So a couple of weeks ago, I had one of my best experiences in the dance world to date. I received the incredible opportunity to watch the Hofesh Shechter Company in rehearsal at Sadler’s Wells, and to host a live Facebook broadcast, including a Q&A with Hofesh Shechter himself! Later that week, I attended a performance of Grand Finale, and wow- it blew my mind. I’m going to tell you all about this wonderful experience, as well as the enthralling piece that is Grand Finale, and I’ll include links to the videos of the rehearsal and the interview so that you can watch for yourself!
A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from Sadler’s Wells, asking me if I would be interested in hosting a live broadcast of a rehearsal and an interview for them. Having already done this with English National Ballet a couple of months ago (read about it and watch here if you missed that!), I knew it was likely to be another great experience. When I found out I’d be visiting the Hofesh Shechter Company, in rehearsal for the critically-acclaimed piece Grand Finale, I couldn’t say no!
I haven’t been to see any of Hofesh Shechter’s works before- but everyone in the dance world knows his reputation as one of the most prolific and interesting choreographers of current times. I’ve seen his name mentioned everywhere, and even my teachers have been raving about his pieces, urging us to go and see them at the first opportunity.
So, this guy is a Very Big Deal in dance. Although I’ve done some really amazing things as a result of this blog, and when working with The Movement and with Sadler’s Wells, I’m really still just a student, so the day of the live broadcast I was feeling pretty nervous! No matter how many times I do it, I still always feel a little nervous being filmed live, because if you mess up you don’t get to start again (and yes I did manage to say “next Wednesday” instead of “this Wednesday”, which is potentially a pretty awful mistake to make if people are trying to come and watch a show, but I quickly corrected myself!) Once we got to the rehearsal studio at Sadler’s Wells and met Hofesh, however, I realised that he is possibly the most chill person I have ever met! He was completely down-to-Earth, approachable, and very easy-going about the whole process, which immediately put me at ease.
While the others set up the tech, I started to watch the rehearsal. The dancers of the Hofesh Shechter Company move in a way that I haven’t really seen. It’s animalistic, raw, but as smooth as flowing silk. None of them move in exactly the same way, they all maintain a real individualism as they dance- yet collectively, they move as one, perfectly together. Even in rehearsal, they were committed to every motion, and it was absolutely entrancing.
After a while, we went outside to start the live stream with an introduction (where I messed up the date of the opening night, brava to me) and then we moved into filming the rehearsal. We did have a bit of camera trouble, so in the first part of the video, the image is sideways! That’s just all part of the parcel of doing it live- you have to roll with it when things go wrong! A few seconds in, Hofesh grabbed the camera and got right into the space, filming the dancers up close. When we realised the screen problems, Hofesh and the Sadler’s social media team were working together to hold the entire tripod sideways so that the video would be the right way up! I wish I had a behind-the-scenes picture of that, because it was something else. Hofesh doesn’t come across as someone who cares much about expectations or takes himself too seriously- he just wanted the get right in on the action and I loved that!
When the dancers took a break, we had to end the video and start it again to sort out the rotation issue with the camera. Then it was my time to start asking questions- Hofesh was genuine and funny, and I enjoyed the interview a lot. I really do recommend watching it, because he says some interesting things about contemporary dance and what people have to gain by watching it. I found his viewpoint refreshing and enlightening.
Later in the week, I was able to attend a performance of Grand Finale. Having seen it in rehearsal, I was very interested to see how that movement would translate on stage. In the interview, we discussed the important role that music plays in the piece, and even though I had heard the music in rehearsal, I had the idea that it would feel different in the real performance. The show is described as part dance performance, part music gig, and Sadler’s Wells even put up signs warning about the very loud music, offering ear plugs on request!
During the interview, Hofesh spoke about being influenced by Kubrick and having a very cinematic style. I thought along the lines of Matthew Bourne, and how cinematic the pieces of his I’ve seen are, especially Cinderella. However, this was in a whole other world. The experience of watching Grand Finale felt totally immersive. There was smoke all over the stage and in the audience before the piece began, making it eerily hazy; the blackouts were really, completely black (surprisingly enough, that’s not something I’ve experienced often, usually there’s some light coming from somewhere); the music was loud enough you could feel it and there was a band of musicians on stage, who took an active part in the piece. The score was immense- the volume of the music made me feel desperate to get up and join in- although maybe that’s just a dancer thing! Even though I had SEEN the choreography already, once it all came together, it was utterly entrancing, and I do mean that: I realised that I did not move a muscle until nearly the end of the first act.
The subject matter- based on a post-apocalyptic society in free fall- felt so real, even though the piece is pretty abstract. It doesn’t have characters, or a storyline, but I was as engrossed as if I were watching a gripping drama. The music and choreography seems to span a whole range of human experience. Fear, violence, joy, delirium, death, sex, love, partnership, group mentality- it was all there. I laughed out loud more than once, and enjoyed feeling creeped out several times. I was just there, living it- what I was living, I’m not sure I could completely describe to you, but I was living it, and I feel everyone else in the audience was, too. Even during the interval, there was a ‘body’ sitting on the chair holding a sign saying “interval”- when I returned after going to get a drink, he was on the floor, the sign reading “karma”, and the musicians were playing on stage, getting the audience to sing and clap. It was just a whole other experience.
Speaking of the audience- Hofesh was watching from a couple of rows in front of me, in the audience. I don’t think anyone really realised! I couldn’t help but wonder if he was able to experience what we were experiencing as an audience, or if his creative mind was too aware of everything that had gone into it to enjoy the magic. I hope he felt some of what we were feeling. Of course the piece got a well-deserved standing ovation!
I’ve been privileged to see a lot of amazing contemporary dance pieces over the last year or so, some of which completely changed me, and others I simply enjoyed at the time. This one stands out as a really different experience, and something that I think I’ll remember, in vivid detail and with feeling, for years to come. I would see it again tomorrow given the opportunity, and I urge you to do the same if you get the chance. I’ll be going out of my way to watch this wonderful company and genius choreographer again.
I want to finish by sending a huge thank you to Sadler’s Wells for this opportunity- it was an incredible experience that I will treasure! If you’ve watched Grand Finale, or any of Hofesh Shechter’s other works, please do let me know your thoughts in the comments! I love getting other people’s perspectives on works.
Rahi Rezvani’s work can be found here.
You can see what’s on at Sadler’s Wells and book tickets here.