Hofesh Shechter

Review: Grand Finale ★★★★★ – Apocalyptic vision in Shechter's triumphant total dance theatre

If that title sounds ominous, Shechter told me in interview: “I wanted to capture a sense of our time…that out-of-control feeling that things are coming to an end. And how can this have a happy ending?” * Plus, in a programme note on what he does – or does not – expect of his audience: “It’s about what is happening to them in their head, how they feel, [not about getting] it right in some way.”

These ideas coincide with news bulletins of refugees fleeing fresh violence and natural disaster to colour my response to what I’m seeing – figures in a stark, imagined landscape fleeing, falling, supporting each other’s bodies, dead or alive – often hardly noticing when they drop their burdens. Sometimes the flight is collective, sometimes one or two isolated figures move and pause in the shifting tableaux.

Shechter’s own original percussive soundtrack, with Yaron Engler, combines with Tom Visser’s harsh white lighting and the shadows it throws to add to the atmosphere of ominous apocalypse as screens like monoliths or tablets hide and reveal the dancers who also move them swiftly around the stage. These and the dancers’ fluid costumes are designed by Tom Scutt. It’s the first time Shechter has worked with a designer and it works triumphantly for this is total dance theatre.

The dancers also share the stage with a string sextet, the use of live music making another entirely successful first for Shechter. At first they are placed at one side, later they take centre-stage as the stark lighting gives way to something more golden, celebratory; but always they are part of the stage picture, even the choreography and design, as well as the sound.

That they are in formal evening attire is significant as they play ‘found’ music, notably Franz Lehar’s 'Merry Widow' waltz, 'Love Unspoken' (could that title be significant too?), as well as chamber music by Tchaikovsky and a Russian tune from Jewish composer Vladimir Zaldwich.

Although there’s room for lightness of touch and levity too, it’s perhaps that feel of early 20th-century Mittel Europa, between the wars, which brings to my mind the apocalyptic poetry of TS Eliot and WB Yeats. ‘Things fall part, the centre cannot hold’ writes Yeats in The Second Coming, though of course the dancers’ centres of gravity can hold – they are characteristically centred and grounded, unless they are ‘playing dead’.

Sometimes they recall the opening of Eliot's The Hollow Men: ‘We are the stuffed men / Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw’. The poem closes with the famous lines ‘This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper’. Shechter’s triumphant apocalyptic vision ends rather with a bang – and a standing ovation.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Rahi Rezvani

Grand Finale runs until Saturday 16 September. 7.30pm. £12-£32. Sadler's Wells Theatre, EC1R 4TN. 020 7863 8000. www.sadlerswells.com

Then tours overseas: 1 – 4 November Danse Montréal; 9 – 11 November BAM, New York; 24 - 26 November Dansens, Hus, Oslo; 12 December Scène Nationale d’Albi

More dates to be announced

*see Jewish Renaissance Magazine July 2017 issue page 28