Winner - June 2022 Edition: Best Dance Film
Hofesh Shechter, thank you for speaking to us and congratulations on POLITICAL MOTHER: The Final Cut and in particular this latest award from the Cannes World Film Festival for Best Dance Film.
You have beautifully achieved "immersing audiences within a fragile world of raw emotions as a group of individuals struggle against the complex structures that define their world, andours." This is so poignant that we can all feel connected, and can relate to and see our ailments, society's malfunctions, maybe overpopulation, disease, and the pandemic. How did such themes come about in your work ?
I think the power of art is in creating a mirror and a perspective through which we can see ourselves. It was always my ambition to be acutely aware of my surroundings, the world around me and what I feel inside, and reflect it within the work-sharing my experience and my perspective with other people is something that makes me feel incredibly alive... Being born in a power-torn country, ridden by political conflicts and fights for control, I think something in me became obsessed with trying to understand (or ask questions..) about social power - who leads and who is being led, the place and possibility for an individual to be or merely feel free, and questions surrounding our moral values as a community. We are all born into a given political reality with set values that evolve very slowly as culture moves forward - but we can't choose what past values are and we are forced to build our future on structures that were given to us from the past. This complexity fascinates me and gives rise to many questions.
POLITICAL MOTHER: The Final Cut which you have directed, choreographed, composed, and filmed, “gets under the skin of the original, bringing a fresh, new dance energy to the screen, set against a back drop of Shay Hamias' animations” and your own cinematic score, “performed by Shechter II, a new generation of exciting world-class dancers". In the first scene, there is a stark contrast between the subdued looks and languid postures of the dancers and the sudden realisation that all are staring at a performer on a television set. How was this made possible ?
That first scene was filmed 52 times. It is a slow-motion pullback and then a 'run-around' turnaround the performers. Anyone who ever made a film will know that pulling focus on such a take is a real challenge... but I was adamant to get as perfect a take as we could... the TV set is in the room but animator Shay Hamias superimposed the animation of the lone performer on the screen post-production.
Having made a film of what was originally a stage performance, I was fascinated with the idea that even the performers in the film are presented as passive observers of reality, the same as us when we watch the film. The idea that sitting at home and watching passively a TV set frees you from the responsibility of what you're seeing is a false idea and feeling. Everything we see, we are part of and therefore bear responsibility for it.
Can you comment on the constant Orwellian reference to a blurry picture on a screen?
With the nagging presence of the hologram that symbolises the political dimension, we perceive a dystopian picture of autocracy. From the tremors to the quivering and convulsions of the artists, we detect the potential dangers. Does this come to an end with the eventual visual dissolution of the political figure? Is it safe to interpret another reference to the pandemic or future pandemics ?
Dance is an art form that edges on the abstract. And in that it hones the power of dreams - it can tap the subconscious through deep, ancient sensations and feelings. There might be an argument that the abstract/surreal/virtual nature of the concept of politics (meaning - we all agree on the rules surrounding our ruling, and our agreement is the only thing that makes it real…) so the virtual nature of politics is a slippery concept, it is an image, an idea, and therefore in the film, it is shown plainly for what it is—the projection of an idea.
Political leaders are only powerful because we follow them.
In the Tapwan piece from ‘En corps’, tradition and modernity come intertwined in a stunning fashion. Here, the soothing sombre tones of Verdi's Requiem and the contradiction of the underlying violence of the dancing act are quite distressing. Is this the underlying intention here?
Yes. I'm a big fan of dichotomy. When contradicting realities have clashed, a strong tension is created as we can sense the distance between the elements, and the range of reality that stretches between them.
Classical music belongs to and comes from a very particular world. The colonial culture is the one that owns classical music. But that culture also owns violence, power, and distressing materialistic ambitions.
Of course, it is not the colonial culture alone that owns violence –it is part of our primitive and for now what seems an unavoidable nature– the question of the relation between violence and freedom is the one that keeps me awake at night.
Can you comment on the final scene with the appearance of a halo of light? How important is the metaphor of the light at the end of the tunnel, to Joni Mitchell's song Both sides now ?
There is something incredibly hopeful and yet sad in that image. I suppose the hopeful side is that humans always strive for more, for better, to find a way to see the beauty and carry on despite the atrocities they go through. The sad part is that we're going nowhere. There can't be a happy ending to humanity - it is a statistical certainty that it's not going to end well for us.
But…maybe it's not the end that matters.
In 2021, you collaborated with French filmmaker Cédric Klapisch to work on the feature 'En corps'. It was released in March 2022, alongside a soundtrack of your own creation, and the film continues to be screened around the world. Can you tell us more about how this collaboration came to exist?
I saw Cédric's film L'auberge Espagnole in my early twenties and loved it- I connected with the humour as well as the very human and simple side of the storytelling.
When I worked with the Paris Opera Ballet, Cédric came to film the evening and connected with my work. We started talking and he said he always wanted to make a film about dance and this seemed a good marriage… we enjoyed talking and dreaming together and there is an alignment of ideas and worlds.
It was such a pleasure to work on this together and see and learn from the way someone like him works. We were also fortunate in a strange way…because it is Covid that made the film possible, otherwise, my company is always touring and it would have been impossible to find time…
Now let us digress from the dance category if we may! Jean-Luc Godard has just died. As a radical director and key figure of the French Nouvelle Vague, he was unique for his "apparently" slipshod film-making style that has made an enduring mark. Would you say he has inspired your directing?
I remember vividly watching À bout de souffle and being utterly and completely captivated (even though I was very young) by the imagery and the timing of the film —it really stayed with me as it did with many of us.
But I would say there were much stronger influences by more modern and contemporary directors. This is perhaps for our next conversation…
Choreographer, filmmaker and composer, Hofesh Shechter OBE is Artistic Director of the UK-based Hofesh Shechter Company, formed in 2008. Shechter is recognised as one of the most exciting artists making work for both stage and film. His ability in both disciplines defy traditional expectations and in addition, Shechter is renowned for composing atmospheric musical scores that complement the unique physicality of his much-celebrated work.
Having choreographed for theatre, television and opera, notably at the Metropolitan Opera (New York) for Nico Mulhy’s Two Boys, the Royal Court on Motortown and The Arsonists, the National Theatre on Saint Joan, Broadway’s revival of Fiddler on the Roof and for the Channel 4 series Skins, Shechter in partnership with the BBC, created the company's first dance film, Clowns, which was broadcast by the BBC to great acclaim in 2018.
Shechter’s stage work is often hailed as cinematic and it was only a matter of time before creating his directorial debut with the unapologetic and exhilarating new short film POLITICAL MOTHER: The Final Cut. Filmed during lockdown at Battersea Arts Centre, Shechter brings the striking iconic architecture of the venue to film – from the elegance of the Grand Hall, the atmospheric intimate spaces to the labyrinthine gothic corridors, creating an extraordinary film and dance piece which is at once emotionally complex, powerfully significant and theatrically thrilling. Premiering in the UK in July 2021, POLITICAL MOTHER: The Final Cut has since gone on to win the Audience Award 2022 for Best Live Performance Relay & Camera Rework at Cinedans Fest 2022 and Best Dance Film at Cannes World Film Festival - Remember the Future, in June 2022.
In 2021, Shechter collaborated with French filmmaker Cédric Klapisch to work on the much-anticipated feature ‘En corps’. Released in March 2022, along with a soundtrack created by Shechter himself, the film continues to be screened globally.
Shechter’s production Grand Finale was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production (2017) and in 2016 Shechter received a Tony Award nomination for his choreography for the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
Address: Hofesh Shechter Company, Somerset House, New Wing, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 37017490