Choreography and music Hofesh Shechter
Hofesh Shechter Company
Does Hofesh Shechter’s Grand Finale title signal a turning over of a new leaf? Is he moving on? Is he extending his signature style, finding a new vocabulary?
Apparently not: Grand Finale is about “a world in free fall—a spiraling of surreal scenes and emotions, catapulting humanity towards its own cultural abyss... a vision of the end of days… a world at odds with itself…” Looks like a madhouse. Or the world today.
A requiem, a lament, a rambling wake, for confused chaotic humanity, full of sound and fury and metronomic time, Grand Finale speaks to me of the shadows of our ancestors, shadows of his ancestors imbedded deep in his veins and his soul.
Is he like Chekhov, a man who,” drop by drop” is squeezing “the slave’s blood out of himself until he wakes one day to find the blood of a real human being—not a slave's—coursing through his veins.” Slave to the past, slave to his heritage as we all are.
If one unpicks Shechter’s musical mélange (assisted by music collaborators Nell Catchpole and Yaron Engler)—his own original music, played live by an on-stage band, mixed with his usual electronica and chants, and Vladimir Zaldwich’s Russian Tune, Franz Lehár’s Merry Widow Waltz, Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile String Quartet No 1 and Suite No 4 in G major—what does one get?
A bitter satire (he does talk of "taking the piss"): Austro-Hungarian Jewish librettist killed by the Nazis, band playing as people are led to the gas chambers, anti-Semitic Russian pogroms against circumscribed lives in the Pale of Settlement in Imperial Russia, village life with its communal folk dances and its drunken muzhiks, Soviet emigration, millennia of seeking shelter?
And Tom Scutt’s monolithic shifting, encasing slabs speak—even to my thirteen-year-old companion—of the Berlin Wall; to me of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, of the Wailing Wall (mouths open in silent wail), of many walls. Is Shechter making a political statement? Will the present and future walls lead to the end of time?
Maybe I am reading too much into a messy smoky impenetrable series of tableaux searchlight-lit by Tom Visser, bodies dragged across the floor, cradled gently, imprecations and appeals to the heavens, flailing arms, death duets (Romeo men dancing with ragdoll Juliet women). Maybe the first doleful fifty minutes with its repetitive moves give me too much time to think. The second thirty-minute half is tighter and jollier.
Do we laugh or do we cry? Shechter tries for both: a corpse on a chair has a piece of cardboard round his neck with INTERVAL inscribed. When we come back, the card reads KARMA. Black comedy, no? There are false endings, military salutes, bubbles fall and dancers stare in wonder at this delirious distraction.
As the band entertains us in the interval with a jazzy version of Lehár’s waltz—what’s not to like? The band, James Adams, Christopher Allan, Rebekah Allan, Mehdi Ganjvar, Sabio Janiak, Desmond Neysmith, is superb. But why are two of them wearing what look like bulletproof vests?
Shechter sure does like head-banging music, but how it can manipulate: he (and any dictator) knows that. Drum and bass drive, infectious clapping—yes, the band has the audience clapping—pulsating beats. Will we clap doomsday if told it is entertainment? Is that the desired effect—easily led warriors and sheep, aren’t we?
I have a flash of imagining us all standing up and joining in the dance. I think I’d enjoy that more than watching this wild ritualistic tribal exorcism, this shapeless shuddering juddering cathartic dance (there are contrasting mystifying moments of stillness).
Its ten dancers (Chien-Ming Chang, Frédéric Despierre, Rachel Fallon, Mickael Frappat, Yeji Kim, Kim Kohlmann, Erion Kruja, Merel Lammers, Attila Ronai, Diogo Sousa) move with restless magnetic energy as if possessed. And do great yoga Vrikshasana (tree poses)…
Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Shechter peaked for me at the Roundhouse in February 2009 with The Choreographer’s Cut: Uprising / In Your Rooms, though his works tend to be variations on a theme.
For the sake of complete-ism I am only just catching up with Grand Finale, which premièred at La Villette in Paris in co-production with Théâtre de la Ville on 14 June 2017 and opened at Sadler’s Wells last September.
It has toured to HOME Manchester, Brighton Dome & Festival as well as Colours International Dance Festival Stuttgart, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, Dansens Hus Oslo, Danse Danse Montréal and Brooklyn Academy of Music New York. The tour continues into 2018.
Reviewer: Vera Liber