Watching Hofesh Shechter perform their U.S. premiere of Political Mother this past Thursday night strangely brought to mind two related scenes in the recent release of the remake of Footloose.
Ren, the main character of Footloose, is starting a petition to repeal the ban on public dancing in the small town where he has relocated to after his mother’s death. The high school senior is not only good at getting down, but he obviously identifies dancing as something that’s good for the mind, body and soul. For Ren, dancing in public also represents an act of youthful rebellion and freedom that should be a right for the town’s teenagers, who are instead monitored, controlled and treated as untrustworthy delinquents. One afternoon when frustrated by all of the slack he feels like he’s getting for being the new, big city, bad boy in the repressive town, he drives to an empty warehouse and dances wildly, “pouring his heart out” visually.
This type of emotional outburst marks the powerfully charged atmosphere of Political Mother. Artistic Director Hofesh Shechter’s first full-length piece opens with a samurai performing hara-kiri, and follows a stream of handsome, plainly dressed dancers twisting, throwing, lunging, shaking, jumping, and skipping as they careen on and off stage. The music alternates between big rock and hard metal, and the conductor switches between a lead singer and a dictator. The music and dancers are fast then slow, loud then soft. A disconcerting sense of mania pervades Royce Hall, as dizzying music and shadowy lighting traps the audience and places them in the center of confusion, tragedy, militaristic angst and angry desperation. It is a chore to remain focused, and not tune out.
Keeping in time with the world we live in, and taking into consideration the choreographer’s Israeli roots, the message in the movements’ madness is whirling around the stage, screaming into the silent crowd. In the final scene, it physically appears as the backdrop: “Where there is pressure there is folk dance.”
What Political Mother expresses best of all is the immediacy, the need to take particular action, whether to kill, to control, to oppose, to release, to move. Dance becomes the weapon, the tool, the outlet, the expression of political desire. Politics is messy. Music is messy. Dance is messy. Political Mother is a chaotic mix of dance styles – Israeli folk, modern, breaking, krumping – an explosive burst delivering the emotional impact of an inspiring peace speech.
Which brings me back to my point about Footloose, and why I take such exception to the following scene. Ren’s aunt comes into his room as he’s writing his speech for the town meeting, and she asks, “Why is dance so important to you?” The teen takes amoment and replies, “Because I want to stand out,” adding, “I don’t want to disappear like everyone else,” as he looks over at a photo of his mother.
His answer misses the mark completely, and as a result, Footloose fails to express in words what Political Mother so successfully achieves on stage. The drive to dance derives from a place deep within an individual, and the tapping of that creative wellspring is liberatory. The urgency to express or release what is repressed or pent-up is essential.
Whether it is a town’s ban or a regime’s repression, the atrocities of war or the hardships of economic oppression, creative outlet through dance marches on. Movement as a survival technique becomes both beautiful and poignant, and the freeing of the body through dance is as significant to the spectator as it is to the performer.
Article on USC’s Neon Tommy