Home Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 31st October, 2018
They dance and smile, they leap around and shout with joy – they’re here to deliver a performance that the audience will never forget. But this may not quite turn out the way that you’d imagine it because these are no ordinary clowns: these are clowns that will cut your throat and shoot you in the head – this is a SHOW of a different kind.
Hot on the heels of the stunningly impressive Grand Finale in early 2018, the Hofesh Shechter company return to Manchester with their new creation: SHOW – yet another mind-bending conundrum of surrealist modern dance.
Eight performers occupy the stage, affectionately referred to as Shechter II, a company made up of elite young performers – perhaps some kind of reserve team, a second XI, or a second VIII maybe more appropriately. But there’s nothing second rate about this ensemble, the delivery is world class, as is just about every other component of this show, which is as close to theatrical perfection as anything I’ve ever seen.
Act I (The Entrance) sets the mood beautifully, master of ceremonies is the incredibly powerful musical score that the entire show revolves around. The tempo is set to match that of a placid, resting heart beat. The mood is sinister and the on-stage atmosphere is unmistakably menacing: darkness rules and a smoky mist fills the entire theatre, pushing the eerie greyness of the stage well out into the audience. Act I seems to portray some form of creation, or perhaps an awakening as the eight clowns arise from the depths of static immobility and begin their peculiar dance of death.
Act II (Clowns) dramatically increases the tempo, this time a much pacier drum beat delivers the audience into the midst of a big-top circus extravaganza. The show is in full swing but here the murderous clowns are delivering throat-cutting and head-shooting savagery to go with their more conventional forms of dancing entertainment. The on-stage ambience changes slightly, this time there is a deep autumnal red being used as a backdrop and the appearance of strings of lights definitely seems to place the action inside a big tent. This is beginning to make sense.
Finally Act III (The Exit) takes the pace back down again, though the violence just seems to escalate, with scenes of hanging and electrocution now being depicted. The colours change too, much brighter blues and greens seem to suggest a positive outcome may yet come of all this, but the continuing on-stage barbarity indicates otherwise.
SHOW is an outstandingly well architected piece of theatre. There is no spoken word or plot to rely on, there are no props or visual clues in the form of a set – every last quantum of theatrical experience has to be individually created by each audience member interpreting the on-stage dancing in a way that is personal to themselves.
Hence while it may only be music and dancing the combination is so well delivered it results in an hour of intensely creative escapism. The brain soars all over the place as it looks to fill in the gaps, join the dots, cross the t’s, dot the i’s; and generally just do whatever it can to make sense of what’s happening. Watching something like SHOW is as close as you can get to entering a dream-like state of semi-rational thinking without actually going to sleep and being at the mercy of wherever your dreams may take you.
The star of the show is the music, which is in a genre of its own, mainly a form of mid-tempo electro-ambience accompanied by a heavy dose of the kind of tribalistic / tantric chanting that you might expect to hear in an exotic foreign temple. The audio pleasure is two-fold: there is ear-piercingly high frequency percussion that tickles the ear drums so pleasingly, like having an ice-cold can of fizzy drink bubbling away next to your head; but whilst that’s going on there are also the bone-shaking thumps of very deep bass lines – delivered at just the right tempo to begin to induce a kind of musical hypnosis.
Watching the dancers perform it becomes clear that the music is not just there for the audience’s pleasure. It becomes more and more apparent that each of the cast are taking their lead from the music, and not from each other. The result is a flawless continuum of perfectly harmonious body movements, each individual is exuding their own style and technique yet all eight appear as one. They pulsate in and out of shape, in and out of synchronisation – eight individual dancers suddenly become one biological entity before suddenly snapping back out into eight separate shapes. The visual impact is stunning.
In terms of looks and sound, there is no mistaking the fact that SHOW is so distinctively a work of Hofesh Shechter creativity. This time though everything seems to be just right. And that includes the spooky coincidence that this happens to be a show about murderous clowns being performed on Halloween night. Simple but incredible visual effects, an amazingly good musical score, awe-inspiring dance performances, a theme/architecture that sets the mind racing – SHOW is easily one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in a theatre.
Photography: Rahi Rezvani
|Visual pleasure||Incredible use of lighting and smoke effects to create very specific visual ambiences that seemed to perfectly match the music being played. Just as effective was the use of darkness and spotlighting to draw attention and induce imagination.||5|
|Auditory pleasure||Easily the most impressive use of musical score I’ve ever seen in any show, this one-hour-long soundtrack is nothing short of hypnotic in its own right, when coupled with the on-stage visuals the impact is outstanding.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||The general background theme of clowns performing in a show is there but there is nothing else to go on. Audience experience will be entirely down to how each individual person’s imagination handles what they see and hear. Hence, as a tool for bending minds and warping thoughts, this pushes new boundaries.||5|
|Artistic delivery||They might be the Shechter reserve squad but they certainly didn’t look it. Eight outstanding physical performances, one outstanding group display. Mr Shechter might need to start thinking about promotions.||5|
|Overall impact||Dance moves that I can only dream of pulling off myself, music unlike anything I’ve heard before (other than a Shechter performance maybe), weird visual effects that disturb as well as intrigue. This ticks just about every box in terms of being an artistic outburst that pushes the human brain to its limits of imaginative capacity.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|