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1 May 2024

Hofesh Shechter’s From England with Love questions national identity

The Southbank Centre dance production is a paean to Englishness, blending Purcell with rock and electronics.

By Zuzanna Lachendro

Hofesh Shechter’s From England with Love had its UK premiere at the Southbank Centre on 17 April, starting its international tour with one central question: what does it mean to be English? Choreographed and composed by Shechter, a London-based Israeli, this is a paean to Englishness, blending works by Henry Purcell and William H Monk with rock and electronics.

Shechter’s reflection on English identity relies on some well-worn stereotypes: a rainy soundscape and the shattering and rattling of teacups. His dancers wear school uniforms emblazoned with coats of arms that Shechter designed himself, and perform a contemporary sequence to a slowed-down version of “God Save the King”. As is often the case in depictions of English identity, the production struggles to locate Englishness within Britishness more broadly.

The 55-minute piece opened with a choral song and classical ballet movements performed in unison, alluding to preconceptions of formal, stiff, traditional English manners. As the performance went on, the dancers’ uniforms became more dishevelled as rock music blared and the choreography became erratic, the eight dancers thrashing in clusters across the stage. Is this hinting at the rise of English nationalism? Shechter suggests searching for a fixed English identity is like walking in the dark – quite literally, as one of the dancers crossed the blacked-out stage with only a candle to light her way.

The choreography concludes with a soft white wash and birdsong guiding the dancers as they leave and return across the stage – saying goodbye to an old version of Englishness, but reluctant to embrace a new one. Shechter did not set out to answer the question of what the English identity is. Rather, he provoked the audience – international, and both young and old – to consider its ever-changing nature. His fluid, contemporary choreography is – like the English question – open to interpretation.

Shechter II
Southbank Centre, London SE1

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[See also: How Swan Lake became a cultural phenomenon]

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This article appears in the 01 May 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Forward March