The end of the world is here – let’s party. This, roughly, is the premise of Grand Finale, Hofesh Shechter’s latest wild and whirling work, in which he grapples with our apocalyptic times and sends us dancing towards the abyss. His ten dancers are a frenetic, seething mass, throwing themselves into pugnacious martial formations, writhing and brawling, celebrating with the jagged jocularity of survivors, or tenderly cradling their dead. It is, according to the publicity blurb, both comic and bleak. I found it merely frustrating.
Grand Finale is ambitious for Shechter in that he has worked with a designer for the first time: Tom Scutt’s shifting grey blocks are made to suggest towering tombstones, dividing walls, places of confinement or places of refuge, and work well with Tom Visser’s sculptural lighting. Shechter also adds six musicians, moving stealthily around the stage, but their contribution is largely wiped out by the overwhelming, rave-like bass and drum-driven soundtrack (created by Shechter) that is blasted at us as though to pummel us into submission – the kind of wall of noise that only really feels good if you are moving with it, rather than just watching others do so.
When it comes to the choreography, however, Shechter seems to have stayed very much within his comfort zone. His dancers move with that crouching, undulating, combative style we have seen so often before: arms twisting round head and body as they swirl like flotsam on a storm surge; or adopting a synchronised loose weight-shifting style while throwing their arms out in frenzied shapes, like pilled-up ravers. There’s a sense of the primitive and the tribal, a hint of the comforting communality of the folkloric. The urgency is compelling – but, also as usual, you start to realise these defiantly bold gestures aren’t actually conveying any meaning.
With no narrative drive, it’s a messy, thrashing sprawl: 90 minutes, inexplicably split by an interval, of boisterous rowdiness punctuated by some occasional piercing images – dancing with “dead” partners who slip out of embracing arms and sprawl on the floor; dancers with gaping mouths like so many Munch Screams – and a jumble of clichés (martial arts moves, dancers in a swaying line for no discernible reason). It becomes increasingly flighty as it progresses, the jumps in tone more jarring, as though Shechter can’t bear to see one idea through, until we finally wash up against a series of spotlit tableaux that reach for an emotional reaction from us that the rest of the piece hasn’t earned.
A truly searing danced response to the chaos and despair of our present times is possible – Crystal Pite achieved it in Flight Pattern this year. Grand Finale, for all its clamorous, spirited insistence, feels like a poorer offering.