At what point does an artist create their legacy?

I think about this frequently when faced with a collection of an artist’s work. Typically, audiences critique each work of art, admiring some productions or exhibitions more than others, as critical discourse is an important part of the artistic process.

At some point, usually toward the latter stage of an artist’s career, I find myself switching from appreciating individual work to respecting that artist for their entire body of work. You forgive the pieces you weren’t fond of and feel immense appreciation for the artist’s voice and their unwavering commitment to experimentation and curiosity. Quite often, my least favourite production becomes, over time, the most respected piece. The gift of hindsight allows you to realise how far the artist was looking forward.

Grand Finale. Photo © Rahi Rezvani

Salvador Dali once said, “there’s no better way to create a legacy than to influence others with your art. A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” The first time I saw Hofesh Shechter’s work I was truly inspired. It was electrifying, and the reason we continue to program his work at the Sydney Opera House.

Political Mother was a cathartic dance theatre work about indoctrination and totalitarianism. The piece was overtly inspired by growing up in Israel where Shechter was required to undertake military service at the age of 18. His style was also influenced by his training with Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company and as a drummer in rock band, The Human Beings. Both of these experiences appear influential to his creative style and how he builds characters visually.

Batsheva Dance Company’s Artistic Director, Ohad Naharin, is globally recognised for introducing ‘Gaga’, which is a set of invented words and phrases designed to evoke movement. It is considered an anti-technique or, in other words, an escape from the rudiments of tried and tested modern dance. Gaga makes the body available to its environment, learning to use other forces and allow the flow of energy.

In January 2019, the Opera House presented Love Cycle by Batsheva’s former House Choreographer Sharon Eyal, now artistic director of L-E-V Dance Company. Both Eyal and Shechter share a distinct approach to their respective practice, with their originality inspired by the freedom afforded them from studying Gaga.

Grand Finale. Photo © Rahi Rezvani

Therefore, what first made Shechter’s work distinctly inspiring was the exorcism of traditional form. Political Mother was a pulsating rock concert with eight guitarists and percussionists. The physical heartbeat of the piece is driven by traditional folk dance – a movement device used to fend off repressive militarism. Choreographically, his movement language is relaxed and pedestrian yet powerful, dynamic and deeply entrenched in cultural significance. He’s taken the beauty of folk dance and ripped it apart dramaturgically, before fusing the artform back together. This is also representative of his treatment of the music. Political Mother toured extensively across the globe and serves as a rich deposit into Shechter’s legacy bank.

After the triumph of Political Mother – which followed his first major success Uprising – came Sun, also presented by the Sydney Opera House in 2014. Sun was a contemporary reflection on 18th century politics, injustice and war, juxtaposed against baroque style entertainment and naivety. In a way, the work commented on the futility of making artistic works when the reality behind the veneer of theatre was somewhat sobering by comparison.

This month, the Opera House will present Shechter’s latest full length work Grand Finale, which received a 2018 Olivier Award nomination and a 2019 Helpmann Award nomination for Best Dance Production and Best Choreography. As we struggle with environmental and political crisis, Grand Finale is timely. Shechter’s latest work addresses civil collapse, ecological disaster and humanity’s demise. In the face of the unknown Shechter stares unflinchingly into the void and creates a masterful dance for the dark. Equal parts lyrical musical performance, theatrical experience and manic celebration, Grand Finale is an electrifying post-apocalyptic tale of euphoria, surrender and doom.

And just like that, I start reflecting on these hauntingly powerful works as a trilogy. Did Shechter know it at the time? Did he plan to make three works in succession that wittingly or unwittingly reflected public opinion towards oppression or anti-libertarianism?  Or will he look back and realise he’s created a commanding body of work, and quite possibly, a future legacy.

Grand Finale is at the Sydney Opera House, January 29 – February 2 


Read our review of Grand Finale at the Adelaide Festival and our interview with Hofesh Shechter