Photo – Rahi Rezvani
Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter is no stranger to Melbourne audiences – his pulsing contemporary dance has featured regularly in the Melbourne Festival.
Grand Finale is a large and sprawling piece, bursting with a nihilistic energy – tribal and elegiac all at once. Ten dancers – equal parts men and women democratized in baggy pedestrian clothes and socks – unrelentingly dance through bleak scenarios, tinged with ecstasy and release.
Combinations come hard and fast as the bodies, seemingly appearing from the darkness, blend in and out of formations that run the gamut of proud chested militaristic bravado to deep-squatted folkloric riffs.
Smokey lighting (by Tom Vissar) blurs the entries and exits and large sliding plinths continuously reshape the space into corridors, walls and partitions (set by Tom Scutt).
It’s a dark human condition writ large in the mass of frenetic, loose-limbed bodies, all to a rhythmic score booming with rock concert intensity. Shechter is also credited as composer (he designs the music for his works). Here he ambitiously mixes Tchaikovsky, Lehar and Zaldwich with his own percussion – then layers a live string quintet to play on top.
One musician wears a life jacket and the musical group keeps appearing and playing their tunes in different locales on stage (as well as playing bawdily throughout the interval), dancing to the death, so to speak.
Grand Finale’s Act 1 sprawls for 50 minutes. A tighter second act, (with the dancers costumed in red-accented, more sporty style clothes) keeps exploring both unity and fracture of the group. Extending on the first half, a slightly more upbeat vibe prevails, at least momentarily, when the ensemble collectively party to klezmer euphoria.
Against images of lone figures in emotional distress or a ensemble of slowly waltzing men with lifeless female bodies draped over their shoulder, Grand Finale’s glimpses of pure release and joy are the exception not the rule.
Grand Finale could be a shorter, single act onslaught without losing its emotional punch. For as much as the choreography infectiously surges and is awash with never-ending movement combinations, it is also single-mindedly dark and unforgiving, cyclical in momentum until its last bow.
Still, it’s a powerful, gritty work, highly visceral and contagious for the drive of booming collectivity and the wide tapestry of gesture and innuendo weaved through the expansive choreography.
2019 Melbourne International Arts Festival
Hofesh Schecter Company
Choreographer Hofesh Shechter
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre
Dates: 10 – 13 October 2019