong; and
- we look to our own devices for salvation (internally inconsistent philosophies, idealistic politics etc) without realising that through the whole of human history, we have never managed to solve any problems with communism or democracy or the political theory of the day.
It’s more interesting to consider that the Bible presents a God who continually challenges the psychotic human interpretation of reality and who always seeks to reveal the real reality to humans. Of all media, he uses words (surely the most accurate of all forms of communication) – through his prophets in the old days, through Jesus “the Word”, and today, in his word in the Scriptures. Cool stuff.