Where to begin? With the bigger-than-life-size cardboard sheep? The commedia dell’arte players? The bagpipes and electronic soundtrack? The Leonard-Cohenesque voice slowly proclaiming, “This is the old story of good and evil, lightness and dark, white and black?”
In Hofesh Shechter’s new work, Sun, all the world’s a stage and everyone’s a player. Sheep will be sheep and wolves will be wolves; women will be women and men will, sometimes, be wolves. The sun may appear from time to time, but its brightness is veiled and almost opaque. It is an old sun, and its powers to shine are fading; much of what transpires on stage takes place in shadow or total obscurity, or under waves of twinkling stars.
The work is nothing if not humorous. It opens in complete darkness, with a disembodied voice scarily intoning, “Here, in the empire, we are hiding among you. . . you will never catch us. . .” Gradually the ominous tone both lightens up and speeds up and the narrator continues jauntily with, “Messieurs, mesdames, bonsoir et bienvenue!” The speaker then tells us that to keep us from worrying, he will show us the ending first. And the lights come up, with a group of dancers in commedia dell’arte outfits celebrating somewhat hysterically, their leader raucously playing his tambourine and shouting. The lights go back down, and the narrator proceeds to introduce the beginning of the work, reassuring us that no animals were harmed in the creation of the show. A spotlight then shines directly down on. . . a cardboard cutout of an oversized sheep. And so it begins.
Shechter’s choreography is simultaneously ominous and celebratory; troubling and carnivalesque; pedestrian and frenetic; parody and dead serious. Bodies tremble, shoulders rounded and shimmying, arms fly up in tribal salute. Clowns invade moments of prayer-like solemnity. At one point three women strip down to their underwear and undulate sexually; at another, a gang of men beat a man on the ground. In both these scenarios the apparent leader of the troupe, a sort of histrionic puppeteer, stands with arms outstretched, hands pointing to the dancers and face to the audience, as if to say, “See, this is humanity!” Often we have the impression that we are watching street scenes or romps through the countryside, as if from afar. Is it, perhaps, us who are the sun, watching our earthly creation self-combust from a conveniently distant perch?
Shechter exploits the moments between inhibition and disinhibition, between mania and sacred ritual. The narrator’s voice appears and reappears throughout, ultimately presenting us with the dilemma of modern life: we are able to gather together for a night of culture and art, only because our barbarian thirst for comfort has wrought disaster on much of the globe.
And the puppet-master and his merry band of dissolute revolutionaries march on…
Sun, by Hofesh Shecter, played as part of the Danse Danse season at Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts. November 5, 6, 7.