Shechter’s party peo­ple cut loose and dance with his demons in a wild waltz for the end of time

Hofesh Shechter: Grand Fi­nale

The Guardian - - THE CRITICS - Sadler’s Wells, Lon­don Ju­dith Mack­rell Un­til Satur­day. Box of­fice: 020-7863 8000.

Grand Fi­nale is as apoc­a­lyp­tic a work as Hofesh Shechter has ever made. Squar­ing up to the pre­car­i­ous­ness of our world, the po­lit­i­cal and eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ters we’ve cre­ated for our­selves, it’s a work fraught with vi­o­lence, dread and a manic kind of de­fi­ance. This is Shechter’s dance around the abyss, his waltz for the end of time. Yet as darkly dystopian as its premise may be, Grand Fi­nale is lit with a cu­ri­ous op­ti­mism, as if the chore­og­ra­pher, in fac­ing up to our ter­ri­fy­ing zeit­geist, has also been able to ex­or­cise some of his own pri­vate demons.

Those demons have long been fa­mil­iar to Bri­tish dance au­di­ences. Early works such as Up­ris­ing were fu­elled by Shechter’s con­flicted at­ti­tudes to his home­land, Is­rael, the in­tox­i­cat­ing earth­i­ness of the move­ment in ten­sion with the chore­og­ra­phy’s bru­tal, al­most mil­i­tarised floor pat­terns. In The Art of Not Look­ing Back, he dwelt on the pain of his mother leav­ing his fam­ily when he was young. In Sun, a dis­con­cert­ing mix of pas­toral pret­ti­ness and an­ar­chy nagged away at the im­pon­der­able is­sue of how to jus­tify art in a dis­in­te­grat­ing world. The some­times self-sab­o­tag­ing el­e­ments of ba­nal­ity in Bar­bar­ians spoke of Shechter’s need to force him­self out­side his cre­ative com­fort zone.

He once said that he has al­ways been ter­ri­fied of mak­ing chore­og­ra­phy with­out “feel­ing the rea­sons for what I’m do­ing”. It’s an ex­pla­na­tion, per­haps, for his de­sire to keep his demons close, as the touch­stone of his artis­tic con­science; also, per­haps, for why he’s so wary of al­low­ing him­self to cre­ate a per­fectly pol­ished prod­uct.

On one level Shechter can be a con­sum­mate show­man. He has a rare

The mu­si­cians look like the band on the Ti­tanic, hero­ically play­ing as the ship goes down

tal­ent for chan­nelling raw dance en­ergy into pat­terns of shimmering, rhyth­mic in­tri­cacy; the knot­ted, gnarly grace of his sig­na­ture style is purely his own. When his 2010 work Po­lit­i­cal Mother was staged in an ex­panded “chore­og­ra­pher’s cut” at the Brix­ton Acad­emy in Lon­don, the event was more like a rock con­cert than a con­tem­po­rary dance show, hold­ing its au­di­ence rapt.

Yet so of­ten Shechter mires his chore­og­ra­phy in grooves of need­less rep­e­ti­tion, in­tro­duc­ing ma­te­rial that seems wil­fully ob­tuse. And with Grand Fi­nale he is no less con­trary. Sec­tions of this new work are both su­perbly achieved and mov­ingly per­sonal, as if he is fi­nally giv­ing him­self per­mis­sion to en­joy his own tal­ent. But oth­ers are frus­trat­ingly over­long and mis­shapen, as if he fears com­mit­ting him­self to a fi­nal edit.

The cur­tain rises to a sense of bleakly ele­giac beauty as a sex­tet of clas­si­cal mu­si­cians play in the shadow of a huge black slab, the tomb­stone per­haps of a dy­ing world. As 10 dancers emerge from the dark­ness they look like a scat­ter­ing of sur­vivors – bod­ies hunched, hands raised in plead­ing or sur­ren­der.

What fol­lows may be a flash­back to the pre­ced­ing dis­as­ter. As the sex­tet play Franz Le­hár and Tchaikovsky against the thrash and howl of Shechter’s own recorded, elec­tronic score, they look like the band of the Ti­tanic, hero­ically mak­ing mu­sic as the ship goes down. The dancers mean­while start to party, the chore­og­ra­phy flick­er­ing, flash­ing and glint­ing with a hec­tic edge. But threat and vi­o­lence start to in­vade the stage. Mid-move­ment the dancers’ mouths gape open in silent screams; bod­ies fall life­less to the floor to be dragged across the stage or propped up, awk­wardly, by their part­ners. At mo­ments, the slid­ing pan­els of Tom Scutt’s set squeeze the chore­og­ra­phy into fright­en­ingly claus­tro­pho­bic spa­ces. When the stage falls still and the dancers qui­etly sing to­gether, it seems as though the end is very near.

There is noth­ing as di­rect as nar­ra­tive, how­ever, and as strik­ing as the im­agery is and as su­perb as the per­for­mances are, the chore­og­ra­phy seems to drift and me­an­der through the long 55 min­utes of its open­ing half. A no­tice­able num­ber of peo­ple leave at the in­ter­val, as­sum­ing they’ve seen all there is to see.

Yet in the sec­ond half, Shechter con­cen­trates his fo­cus. Much of the move­ment ma­te­rial is re­peated but the band are now play­ing in a rau­cous style and the dancers are lib­er­ated into a wilder, freer en­ergy, as if laugh­ing in the face of dis­as­ter. When the work winds its way back to the very first ele­giac im­age, the band are no longer play­ing on an empty stage. The dancers are now spotlit in qui­etly hu­man vi­gnettes, kiss­ing, hold­ing each other, pray­ing. If the world is dic­ing with death, Shechter chooses to re­act with a glim­mer of op­ti­mism.

With so many fine el­e­ments – mu­sic, stag­ing, per­for­mance and a hard-won light­ness of tone – Grand Fi­nale ranks among Shechter’s most so­phis­ti­cated cre­ations. Some sym­pa­thetic and strin­gent edit­ing could have made it

his best.

Silent screams … Grand Fi­nale, chore­ographed by Hofesh Shechter, be­low Pho­tos: Tristram Ken­ton; Suki Dhanda

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