The Hofesh Shechter Company presents a very different image of dancerly prowess. Ever felt like knocking your troubles out? Down for the count and beyond? I’m not talking about slash and flail; I’m thinking clear, direct, strong, relieving punches. It’s too bad one can’t just hire this group and turn the performers loose on any lurking problems. They beat the surrounding air into submission more imaginatively than any dancers I can think of.

That’s not their main ambition, of course. Artistic director-choreographer-composer Shechter—now making waves in England—was raised in Israel, where he danced for a time with the Batsheva Dance Company under the leadership of Ohad Naharin. You can sense in his choreographic choices—as you can in Naharin’s—the shadowy impact of the compulsory military duty that confronts all young Israelis. Especially in Shechter’s gripping, gut-busting Uprising (2006), immaculate spatial patterns insinuate images of precision drills that form out of nowhere, dissolve, and re-form. When the seven powerful and very individual men in workaday clothes (including Shechter) leave off their concerted actions, it’s to pause or brood for a while, to writhe on the floor, to make casual gestures to one another, to grapple one-on-one, and to catch, embrace, or comfort a comrade. If disintegration threatens, one of the men will yell, and the others will again fall in.

The ambiance of Uprising is not unfamiliar in today’s dance world. High at the back of the stage, a row of overhead lights intermittently beams toward us across a dark, smoke-filled space. At Jacob’s Pillow, the Ted Shawn Theatre’s old wooden barn walls add a rough-hewn severity to the piece. Shechter’s electronic score pounds and roars and throbs mercilessly, except when it cuts out entirely for seconds. The dancing too is pounding and earthy. These guys like to keep their knees bent and their feet apart. In this squad, oblique is not an influential adjective.

Oxana Panchenko and Tim Morris of Ballet Boyz in Rafael Bonachela's EdOx.
Ben Rudick
Oxana Panchenko and Tim Morris of Ballet Boyz in Rafael Bonachela's EdOx.

Details

Hofesh Shechter Company
Jacobís Pillow, Becket, Massachusetts
July 9 through 13

Ballet Boyz
Jacobís Pillow, Becket, Massachusetts
July 16 through 20

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What’s memorable about the movement in Uprising are the animal images—big birds running, monkeys swinging along. One by one or in pairs, men lope across the stage in a squat, using one hand to help propel themselves along. Shechter’s strength as a choreographer also lies in his sense of shifting architecture—the way his sharp-edged images of the human body, working at a high level of vigor, combine, split apart, and counterpoint one another. He doesn’t really build these striking images toward a climax, however. It’s a surprise when one man suddenly vaults up the hill created by his clustered colleagues and waves a T-shirt as a red flag.

In Your Rooms (2007) is also fierce. This time, five women join all the men but Shechter. Now five musicians play stringed instruments and percussion along with a soundtrack that samples Sigur Ros and features ramblings about chaos and order by a male voice (this score is also by Shechter). Sitting on a platform high on the back wall, the musical ensemble looks, in Lee Curran’s dark glow of light, as if it were suspended. The scene below—except for a dire, scrabbling solo by Yen Ching Lin—seems to be less about chaos than about order glimpsed only in discrete fragments. We see fraught, or potentially fraught, encounters that look as if they’ve been severed in chunks from some larger reality we can only guess at. Pumping, thrusting, thrashing, falling, slipping in and out of embraces, the dancers rush into windows of light and dash away again.

Here, too, Shechter doesn’t show development. Close to the end, a man and woman kiss, and suddenly that seems significant, but his skill is for creating exciting building blocks of movement and rearranging and juxtaposing them in expressive ways. You yearn to understand what holds the pieces together, even as you’re gripped by the ordeals of these terrific performers.

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