Choreographer: Hofesh Shechter
Associate Artistic Director: Bruno Guillore
With renewed support to extend their Digital Stage initiative, offering weekly archive recordings during the summer, Sadler’s Wells is continuing to share content by focusing on key choreographers in its new Digital Stage In Focus series. Hofesh Shechter’s Grand Finale focuses on the chaos of a troubled world, premiering in 2017 in Paris, where this recording was filmed. the piece has been made available for one week via the Sadler’s Wells YouTube channel.
There is a darkness at the centre of Shechter’s work that has become integral to his style and where the influences of celebratory and liberated tribal movements free the body to respond to the music, there is always a note of alarm, as though a shadow reminds the dancers they will never fully escape the inevitable possibility of terrors ahead.
Shadow, in fact, is pivotal to Grand Finale as blackout and low light are used repeatedly to unnerve and unsettle as Shechter cuts from moments of happiness to containment and death as his dancers experience a range of emotional experiences during the course of the piece. Theatre designer Tom Scutt adds some ominous black blocks that seem to grow in number as the show unfolds, consuming the available space like a void as they dominate their human counterparts.
Where light is used, Tom Visser frequently creates v-shaped illumination as one lamp radiates a concentrated beam onto an individual or group. As the colours change so too does the tone and the stark black and white becomes a sombre blue and later a sprightly orange as several lamps overlap to create a cascade of smoky light in which the dancers revel.
The movements themselves are drawn from an international repertoire that takes in everything from classical ballet to Russian, Indian, Viennese waltz, rave and possibly even the sound of bagpipes. Shechter’s signature is a flow of activity that starts at the shoulders and ripples through the body before being shaken out in the feet. The hunching beat of neck and back is particularly effective and, later in the show, Shechter plays with these ideas by isolating areas of the body to focus primarily on knee and ankle, or shoulder and wrist.
There is so much happening in Grand Finale that its difficult to suggest an overarching narrative. The same sequence can be simultaneously apocalyptic and celebratory. Often his dancers contend with one another, grabbing each other by the throat and dragging their limp bodies across the stage. In some of the most memorable moments seemingly deceased women are danced with in a waltz of the dead, their floppy muscles slipping through the arms of their living partners who carry on regardless.
Grand Finale is about violence and war, about celebration, hope and spirit; it is about death, defeat and being conquered as well as protest and resistance. With musicians live on stage, who at one point reference the last moments on the Titanic in tuxedos and Edwardian lifejackets, dancers are given separate and coordinated patterns to perform but the precision of the ensemble is impressive, not a single arm out of time with the rest.
Running at 80-minutes including a three-minute interval, Grand Finale is a work to experience, to absorb the various segments without trying to apply storytelling logic over the top. As the final sections incorporates ritualistic movements like a spell being cast, Shechter is also weaving his magic. It may be almost unrelenting in its dark vision of what is to come, but the sophisticated incorporation of so many kinds of movement in his choreography makes for fascinating viewing,
Available here until 24 September 2020