Photo by Tom Medwell

In Judaism, one’s religious identity is passed down from the mother. If your mother was Jewish, so are you, regardless of the faith of your father. Hofesh Schecter, in the spectacle that is “Political Mother: The Choreographer’s Cut,” revived two weekends ago at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London after its premiere in 2010, seems to give a nod to the concept of matrilineal descent in a piece that is nevertheless aggressively, almost stereotypically, masculine.

The work is perhaps the closest thing I’ve seen to a piece of dance approaching the scale, energy, and audacity of a rock concert. Three tiers of over twenty musicians, washed in dusty, ominous lighting, fading in and out of shadow throughout the performance, like ghosts from the past or angels of the future. Pounding drums on the lower level, driving strings on the middle tier, and a band of electric guitars and massive taiko drums assaulting us from above. The score, conceived and written in part by Schecter, is nothing short of a weapon.

From the pit of the theater (the first section of chairs had been removed for the show’s run) we stood throughout the hour and a half work, nodding our heads with the pounding rhythm of the score, the bass of the drums snaking through the floor and up into our bones. “Political Mother” is as much felt as it is seen.

If we allow the title to be further deconstructed and suggestive of the piece’s influences – or targets – the obvious path takes us to Israel, Schecter’s Motherland. The movement language of the work confirms this as well – a fusion of the lightness and joy of communal folk dance (complete with a cameo by Tevye’s Fiddler on the Roof arms) combined with the weight and precision of militaristic drills, both of which still factor prominently into contemporary Israeli society.

Perhaps after a year living in Tel Aviv, I am looking too hard. Perhaps the weekly folk dance sessions on the beach are too prominent in my mind and the olive-green uniforms of the Israel Defense Forces are too visible in my daily life to look objectively here. Or perhaps I’m just seeing what Schecter has seen his whole life. And in the gray, tattered rags of the dancers and their blank, mournful stares, its hard not to see the desperate and devastated post-World War II immigrants wandering lost in search of a Holy Land.

Schecter drives this point home in bright lights, literally. Where there is pressure, there is folkdance. Illuminated across the stage, unveiled part by part until we get the entire sentence and finally grasp the point… or the joke.

It’s a peculiar statement to splash across the work; its visual prominence has the effect of summing up all that has come before and influencing the way we read the remainder of the dance. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t appear to offer deeper insight or peel away any additional layers.

Which is overall how the work itself feels: bold and thrilling from start to finish but in the end, lacking the emotional punch that you feel it should give for all of the tools in its toolbox.

“Political Mother” is an exceptionally polished work: the production values are superior, the dancers extraordinary. Yet I kept waiting for it to say something, though maybe, like most political rhetoric, it merely states the same things over and over again just in a different uniform, like the dictator that screams at us from among the guitars and taiko drums of the third level (played by Schecter himself). In the brilliant, about-face that concludes the evening, we find ourselves back where we started, ready to repeat the past all over again.

At the end, you feel like you have really gone through a journey of sorts. It’s just a bit unclear what it all meant and where to proceed from here.

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