Cultural identity. Displacement. Immigration. These are strong issues at the heart of a new dance venture – East Wall.
Tucked away in a quaint chamber in Wakefield Tower, Tower of London, the organisers – East London Dance, Hofesh Shechter Company, arts festival LIFT, and Historic Royal Palaces (along with emerging choreographers and artists) – spoke of the exciting project to come.
And how timely the launch of such an event given the current political climate caused by Brexit. “This is all a coincidence,” says Hofesh Shechter. He even jokes about making propaganda for the event’s sake – breadstick and wine in hand matching his relaxed demeanour. “There was a lot of talk about immigration in the last two years. It was just a matter of time till the bubble pops in our faces. And it just did a little bit. These issues are really coming to surface.”
The ambitious collaboration of dance and music, curated by award winning Shechter, will explore these contemporary issues. But they are tough subjects to navigate. Something Shechter admits. Yet “dance and music are very good at bringing people together,” he says, and the purpose of East Wall is to explore these complex issues as a community, in an attempt to reduce the amount of division they may otherwise unearth.
Schechter’s work has always been imbued with the ‘spirit of the times’ they were created in. And this venture aims to be as experimental and thought-provoking as previous works linked to his name. “I talk about Jerusalem, and how when you are in the old city, there is this palpable tension between the different religions,” he says with a reminiscent air about him. “When you’re in London, sometimes people talk about it, sometimes not. But there is also a palpable tension between class, between race… it’s there. The British are treading very carefully around it. For me, I want to create a work of contemporary dance that reveals and brings to surface the issues of the time.”
Asked about his personal relation to cultural identity and displacement, Schechter (native to Israel) points to his nationality. “I have a German nationality. What am I doing here now? Am I British?” he asks. “I’ve been here for 14 years, I’m working here, my company’s here. I love England, I love London, I love the UK. I don’t have an agenda, the reasons I chose to explore these issues are because they are here. They are waiting to be opened up.”
Shechter has assembled a team of talented up-and-coming choreographers to carry out this mission – Hannah Anderson-Ricketts, Lee Griffiths, Erion Kruja, Robia Milliner, Becky Namgauds, Duwane Taylor and Joseph Toonga. “I feel that naturally just by gathering these people together, these issues are going to bubble up,” he adds. “And we’re going to express them and ourselves the way it comes.”
The venture so far has been an “exciting” one, with promises of more collaboration from Shechter. “The variety [of choreographers] is amazing, they have a lot to say, they have very interesting movement vocabularies,” he says. “I learnt a lot from them. I felt that my role here was to facilitate and introduce them to how to open up and be free. To let it flow. In 2018 it will be much more collaborative. I will be the master chef. I will conduct and choreograph it all.”
The large scale production will take place at the Tower of London’s moat – home to the ceramic red poppies on display in 2014 – and will bring together a diverse cast of young dancers and musicians to herald the unique cultural identity of East London. The venue will attempt to marry the culturally old (the building) with the culturally new (young people/artists). “Who owns this building actually? Do we feel that we belong here?,” he asks. “If an immigrant grows up here in Tower Hamlet, do they actually feel like they belong here? These are interesting questions to ask and explore.”
East Wall will be looking and thinking about the past and present, looking and thinking about the communities around, and the connection of history to each individual. “We’re all in this boat together now,” he says. “So what do we do to make it better now? How? That feeling for me will be the most powerful.
“But it’s just a dance piece,” he concludes laughing. “We’ll see!”
The prelude production of East Wall will take place on 2 July on Stratford’s Roof East as part of LIFT festival, with the main event opening in Summer 2018.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz