With Grand Finale, Hofesh Shechter has returned to his finest form. It is a full-length work to rival Uprising, In your rooms and (best of all) Political Mother; each of these works being made and remade between 2006 and 2010. It’s been awhile coming but this new piece – deservedly getting a repeat run at Sadler’s Wells, just ten months after its London premiere – has the same challenging vitality and unremitting energy of those earlier works. 

© Rahi Rezvani
© Rahi Rezvani

It is a piece that could be a grand finale to any successful career but here, thankfully, the title appears a reference to something way bigger than one man’s métier. An apocalyptic aura hangs over the action, whether it is in the imagery of the six-piece band, playing their music, standing – under blocks that look like giant tombstones – as if those legendary musicians on the deck of the doomed Titanic; or, in frequent allusions to death. 

The first act ends with the curtain falling to leave a dancer slumped on a chair at the front of the stage, head sagging backwards, mouth gaping open, with a cardboard sign around his neck, which actually read “Interval” but could so easily have read “Quisling” or “Traitor”, as if a victim of the lynch mob. When the audience returned to take their seats, the sextet was playing a sing-along and the man had fallen, face-forward, from the chair, and in his place was another cardboard sign, reading “Karma”. There is a touch of Pina Bausch’s zaniness in these details, which is certainly no bad thing.

It is needless to attribute but nonetheless important to note that Shechter has an outstanding cast of ten dancers. His elite selection process is such that they come from nine separate countries, across three continents. It is surprising – on reflection – that there were only ten dancers because the choreographic patterns in single and multiple groups suggested that there were more bodies than ten (perhaps the onstage musicians helped perpetuate that illusion).  Kaleidoscopic imagery infuses his group choreography with intricate patterning, reliant upon precise interactions amongst the dancers. The work is also punctuated by quirky shimmies amidst allusions to folk and social dancing; including what appear to be cultural references to Shechter’s own Israeli roots. This is a company in which none of the dancers are stars – or even soloists – but the group of ten is as one entity, creating an outstanding collaborative performance.

© Rahi Rezvani
© Rahi Rezvani

Tom Scutt’s set design invokes a feeling that calamity is nigh, especially with those moveable gravestone-like panels (not forgetting a rainstorm of bubbles) and his designs were hugely enhanced by Tom Visser’s superb lighting. The varying tones, from silvery midnight – in which the audience in front of me was also bathed in soft colour – to murky, smoky dust, were outstanding facilitators of Shechter’s dreamlike action.     

Shechter is a director whose oversight of his work goes well beyond the choreography. Generally, it is his own original music that comes first. It is absorbing music; repetitive, building in layers and crescendos, disciplined and yet also wildly compulsive (it is, frankly, impossible to try not to move with the incessant, ebullient rhythms). There are surprising twists, such as when his thumping electronic score suddenly reverts to that doomed band or when it is superseded by the familiar sounds of Franz Lehár’s Merry Widow Waltz

Anthony Powell gave us a Dance to the Music of Time; Shechter gives us a Waltz for the End of Time. But, he does so with a surprising mix of emotions. Alongside the sadness and the madness, there is also humour, charm and an unerring confidence. The world might be about to reach a grand finale; but we sense, too, that this is also a new beginning. Let us hope that Grand Finale is also the beginning of a rich new seam of creativity from this most unique, and multi-faceted, talent.      

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