Sun, the latest work by Hofesh Shechter, starts with a whirl of jokes and imagery. At first, the jumble of silky movement and unexpected sights drives forward on its own energy. Then repetition sets in. It's a good set-up with a fumbled punchline.
Born and trained in Israel, now based in Britain, Shechter has had a speedy rise over the past ten years. He made his name through loping muscular dances with a political edge, often danced to his own percussive music. He's built an international profile – this was Sun's UK premiere, part of a world tour – and will be the first choreographer to guest-direct the Brighton Festival next year.
In fact, Shechter's punchline is the first thing we see. "We thought we'd start by showing you some of the ending," explains a voiceover, with wavering reassurance. "So you know it's all going to be fine." White-clad dancers weave through pretty, courtly steps to a celebratory burst of Wagner. Then they switch the lights off and go back to the beginning.
A spotlight picks out a life-sized picture of a sheep, mounted on a board, as "Abide With Me" plays triumphantly on the bagpipes. More dancers carry in more sheep pictures, moving in little scampers to suggest the animal's movements. Then a wolf picture shows up, to screams of horror from a dancer planted in the front row.
Lee Curran's lighting features a grid of lightbulbs, which come on in a blaze of white or in swirls of moving light. Between sheep antics, the dancers of Shechter's expanded company wear pastoral clothes designed by Christina Cunningham – frilly shirts and even Pierrot costumes rather than Shechter's familiar combat trousers. In another departure, the swinging moves and folk-inflected shimmies now come with balletic arms and touches of formal grace – hints of that promised happy ending.
It's always being pulled back. Unison movement shifts into military drill. To blasts of thundering sound, the dancers' flowing lines tense up, becoming punchy and aggressive.
At first, the corps de ballet of sheep are funny, with their pompous soundtrack and daft little skips. The threatening wolf cutout is followed by an African hunter, then a pith-hatted colonist. Like the stop-and-start choreography, the bogeymen soon become predictable: it's no surprise that we end up with a hoodie-wearing youth and a banker. As the clichés pile up in contrived chaos, Sun fades out.
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