Grand Finale creates a magnetic force field around the stage, drawing in a crowd of thousands at The Esplanade. A modern-day spectacle, much like the opera in its heyday, Hofesh Shechter’s singular artistic vision pulls together visual, sonic, and movement elements to suspend audiences in a new reality. Each scene unfurls into the next — sometimes in surprising ways, other times in confounding ways — like a dream. As his company proclaims on their website: these artists want to move “beyond reason”.
(When the work began, I started habitually taking notes. I stopped very quickly. The work could not be captured in my usual written descriptions, but in images and sensations instead.)
Shechter’s work is often likened to a rock concert, or a cinematic experience. Epic, visceral, total. But underneath the spectacular manipulations, his rigorous craftsmanship stimulate the mind to detect repetitions and patterns; a broader structural order. The ensemble of dancers weave seamlessly with the moving set of tall, black walls. Like in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, these monoliths seem to embody some enigmatic external force, from outside of the world of the performers on stage. The dancers create spaces with their bodies, slithering and leaping and slipping through and around each other. Like messages passing through the synapses, they connect perfectly with each other, sometimes popping up together, sometimes gathering in one spot, until they disappear again. The monoliths move with their own choreography, each shift suggesting a change in mood. The looming sense of the end times drawing ever nearer never goes away. What seems to shift is in how the performers deal with it. They seem to be going through cycles of hope and despair, but rather than expressing outright emotion, their gestures are militaristic, prayerful, flung, caught — looping through some kind of existential hell. At times the show demands our patience, pushing the audience into some kind of group meditation, or unsettling sense of loss. At other times, as when men drag and lift women in a strange ragdoll waltz to Tchaikovsky and The Merry Widow, a knowing chuckle runs through the theatre.
Peppered throughout the zombie apocalypse are glimmering pockets of hope. As dancers languidly, angrily, lash their limbs across the space, bonelessly rising and falling, live musicians keep our spirits up. They, too, move as a mini tribe around the stage, sometimes invisible, sometimes visible. Nomadic, as many musicians are. Dressed in costumes suggesting suits and life vests, these minstrels intently listen to each other, playing as the ship sinks. During the interval, a breath caught between dark scenes, they get the audience clapping and singing along. Come on, it’s not all bad — they seem to be saying — death visits upon us all, our planet demands we pay attention to the harm we’ve caused, or else — and yet, here we are, together, a roomful of strangers.
On a homeless man’s cardboard placard, the word “interval” is written. On the other side, “karma”. The cycle seems never to end, indeed.
The second half of Grand Finale tightens and repeats what took place in the first half, this time, with claustrophobic spaces and more obvious situations. The dancers are at a rave, in a lift, they salute dead soldiers. Two dancers make out. Two men stand like bros, challenging everybody for nothing. A woman shifts suddenly into a seductive dance for a second. What is happening here? Why has the space shrunk? Why are there two walls facing each other? Sandwiched between two walls, the dancers could be in the Grand Canyon, in anonymous war trenches. Like wartime tunnels that run underground, Grand Finale reads like a testimony of the human will to survive. There is no big bang at the end, only a gentle sinking, sinking, sinking. Nobody leaving the theatre knows exactly how the world will end.