Dancing until the end of the world

The Hofesh Shechter Company from Brighton, England, returns to the National Theater next week with a dystopian view of the world from its founder

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 13

Judging by his works, Hofesh Shechter is a very pessimistic, frustrated man, raging against the world. But he does create great dance theater.

The Israel-born, UK-based Shechter, a dancer-turned choreographer and composer has made a specialty of intensely visceral contemporary dance works since cofounding his eponymous troupe in 2008 with Helen Shute and Colette Hansford, works that he not only choreographed, but for which he usually composed the rock-based, percussion-heavy scores.

Visceral is what Shechter is aiming for, judging by a highlighted quote on the company’s Web site: “I want audiences to be awakened, to experience my work from the gut. Trusting the gut is to me like trusting nature, or God, or a sense of purpose; a source, a spark. Trusting a higher and better force than our limited oppressed cultured minds.”

However, in recent years he has also branched out into other areas, doing the choreography for the 2015 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof as well as the Royal Opera’s production of Orphee et Eurydice the same year.

Those forays appear to have influenced him musically. For Grand Finale, he composed the score in collaboration with Nell Catchpole and Yaron Engler, who contributed the folk elements, but for the first time he used classical musicians, who perform on stage with the dancers, as well as a recorded percussive soundtrack.

The two-act Grand Finale, which premiered in Paris at the Theatre de la Ville on June 14 last year, was nominated in London last year for an Olivier award for Best New Dance Production and this year in New York City for a Bessie for Outstanding Production.

The Hofesh Shechter Company, whose home base is the Brighton Dome in England, will give three performances of Grand Finale at the National Theater in Taipei next week, starting on Friday.

The theater is familiar territory for the troupe, which performed Political Mother there in 2012 and Sun in 2016, both times as part of the Taiwan International Festival of Arts. This time the company has been brought back by The New Aspect International Cultural & Educational Foundation (新象文教基金會).

In Grand Finale, Shechter presents a dystopian world that is at odds with itself, one that is in freefall, dancing toward death. It is brutal, bleak, yet at times beautiful and comedic, a study of contrasts and contradictions.

In interviews, he has said that he was “trying to make poetry with atrocities around me,” looking for a way to celebrate life no matter how difficult or horrifying it is.

In the show, the dancers often appear as if they are striving to create order out of chaos, seeking to keep things as they once were.

As usual with Shechter, they dance more as an army or a tribe than as individuals, although several reviews have described them as appearing zombie-like. In the first half, men carry their limp, floppy partners around, twirling to waltz music from The Merry Widow, while at other times the group shuffles and stomps.

The sets and costumes were designed by Tom Scutt, and the panel walls that he created add to a sense of continually shifting ground: They look solid, but move about, creating spaces and voids that appear and then vanish, helped along by lighting designer Tom Visser’s hazy imagery.

The 11 performers — 10 dancers plus associate director Bruno Guillore — come from eight nations, including Taiwan.

Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) alumnus Chang Chien-ming (張建明) has been with the company since the beginning. He has also been doing his own choreography, including performances in Taipei for Meimage Dance Company’s New Choreographer Project in 2014, or to stage a piece for the university’s Focus Dance Company (焦點舞團).

Chang will also be taking part in a discussion on Thursday next week of Shechter’s works and Grand Finale at the Eslite Xinyi Bookstore’s 3F Forum. The program will be hosted by TNUA professor Zhang Xiao-xiong (張曉雄). It begins at 7:30pm and admission is free.