Brighton Festival Review: Grand Finale *****

Posted On 09 May 2018 at 10:05 am

Grand Finale, Hofesh Shechter Company. Brighton Dome, 5, 6 May.

Ten dancers move in unison, like jogging soldiers on a training exercise, dressed in buttoned shirts and loose wool trousers reminiscent of WWII prisoners of war or North Korean peasant clothing; repeated stark mechanistic movements that suddenly dissolve into impossibly choreographed scenes of violence and destruction. Huge, forbidding black rectangles glide across the stage, blocking and revealing the dark space, looming like the walls designed to divide countries, and like faceless skyscrapers edging streets filled with angry mobs of demonstrators.

So begins Hofesh Shechter’s newest piece, the chaotic, dark, and ironically named Grand Finale, commissioned by Brighton Festival. Moments later, half the company is dancing with the seemingly dead bodies of the rest, first tossing them angrily and with abandon around the stage, then waltzing tenderly – multiple pas de deux of macabre romance and despair. Then things build again, accompanied always by the caustic, throbbing soundtrack – an original score by Shechter himself, with percussion by himself and Yaron Engler, accompanied by a string quartet, so loud that ear plugs were given out; the dancers in a pack, moving like ravers at a warehouse party, sweaty and trance-like, before collapsing, or seguing into gestures of Yiddish celebration dance.

There are moments in Shechter’s new piece, among the morbid grimness and chaos, of deep, dark humour. This is appropriate, given the renowned choreographer (and darling of Brighton Festival)’s take on the current state of world affairs: “Observing the news I was curious that there is a sense that things get out of control, and people get panicked or excited…It is almost a celebration – an apocalypse, yet there is something amusing about it”. If there is an overarching theme to the piece, it seems to be this – the cycle of order and civilisation, followed by collapse, the chaos of death and destruction accompanied by a frenzied mob-like sense of revelry and morbid fascination, almost glee. The choreography is unmistakably Shechter’s, yet he was led by the development of new ideas, he says, as well as by collaborating – with set designer Tom Scutt to have scenery for the first time, and with a group of musicians playing classical compositions on stage. Ground-breaking, mesmerizing, and challenging – the piece is timeless yet very much of this epoch. “Creation is something that happens at the time you are in, it is an art of being in the moment.”
Let us hope that Grand Finale is such in name only, and that there are many more creations to come.

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