“When someone sits and watches the performance, it is about what is happening to them in their head" Hofesh Shechter on Grand Finale
“Many times people want to know what I meant in a particular dance piece,” says Hofesh Shechter, “And I think it doesn't really matter. What matters is what happens on stage, then if something happens to the audience when they watch it. Or not.”
This is an unexpected observation from a choreographer whose works from Cult to the mighty Political Mother seem to burn with meaning and the need to be understood, but for Shechter “When someone sits and watches the performance, it is about what is happening to them in their head, how they feel. It doesn't matter that they get it right in some way.”
Grand Finale reflects the uncertainty and confusion of the troubled times we are living in, and the title of the piece, with its reference to the flourishes of classical ballet, underlines its mix of deep seriousness and playfulness. “I like that it's clashing with what is essentially quite a dark work,” he says. “It's a title I've wanted to use for a few years and I thought I had better use it while I was still young. To me, it's very funny.”
The mixture of bleak humour and profound themes have always characterised Shechter's creations, but the actual genesis of Grand Finale was prompted by his desire to explore new territory as a choreographer. “I am quite aware that I could reproduce, more or less, my earlier work and probably survive. But it would be really boring if I did. I have a style, I have a taste, and I have things that excite me, but I want to set myself new challenges.”
Shechter worked with his dancers in a studio in a remote village in Italy, far from the madding crowd, where the concentration and peace was “amazing” and triggered a burst of ideas: “I felt I wanted to go back into something I had abandoned for a few years, which was dealing with the actual skilfulness of choreography, of actually moving bodies on stage.
“We started in a very experimental manner, trying to develop the material. For me the group working together in contact was a big thing that hadn't happened before in my work. And a lot of things that actually happen on stage were discovered in the studio.”
Shechter's pieces can often feel exposing, “but I stand behind the idea of going with what happens and not being too careful because it's all part of the process. Part of the scary thing about being a choreographer is that you don't have a script but you have to be confident.
For a choreographer who has been acclaimed as the future of dance since the moment his piece Cult won the audience award at the Place Prize in 2004, the need to have an ongoing sense of discovery is acute. Both the outside world and his inner desire to make new work constantly push him onward. But the journey is never simple.
“Looking at the future of your creation is like looking at the ocean in the night,” he explains. “You know it is there, and you might be able to swim as far as you can, you might not, you just don't know.
“So really, at the moment of Cult I couldn't know that I was going to make a piece like Grand Finale. Creation is something that happens in the time you are in; it's an art of being in the moment. “
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