Grand Finale review

5 out of 5 stars
Grand Finale // Hofesh Shechter
Rahi Rezvani

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

A contemporary dance legend's ambitious new show is playing Melbourne Festival

In case anyone was in doubt, Melbourne has become a crucible of dance in the truest sense: we don’t just make it from scratch, we absorb it when it comes from afar and fold it into the rhythms of the city. It may be too early to call, but it looks like this year’s Melbourne Festival will be defined by the dance we’ve devised and the dance we’ve invited in. Israel’s Hofesh Shechter Company is perhaps the biggest drawcard, and their new show Grand Finale is as resonant, as immediate and as arresting a work as any we’ve seen from them. More than that, it seems to plug directly into our city’s current mood.

Like all great art, Grand Finale is a work up for interpretation. Certainly, it’s about youth and the power inherent in the young; they’re enraged, armed (even if only with their own bravado) and almost preternaturally responsive to the pressures bearing in on them. It constantly bristles and shakes with the vitalising and destructive energy of the young, and it chimes so completely with the Extinction Rebellion movement outside the theatre doors, that the piece seems to echo beyond its own ambit. It’s also a distinctly urban work, concerned with the constraints and the thrills of metropolitan confinement. In this sense, it’s about all cities, and being young in them.

It opens on a man standing with his back to us in front of a portal or grand opening space, staring up into a spotlight. As an image it’s slightly obscured, contemplative and beautiful. Suddenly, he faints, and a mob of dancers moves forward over the top of him, oblivious to his distress. This motif, of a body dropping in the middle of the crowd – from ecstasy, from exhaustion or execution – recurs throughout, a reminder that groups, that even great movements, are not without their casualties.

But oh, such movement. Almost immediately, Shechter’s choreography seduces and bewitches us, not so much lulling as hypnotising the audience with its flow and rhythm. Most of the movement originates in the torso, the feet firm and the heads bent low; the effect is of something bullish and determined driving these hordes, something that might not lead them in safety. But then individual accents begin to assert themselves, people emerge from the blob of solidarity. Not long after this, violence comes into play.

It’s a complex and ambivalent display of social power, and makes a fascinating companion to Stephanie Lake’s Colossus. Shechter’s vision is consistently surprising, full of idiosyncratic stylistic ticks that nevertheless seem to arise organically from the whole: dancers being dragged across the floor by a leg; bodies swinging from the arms of dancers before slipping ingloriously to the ground; great flowing group movement that suddenly arrests into briefly held tableaux. The dancers are brilliantly defiant and in control.

The first act is very much reminiscent of urban warfare, bringing to mind Gaza, certainly, but also Hong Kong, Paris and even the streets of Melbourne. There is a fascinating link that Shechter makes between youth protest and underground dance culture; the driving, trance-like shuffling that erupts into violent thrashing of limbs comes from a place of ecstasy as much as rage. The second act shifts the focus slightly, incorporating various folk signatures, from Jewish Mizrachi to Brazilian Passinho, and here we get a sense of the celebration of the streets, their joy and communal power.

The music is extraordinary, the deep bass of the percussion thumping its way into the bodies of the audience as much as the dancers. It’s loud and insistent but also thrillingly effective, even when it takes an abrupt turn into the famous waltz from The Merry Widow. A small classical orchestra plays live in various locations around the huge playing space, a reminder of the centrality of music, its role as connective tissue. Tom Scutt’s set, with its giant movable monoliths that variously suggest the wailing wall, concrete bunkers and ominous cityscapes, allows for constant atmospheric variety, and Tom Visser’s magnificent lighting, hazy and haunting, is often breathtakingly beautiful.

Hofesh Shechter has produced something truly wondrous and moving with Grand Finale. There is a playfulness at work – notably in the ‘top-hat-and-tails’ dance moves and a comic dumbshow at interval – but also a seriousness of purpose, a harnessing of furious and momentous energies. The spirit of the resistance movements spreading across the globe, of Greta Thurnburg and the student protesters in Hong Kong, pulses just under the surface of this work. It’s a world on the cusp, a distant thunder building to a roar.

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By: Tim Byrne



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