Just a few disconnected thoughts on Schechter’s “Political Mother,” currently completing its run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The show comes wrapped up in a radical package: it’s loud, it’s angry, it’s a commentary on power and conformism! Suck it up! In reality, it’s vacuous: sound and fury, signifying nothing. The politics are vague and outdated: even the style of our dictators has changed. The authoritarian despot who screams and intimidates from atop a balcony (like the faceless man in Schechter’s nightmare vision) has, for the most part, been replaced by cajolers and folksy types who know where the real power lies—in the media and the services of the secret police. Today dictators know that lies and fast-talk are far more insidious than browbeating. What’s so enraging about Schechter’s critique is that it’s so un-specific. Who is the enemy? Third-world despots? Israel? The West? Ourselves? Your guess is as good as mine. The only clue comes at the end, when the words “where there is pressure there is folk dance” appear, spelled out in lights. Much of the dancing has a vaguely Middle-Eastern folk feel: circle-formations, arms upheld or intertwined, bouncy steps, and bent knees. Aha! perhaps the “system” Schechter is rebelling against lies somewhere in that part of the world. (After all, he was born in Israel; though his company is based in the UK.) If so, the figure screaming atop a raised platform, grunting gutturally into a microphone, seems even more misplaced, more Hitler or Perón than Netanyahu or Ahmadinejad.
The production values are impressive; really beautiful, sculptural lighting creates cones and beams and triangles of light which, with the help of a thick, omnipresent fog, appear solid enough to bite into. (The lighting design is by Lee Curran.) Tireless, liquid-moving dancers, seemingly able to morph into any shape, sink soundlessly into the ground only to spring up again with mad bursts. In the final section, they take it up another notch, dancing at a velocity meant to evoke sped-up film, without losing clarity. They are impressive, and impressively diverse to boot, and they make the most of Schechter’s very limited vocabulary, which combines the communal feel of folk dance with the boneless liquidity of street-dance forms like Jookin. But Jookin displays a far greater variety of moves than this choreography (and a sense of humor) and folk dance is capable of a far wider range of emotion and rhythmic complexity. (Not to mention that Schechter’s vocabulary in this work is very similar to that of a recent work he set on Cedar Lake, “Violet Kid.”) The first image, of a Samurai preforming hara-kiri to Bach choreal music, seemed to hover in a dreamlike, cinematic space that lingered in one’s mind more tenaciously than the dancing that followed.
Not to mention that most of the movement is done in unison—some counterpoint creeps in at the end—and to a relentless, ear-splitting 4/4 beat. The score is by Schechter, who used to play in a rock band, and consists of heavy percussion and wailing rock guitars, with further assistance from the aforementioned screamer and electronic backup. Four percussionists beat their drums onstage, cloaked in half-darkness, wearing military gear. The guitarists rock out from their perch above the stage, under beams of creamy light. Except for a few brief moments of Bach and Verdi—also broadcast at top volume—and some welcome passages of silence, the audience is treated to an hour-long barrage of un-varying rhythm, a relentless march toward oblivion. Little scenelets emerge, divided by blackouts, obviating the need for development of any single idea. The dancers kneel, tremble, run, grapple, and fold into themselves or, conversely, stand in submissive poses with their hands above their heads. They are the victimized, or, as Pink Floyd called them, the bricks in the wall. But then, Pink Floyd’s “Wall” was a more convincing, more anxiety-producing indictment of conformity and the abuse of power than “Political Mother.”