Grand Finale. Pic: Rahi Rezvani

Dance, Festivals

Grand Finale review (Melbourne International Arts Festival)

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As Melbourne’s week of climate strikes drew to a close, Hofesh Shechter’s Grand Finale was staged in Melbourne’s State Theatre. There could not be a more apt tip of the (melting) iceberg of a week of protests than this dance piece, which explores what waits for humanity following ecological and social disaster.   

A decade ago, the Israeli-born, UK-based choreographer brought his self-titled Company to Melbourne for the first time with Uprising and In Your Rooms. After returning in 2013 with the world premiere of Sun, he arrives back on Australian shores in 2019 for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. While the wait has been six years too long for Melbourne’s contemporary dance fanatics, all was forgiven once the curtain closed on what could be his most profound work yet.

A notable figure in the contemporary dance scene, he has choreographed and composed a dance, theatre and live music piece with Grand Finale that traverses a spectrum of emotions over the course of a short hour-and-40-minutes.

Ten dancers — dressed in what can only be described as comfortable, beige, apocalyptic attire — move with unity and disparity all at once.

Ten dancers — dressed in what can only be described as comfortable, beige, apocalyptic attire — move with unity and disparity all at once. There is a constant push and pull; they are fighting yet helping one another, loving and hating each other.

Shechter presents a world teetering on the brinks of collapse in a storyline that hits a little too close to home. One can’t help but draw comparisons between events on-stage and our own confronting climate crisis and fraught socio-political landscape.

There are moments that speak so clearly without using words. A sequence where the female dancers are limp rag-dolls, their male companions in denial, moving their bodies as if to imagine them still alive. You can feel the pain of denial, loss and longing through the dancers’ intimate connections with one another.

Another scene imagines a night-club, the continuous flailing of limbs and rolling of heads to the beat of an electronic soundscape akin to a night out at one of Melbourne’s own dusk-till-dawn venues. At this moment of the performance there was nothing I wanted more than to join in with their erratic movements and absorb some of their serotonin.

While the dancers battle their individual (and combined) mortality, a quintet glides across the stage. Dressed in tuxedos two cellists, a violinist, guitarist and melodica player are the maestros to an impending disaster. Think of the quartet that played as the Titanic went down.

The compositions swerve between biblical melodies, tribal beats and Tchaikovsky.

The compositions swerve between biblical melodies, tribal beats and Tchaikovsky. A melodic fluidity guides the audience’s emotions between anguish, contentment, elation and fear. As bubbles fall from the sky, the dancers are in love, the band is playing merry tunes and for a moment, the surrounding chaos ceases to exist.

Following a heavy first-half, the quintet positioned themselves in front of the curtain and lifted the audience’s spirits. This was a welcome mood-fluffer, with the musicians performing as if they were entertaining commuters on the London tube; offering a small dose of happiness to over-worked, dreary members of society.

While the second-half of Grand Finale failed to keep up to the ferocity of the first, it offered a coy optimism. Tom Scutt’s set design is simple: a few moving, black panels. What do they represent? Only the creative team of Grand Finale can tell us, but perhaps they represent a humanity moving through a dead ecosystem, like the dancers, simply trying to exist.

While contemplative in context, Grand Finale leaves a taste of both fear and hope. The apocalyptic performance features an ensemble whose parts as survivalists are a little too relatable. It was so cathartic, emotive and enchanting that I was eager for a second round.

Grand Finale played Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, October 10-13.

2 responses to “Grand Finale review (Melbourne International Arts Festival)

  1. It is one of the best descriptive articles I have read about contemporary dance. The Dance Company would be rapt at what you wrote about them

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