Theatre Royal Norwich Tuesday 15 May 2018
Marion Catlin, Culture Shift
Grand Finale, the new work by choreographer Hofesh Shechter, is one of the highlights of the Festival this year. Anyone that watched Political Mother in 2015 would be expecting an equally powerful piece of theatrical dance on the Theatre Royal stage and they would not be disappointed. Dance is not really my preferred genre and not usually my first choice but I was not intending to miss this…
In the first scene though, my worst fears of dance spring to mind. Music and movement from my primary school days as the cast gyrated their arms and made like trees on a dark stage with large blocks in the shadows. However it soon changed. The movements of the dancers got wilder and stronger, floppy and fluid in high energy coordinated moves. Swift, smooth, athletic. It wasn’t long before I wondered whether they would be able to maintain this level of physical excellence through the next hour and a half.
The 10 dancers were cleverly joined by 6 musicians - often I couldn’t spot the scene changes as they appeared first one side of the stage and then the other, in shadows and corners. They were equally choreographed with the dancers and certainly not just a supporting group of musicians.
As with many dance pieces there was no obvious narrative but clearly the movements were communicating chaos, confusion, death and violence, distress and caring, tenderness and love. It was also humorous, darkly playful and light-hearted in parts. The lighting and scene sets were also superb - simple, stark, dramatic. Towering grey blocks on gliding castors which were pushed around the stage revealing dancers, pockets of light, creating spaces and niches but in such a smooth and simple way which didn’t intrude - also part of the choreography. Bright, searchlight style ceiling spots also cast graphic shafts of light onto the stage, onto dancers, onto scenes. One memorable sequences entailed soap bubbles falling from the roof, like snow, gently falling on the dancers illuminated by dozens of lights, reminiscent of the deck of the Titanic as the musicians continued to play whilst dancers dragged their floppy, fluid partners around in a kind of death waltz.
This was clearly contemporary dance of the highest quality and also choreography that couldn’t be overlooked. The dancing was skilful artistic expression but it was also clear that the dominant artist was the choreographer Hofesh Shechter, directing and controlling the many components in this 90 minute drama and composing the music too, which was a beautiful achievement in its own right.
12 hours later, I still can’t believe what I saw in terms of the sequences, movements, timing and expression that I watched. How do the dancers coordinate themselves so well and remember such complex scenes? How do they make their bodies flow and fall as though they are lifeless and yet then spring into life in one smooth strike. And at the end of an hour and a half, the dancers still looked springy and was though they could set off for a run after the dance, so fit and lively.
It was a one-off performance in the Festival. If you get the chance to watch this somewhere else I would highly recommend that you take it!