by Neil Nisbet
One of the most talked about dance makers this year is Hofesh Shechter. A veteran of Batsheva Dance Company, Inbal Pinto and Jasmin Vardimon Company, among many others, he is currently in Scotland creating a new work with Scottish Dance Theatre where we caught up with him by phone.
Do you have a particular working method when you first get into the studio with the dancers?
That's the problem I don't really have a method each time it's different. Sometimes I will come [to the studio] with the idea but it's never really fixed. Normally when I'm coming to work with a new company I discover it with them, while I work with them. I don't have a very solid idea when I walk in on the first day. That's for a very simple reason, normally I don't know them and I don't know what their personalities are like, their abilities. But I have to say that Scottish Dance Theatre are really great, it's a group of really talented and highly motivated dancers and we're having a really good time in the studio.
There is no method there, I have to walk into the studio and discover it with them and with myself.
Is the grounded, precise nature of your movement your signature style?
I don't know if it's a signature. I know I enjoy doing movement that is very grounded and very soft. I can say that I really enjoy movement that is precise but it's not the only thing I enjoy. I'm kind of hoping not to define my style so I can stay free to use whatever I want whenever I want. If I convince myself that this is my style then I will have trouble if I wanted to do something messy and not grounded.
Everything is like words, in language, sometimes I might need different words, so I want to keep it free and open for myself.
Is there a big difference working with dancers on a commission and the dancers from your own company?
There is a real difference. I think the element of not knowing the dancers is really serious because at the end of the day the dancers are the piece, very literally. When I work with my company I feel I can do much more preparation at home based upon what I know already, I know more or less what I can expect from them and how far I can push them and how far they will let me go.
With SDT or with other companies it's always a matter of surprise, it's very different but also that's why I like commissions. Commissions are [about surprises], because I have to work very fast so I'm surprised by the people, by myself. You have to be a little more instinctive or I have to be a little bit more instinctive when I do commissions.
There is also something difficult about it. The restrictions [on] time, the restriction of not being able to choose the people [to create the work with].
There is also a similar element, always, when I create work. The moment of struggle! Moments of trying to define, to myself, what I am doing, moments of trying not care about the definition of what I'm trying to do. There is always a struggle between the dream of the piece and the reality of the studio, that's the tension of creation I guess!
When you're creating movement is their a discussion with the dancers in question or does it come from you?
Most of the movement material I create myself then I will work with the dancers to try and achieve a certain quality and a certain feel for the movement. It might be a case of looking at each and every dancer and trying to give them the right keys, so to speak, in order to do the movement the way I want it to happen, the way that I feel is best for the piece.
Sometimes, commissions are a place where I experiment with this even more, I do start with some movement material and then I let the dancers continue a little bit. Sometimes I use [the material] but it's more of a tool to get to know them, get to know what is coming out of them. What are there habits, what are their strengths?
But normally I will try to direct them to understand the movement in a certain way.
In the summer you will be creating a large scale outdoor piece for the DanceXchange International Dance Festival how will you approach that project?
With a project like that I will have to do much more planning because time will be very short. The exciting thing about it is that I'm going to work with people that have completely different abilities. [For example:] I'm going to work with street runners, what they call Parkour in France.
What I will have to prepare is a kind of master plan but without really knowing the details inside but it's going to be a tricky one.
Since I'm also going to prepare or edit the music it will really allow me to..... because music is so important in a sense of defining how something develops, how something flows. So I think preparing the music very carefully before I start it will be key.
Most of your work features music created or edited by you, do you need to control that aspect to fully form the finished work?
I don't know if it's about control. I think if I put a CD on and find a soundtrack that will fit precisely with what I'm doing I will just use it but the chances that I will find something like that are very [small].
I really think that music is a very powerful tool and a very important tool in dance in a sense of defining the atmosphere of a space. Immediately, when you hear music, you have a feel for something, you get a sense of something, you're going to watch everything in a [certain way]. So it is really important for me and I feel the connection with dance is very important and I am very curious about throwing text into the air and seeing how it affects our mind when we watch dance.
It's an important part of defining my work, it's another layer of this world I create.
You often use spoken word, and your own voice for the soundtrack, is this pre-written or improvised text?
It's normally improvised as I record it. [Sometimes] I write two or three sentences and then improvise, I read the sentences then I improvise, that's normally how I do it. Normally I have a background track of a sound, I [listen] through headphones, take the microphone and just [speak].
What's the biggest kick you get out of working dance and what is the biggest struggle?
Let's start with the kick because it's more important. The kick is that it's really a very strange form of art. It has so much in it. [Just now] I'm working with [SDT] and I have to deal with the concept of the piece, I have to deal with the music [and] the sounds, I have to deal with the people.
When I say "deal", suddenly all of that is a strong part of my life. The connection with the people, the movement material, the fun of just dancing, all the moments we experience in the studio, the moments of dreaming about the piece, it's a very rich experience. It's very mysterious in a way. We're people, we're living in this world and we don't really understand what's going on but when you go into the dance studio everything seems even more strange because dancing is quite strange actually. So that's the fun thing about it, you just connect to a really strange world.
Most of the struggle, for me, is normally with the creation itself, in the studio, in defining and refining an idea. But if I put struggle in the context of the dance world, I have to say that I probably should be very easy on the dance world in the sense that things happen, relatively speaking, quite easily for me. I started choreographing about four years ago and it feels like the outside world has accepted my work quite openly.
I feel that most of my struggling is with myself and even if my struggle is with feeling that there [are] expectations of me like the last project in London with The Place, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Sadler's Wells ('In Your Rooms'), where they just went "here you go, commission, do a new piece, do something that we're all going to be happy with", they didn't say that but in your head it sounds like that.
Struggling with expectations and trying to still be focused. At the moment the company is in a very, I'm saying it's the company but it's me, is in a very sensitive place, because there is a company suddenly being formed and of course the ways to run it are just being formed. Beginnings are hard in the sense of finding ways to make the company work, basically, finding ways to keep the dancers around and finding ways to support it. There is that side but I wouldn't say it's a struggle, it's hard work.
The next performance of 'Uprising' and 'In Your Rooms' is at the Tanzhaus NRW, Dusseldorf, Germany, 24th-26th January. The as yet untitled work for Scottish Dance Theatre will premiere in the new year and the outdoor work for the International Dance Festival will premiere in Birmingham on May 4th 2008.