25 March 2015 at 4.00pm | Comment on this article
Mark Monahan: In recent years, Covent Garden audiences have grown increasingly accustomed to the sight of contemporary dance. But even so, the prospect of Hofesh Shechter – creator of such pile-drivingly modern shows as In your rooms and Political Mother – in the Royal Opera House…
Hofesh Shechter: I may keep some audiences away.
MM: I wasn’t going to say that!
HS: You made me say it!
MM: In fact, it’s such a riveting prospect that all five performances have already sold out. But how did the project come about?
HS: Kevin [O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet] approached me maybe two or three years ago, just to see how I would feel about it. We were toying with the idea for a while, and were trying to find the time for a workshop, for a week where I could work with the dancers and see how it went.
MM: Your past pieces have explored everything from male bonding and aggression (Uprising) and existential angst (In your rooms) to the tyranny of oppressive regimes (Political Mother). What can we expect now?
HS: My first thought was immediately about the scale – and then, other thoughts crept in. We’re in a period where everybody speaks about immigration, and I couldn’t help but remember that I’m an immigrant. My work is so different from what they have here normally. I feel I have to speak in a language that is understandable to a Royal Opera House audience, but it must be my language. I have to make sure that there is a shift of energy, a sense that there’s a stranger in the house. I want a feeling of ‘the other’, and of epicness too. Some of the audience will think, ‘Oh, that’s really beautiful’, like when you go to, say, India, and you experience something entirely new. And others will think, ‘What is he doing on my stage?’.
MM: Most choreographers in your position would choose a few principals, a few soloists, and a corps of whatever size, but you’ve thrown all that out.
HS: Yes. I knew that I wanted to make a group piece, and I knew that there is a hierarchy here, and I didn’t want to deal with any of that. The work is about a group, and I suggested to Kevin that perhaps it’s better if the principals don’t come.
MM: And how did you find working with these emphatically classical dancers?
HS: A lot of them have never done anything other than ballet, so when they started to do my movement… I mean, my first day here was not fun – I was looking at the door quite a lot. But I was really thinking, how do I transform that situation to a place where we ‘get’ each other? I could see that they were very keen, and very talented, but it was far from immediate. There were maybe two or three people for whom it was immediate, but I had 60 people in front of me.
MM: But the cast is 20-strong, no?
HS: Yes – but I wanted to see everybody I could, and choose from them. After two or three days, though, they were working really hard and were really progressing. And after about one week, I thought, something will happen, it’ll be OK.
MM: I’ve a hunch you may be right.
HS: [Laughs] I’m curious, actually. I’m curious about how it’s going to come together.
We are doing our best – it’s really exciting, but we’ll see. I hope it’ll be a good night out.
This is an edited extract from Mark Monahan’s article ‘A Stranger in the House’ in The Royal Ballet’s programme book, available during performances and from the ROH Shop.
Untouchable is staged with generous philanthropic support from Georgia Rosengarten.