BWW Review: Hofesh Shechter's GRAND FINALE at BAM
Hofesh Shechter must be one angry choreographer, judging by his "Grand Finale," which I saw on November 10, 2017 at BAM. He gets right up in your face, so the loudness and grimness of the whole thing didn't surprise me-rather it just reiterated everything I've felt before when viewing one of his productions. I can't speak for anyone else, and, judging by the audience response at the end-whoops, screams, standing ovation-I am probably in the minority. What was a 2+ hour presentation with intermission could have been whittled down to 35 minutes. If there was ever too much of anything, this was definitely it.
Shechter has set out to present 20th century history in all its glorious and gory past. That's a big undertaking. The program notes explain: "Grand Finale is at once comic, bleak, and beautiful, evoking a world at odds with itself, full of anarchic energy and violent comedy. Filtering this irrepressible spirit, Shechter creates a vision of a world in freefall: part gig, part dance, part theater, and wholly original."
And may I say somewhat pretentious. It was easy to see in just 10 minutes exactly what Shechter was after. When you have to spell it out in a program note it says, to me anyway, that you can't trust an audience. I find that offensive. I can think and so can the audience. I don't want anyone spoon-feeding me with information.
This is a work that tries to scream out genius, but it's not. It's an attempt to pretend you're one. But then we find out-maybe you've won a MacArthur Foundation genius award, but they've made a mistake. And I can see one in the future.
"Grand Finale" offers us the world. The dancers move and pulsate with energy, the sweat flies. In one sequence, men carry on the lolling, floppy bodies of dead women and whirl them around to the strains of the "Merry Widow" waltz. It's another image evoked in books and plays. We're dancing on the precipice of doom, we carry limbs as the musicians play. I guess it's supposed to be deep. Other times the dancers whirl so frantically that it's as if they've lost control of their bodies. Death is everywhere, so is movement-it gyrates, it never stops. I can only say that the dancers must have been tired at the end of the evening. There are more steps here than in "Symphony In C," something hard to believe.
Shechter utilizes an onstage sextet that is on view at times during the evening. He has also contributed an original score of his own which, mixed with the sextet, can be loud at times, and jarring at others.
Credit must go to Tom Scutt, who designed the set and costumes and Tom Visser, who designed the lighting. The set consists of slabs that are moved hither and yon around the stage while the lighting eerily evokes the doom of all terrible 20th century mishaps. I sometimes thought that the technical aspects of the performance outshone those of the choreography and movement.
Shechter offers the dance world a big question mark. Where is he going? He has received so much acclaim, yet it seems premature. Are we going to see more of the current Schechter branding?
That's hard to say.