Sunday, 17 September 2017

REVIEW: Grand Finale at Sadler's Wells

Recalling flickering flames or dead leaves in a whirlwind, ten bodies appear on stage immersed in mist, entangled or scattered like a fickle substance. Huge slabs, similar to imposing gravestones, are pushed around, creating different shapes and casting long, menacing shadows on the floor. The pace is relentless and often jars with the eerie melody executed live on stage by the six-strong orchestra. 

In Hofesh Shechter's apocalyptic masterpiece, life and death coexist and are translated into a thundering compound of sound and movement. Putting physical force at the centre of the work, the choreographies are raw, intense and impeccably executed by the diverse ensemble of performers, cherry picked from all over the world.

The ghostly musicians often sink in darkness, before reappearing in a different section of the stage. When they finally come in full view, at the end of act one, they're wearing black tail suits and some of them are equipped with vintage life jackets. This is a subtle nod to the orchestra on board of the Titanic, which bravely continued playing, despite the imminent disaster. Lifeless bodies are dragged onto stage and gradually join a slow waltz that ends with a rain of soap bubbles.

Sometimes, the score is inspired by South-eastern European folklore and tribal dances, or emulates the sound of a heartbeat. An all-male chorus, reminiscent of Gregorian chants, is distorted and, together with the quirky choreography, feels like a music video played backwards. The dystopian effect is enhanced by Tom Visser's visionary lighting and its several sharp beams emanating from the ceiling.

For the conclusion of Grand Finale, Shechter depicts a series of tableaux vivants,
which contrast the pounding live score. They're the last throes of a gigantic beast which, after much floundering, is finally breathing its last breaths. Amongst these frozen scenes, love emerges too briefly to justify hope, but in the choreographer's post-narrative message, the bleak state of things must be confronted with endurance and an essential dose of humour.

This is an overwhelming and visceral performance, which echoes and drums on the walls of the Sadler's Wells auditorium. Definitely not a cup of tea for conservative audiences but one that many will remember.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★★
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