Sydney Opera House, January 31.
Death is ever-present in Hofesh Shechter’s deeply moving Grand Finale, and so is an unquenchable lust for life. The two conditions are irrevocably twinned. We are born and we die, of that much we can be certain. As anyone who has seen earlier Shechter works will know, the Israeli-born choreographer is not one to take things with a shrug. Here he storms and rages against the dying of the light, to which designer Tom Visser gives such eloquent substance in Grand Finale. Shechter’s indomitable band of men and woman are as often as not seen as indistinct figures in a sulphurous vapour, frequently pulling a body to who knows where.
When they come together as a group they move with desperate energy and breath-taking ferocity. The language is that of folk dance, redolent of community, heritage and tradition, but in this context there’s also danger. Fists are shaken at the sky, arms and legs pump like pistons and breasts are beaten. From time to time the group freezes like a herd of gazelles scenting lions on the hunt, but you can feel in this stillness an air of exaltation too. Nothing is ever simple.
Grand Finale is suffused with loss and anguish, although this being Shechter there are flashes of mordant humour. Near the end of the first half the score – of Shechter’s own composition, and it’s thrilling – comes up with a surprise in the form of Lehár’s Merry Widow Waltz. To this point there has been a potent mix of live playing from a roving five-member band of five and recorded sound, the former offering the consolations of melody and the latter drenched with foreboding. And then there’s that waltz, injecting a dose of sentimentality, or perhaps it could just be ordinariness, into this blasted place. It’s a very Beckettian touch.
Grand Finale does have a few unexpected, most welcome, touches of tenderness and connection and there is even fun to be had when the dancers mill around the musicians as if at a party. Nothing can stop the fade to black but there can be moments of grace and acceptance. One mental picture keeps returning to me, that of two men bowing elaborately and then falling. It might be the end of days but at least you can go down with a flourish. Grand Finale’s darkness is almost absolute but salutary and Shechter’s company of dancers exhilarating. It is a soul-stirring experience.
Ends February 2.