Shechter’s Political Mother - a collage of oppression, survival, resistance and love
- Sulagna Mukhopadhyay
Photos courtesy: British Council, Kolkata

September 22, 2014

As the curtain goes up at Kalamandir, a three-layered stage appears in front of the audience. With Bach’s music being played in the background a knight is seen on the first layer of the stage committing ritual hara-kiri, and a dictator standing on the third layer, delivers a long harangue about his triumph.  Two men begin to dance springy folk steps to the music of Verdi. But their movements are suddenly halted by the pounding sound of drums. The drummers, in military costumes appear as a line of sinister beings on the second layer of the stage, their faces almost invisible in the half-dark. After a minute or so, the military drummers are replaced by some thrashing guitarists and the dancers representing the apolitical mass begin to move once in circles and again in scattered ways. That’s how Political Mother kicked off in front of Kolkata audience.

Photos: Gabriele Zucca

Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother, a 70 minute dance-theatre production created in 2010, deals with the chaotic political situation of this world juxtaposed to the unconditional love of mother. The theme is quite complex. There are surreal images, shades of satire, cinematic lighting and Shechter’s electronic score. The production includes ten dancers. There is a stint of Shechter’s idiosyncrasy in the entire production that makes it a success in today’s world of mediocrity.  His productions mainly deal with emotions.

Hofesh, who was born in Jerusalem, began his career as a dancer with Batsheva Dance Company, founded by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild.  Simultaneously, he was doing military service. Hofesh moved to Paris and finally to London, where he joined as a dancer, the dance-theatre company of another Israeli expat Jasmin Vardimon. After two years, he moved out on his own and his journey as a choreographer-cum-music composer started.
In Political Mother, we get a reflection of his background in Israel, but the message which Hofesh Shechter sends across is that we are all victims of false promises made by the politicians. He questions here the puzzling mechanism of the state over the civilians. It reminds one of Machiavelli’s The Prince, (criticized even by his contemporaries) where he believes that good laws follow from a good military (read dictator).

Photo: Simona Boccedi
Folk dance and the journey of gypsies play pivotal roles in the production.  Both project the common people and their culture. The way the gypsies traverse this world in unison, the way the common people fall prey to the power craving politicians losing their own identity in every respect were showcased with every minute detail. Dancers move like zombies in circles, each following the other without realizing the consequences while the dictator stands on the highest layer of the stage and blabbers things with loud strumming by the guitarists, a typical picture not unknown to any of us.  The dancers in one section appear to be in prison (ghettos) and the agony the couple faces while consoling each other reminds me of a documentary by Jerri Zibral In the Shadow of Memory (1990) based on a true story. While the soundtracks seem to be shifting from one mood to the other, the movements of dancers are at times like those of animals making the entire production a spectacular experience for its audience. At the end, the entire group performs the central motifs of the production to the song ‘Both sides now’ by Joni Mitchell and the gnomic phrase appears ‘WHERE THERE IS PRESSURE THERE IS FOLK DANCE.’

There are some shortcomings - sometimes the strumming of guitar and the beats of drums along with the repeated appearance of the dictator in various costumes do create boredom for the audience. But this can be pushed aside as the final part is flawlessly beautiful. Political Mother is conceptualized and choreographed by Hofesh Shechter, lighting design is by Lee Curan, costumes by Merle Hensel, and musical score collaborators are Nell Catchpole and Yaron Engler.

Hofesh Shechter Company performed Political Mother at Kalamandir on 13th September as part of The British Council’s Impulse 2, the new season of the best of contemporary dance from the UK.

Sulagna Mukhopadhyay was trained in Bharatanatyam by Guru Thankamani Kutty and Indian folk by Late Botu Pal. She has an M.A. in Comparative Literature and has freelanced for various leading newspapers of Kolkata like The Telegraph, The Statesman and Ananda Bazar Patrika. She has written articles on dance and gender issues. She is a teacher of South Point School since 1996.