Grand Finale

Birmingham Rep


Grand Finale is Hofesh Schechter’s ultimate end of world vision. It is an attack of the senses that evokes the atmosphere of a Hieronymus Bosh painting where the writhing masses seem to dance in an orgiastic celebration, oblivious and uncaring of their or the world’s fate.

It’s a bleak but powerful visual statement starting with the set and lighting. Tom Scutts stage design has several huge movable black monoliths which are continually repositioned around the stage. Tom Vissers mostly backlighting of the production creates deep shadows and forward shafts of light for the dancers to work in and amongst. In one moment the set is like a silhouetted temple, witness to a hoard of ritualistic revellers, the next it’s the confines of rave or nightclub.

Schechter’s self-created soundtrack of tribalistic drums and pulsating white noise is prerecorded but cleverly segued and added to by the live performance of a classical sextet. Dressed in tails they appear mysteriously around the stage adding their presence and music to the continually developing score.

They are an odd, sometimes comic contrast to the drama of the main action where we see limp corpse like bodies that are repositioned, carried dragged around the stage and danced with as if in some macabre celebration of the dead.  At one point the lifeless torsos are piled up whilst they are saluted in honour by two men.

The first half is some 55 minutes and feels a little too long. The thundering soundtrack goes on uncomfortably long and the rasping white noise wears you down to the point you are focussing on its end rather than the performance. Shechter himself has said his work is for the people rather than professionals, if so then a better understanding of what the human ears can tolerate might help appreciate that more.

If the first half was tribalistic then the opening of second half has a distinctly more European feel. It’s reflected in the gestures of the dancers and a shift in musical tone to Russian and more melodic tones. Are we at a wake, some gypsy celebration of life or a death? The dancers join with the sextet in song before the beat returns. There is another visual reference through the Grand Finale that is perhaps of Edvard Munch’s painting the scream. Dancers appear like statues wide open mouthed then perform in unison, again open mouthed, are they aghast at the cacophony they see around themselves?

As we near the close a single smaller intimate space is created like an art installation. We see various tableau scenes and the changes are masked by darkness. Inside the space a group face the wall backs to the audience , then a line of figures sway out of sequence , there is then a couple who embrace and kiss in the downlight watched by seated onlookers the only pure gesture of life and intimacy we ever see. 

The experience is a physically exhausting one for both the dancers and the audience. The onslaught of the drum solo soundtrack does wear thin after a time but the images of the dance are mesmerizing. The lighting goes a long way to blur the performance into pure movement with sections of gentle half-light to full backlit and silhouette.

It’s hard not to fully appreciate the work for its detail and originality and while  Schechter’s intent might be apocalyptic, somehow there remains a notion of the celebration of life against futility, rather than its ultimate end.

Jeff Grant


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