”Everything collapses but it’s almost like a celebration”
Intervju med koreografen Hofesh Shechter gjord av den brittiska journalisten Sarah Crompton.
“Many times people want to know what I meant in a particular dance piece,” says Hofesh Shechter, thoughtfully. “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”, to ”barbarians”, seem to burn with meaning and the need to be understood. But it springs from his sense that people can be put off dance if they feel they don’t grasp what is unfolding in front of them and are failing a type of test.
“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.”
Having said all that, it would be impossible to miss the fact that Grand Finale reflects the uncertainty and confusion of the troubled times we are living in. He explains:
“I was curious observing the news that there’s this sense that things get out of control and people get panicked or excited. Everything collapses but it’s almost like a celebration. It’s a chaotic state of being, it’s an apocalypse, and yet there is something amusing about it. Perhaps from an optimistic point of view, it’s part of the cycle of life and evolution. Things collapse, and then we build them up again.”
Shechter also wanted to explore the way in which society itself is responding to crisis. “Everybody’s an observer these days,” he says. “None of us feel personally responsible, even though all of us are equally responsible. It’s a funny place we’re in.”
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.”
That mixture of bleak humour and profound themes has always characterised Shechter’s creations. But the actual genesis of Grand Finale was prompted by his desire to explore new territory as a choreographer, extending and deepening a vocabulary that is instantly recognisable.
“I think I get bored quite easily. I am quite aware that I could reproduce, more or less, my earlier work and probably survive. But I don’t know why I would do that. It would be really boring if I did Uprising x 10. I have a style, I have a taste and I have things that excite me, but I want to set myself new challenges.”
Grand Finale is a work that both looks back and breaks new ground, he explains. The new ground involves his decision to work with a designer for the first time, and with a group of musicians playing classical compositions rather than his own soundtrack.
“It made a big difference having scenery,” he says, of his collaboration with Tom Scutt. “I had some sleepless nights about that. Tom and I went through a journey of trying to understand exactly what we were doing.”
The set originated from a dream he had, of a city made out of Japanese paper. “Tom looked at it and said ‘OK, we’re not going to do that, but it is a good starting point.’” Scutt’s final designs, of structures moved by the dancers, that seem to float across the stage, allow Shechter to shape the space, not only with light, but physically.
In the same way, the band became integral to the action and to the themes.
“I was craving to come back to live music because of that urgency it creates in performance, and I didn’t want to do something I had done before. So I imagined the musicians keeping the human flame alive. I explained it to Tom and he said, ‘Oh, like the Titanic’ and then we dressed them in that way. Regardless of what happens around them they keep on going, they don’t panic. They just keep the love together, and the harmony.”
Because he mines his own interests and his own life so strongly for inspiration, the pieces that emerge can 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 and part of the growing and the pushing yourself. Part of the scary thing about being a choreographer is that you don’t have a script but you have to be confident – or even if you’re unconfident, you have to keep on working.”
With ”Grand Finale”, he found liberation in the exploratory approach, tentatively trying out ideas and seeing where they took him. “It was very hard to envisage what was going to happen. Grand Finale is quite a messy piece but at the same time there is something very clear about it. It’s one of the first times that I have actually finished a piece and look forward to doing the next one. I might go back into the studio and get a slap in the meeting with reality but something has opened up for me – a sense that there are so many options.”
For a choreographer who has been acclaimed as the future of the 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. “