Grand Finale review by Sue-Anne Hess

****.5 stars

If you knew that the end of humanity was imminent, if you know that any moment could be your last, what would you do? Would you run, weep, fight, leap, dance, destroy, embrace, hide or surrender? As life, in all of its chaos and beauty flashes before your eyes, how would you say farewell to existence?

This is Grand Finale.

Created by celebrated choreographer Hofesh Shechter, Grand Finale is a two-act contemporary dance performance where the audience is taken to a place outside of time and reality. The stage is all darkness, and stark white light streams down from above, as though we are in an underground bunker. Brightness and shadow plays on the dancers’ bodies, and you sense an equal amount of story in the darkness, as in the light. From time to time, we’re in absolute blackness, and it creates an eerie sense of the unknown, the quiet, the end.

The set is punctuated only by stonehenge-esque pillars that are moved from scene to scene, creating authoritative and, at times, dominating frames for the dance sequences, as well as a versatile mechanism for lighting effects. In a unique twist, the orchestra are on the stage, periodically showing up in different locations almost as if by magic! Their presence creates a relieving diversion, not unlike the musicians on the deck of the Titanic (illustrated cleverly by one of the musicians who dons a life-preserver).

For those who are not familiar with contemporary dance, Grand Finale takes a bit of getting used to. There is no colour, no scenery or other contextual clues. The dancers are costumed in pants and shirts of largely neutral colours. Even with the costume change for the second act, their colours remain muted. Further, there is an expressionless androgyny about the performers. Their faces tell us nothing; they don’t speak, and rarely show any acknowledgement of one another. Still, their movements flow with an effortless harmony that speaks straight to the heart.

So, the end is nigh, and still the dancers dance. There are no words to describe the technical brilliance of each performer’s movement as they effortlessly transition from wild and energetic to fluid and nuanced in a matter of moments. There is a genius in the way that each performer exhibits his or her own personality, while remaining true to the choreography. Each of the ten-member cast is beyond exceptional and captivating to watch. Indeed, the choreography is madness and harmony, disorder and unity all at the same time. And just when you think you can’t stand another moment of the repetitive, monotone intensity, it breaks. Suddenly there is wonder, and beauty, and a gentle 3/4 melody.

One notable element of the dance is the way that Schechter uses movement and stillness to illustrate the performance. Performers are often seen to be sitting, lying, and resting onstage expressing a diversity of postures. Throughout the show, figures inexplicably collapse as though completely exhausted or dead, staring lifelessly into the audience.  In the meantime, the other dancers manipulate and control their limp bodies, giving the appearance of dancing with a corpse. It’s morbid, and visually disturbing, and so very clever!

In the program notes, Schechter declines to express what he has meant by the choreography, stating that he would prefer not to influence the audience’s experience of it. Grand Finale presents the tableau, but it is within the thoughts, emotions and memories of those who see it to deduce its’ meaning. Grand Finale shakes its’ audience out of their comfort zone, challenges them to reflect on crisis, destruction, and death. Yet it is beauty, tenderness, and connection that will stay with you long after the curtain falls.

set: 5/5

costumes: 4/5

Sound: 4/5

lighting: 5/5

performances: 5/5

stage management: 5/5