The steps and much of the music – an unexpected mix of acoustic and electronic sound – are based on a relentlessly pounding beat. The effect is often militaristic – time marching on? – softened by references to folk dance and sinuous Middle Eastern gestures, switching moods from aggressive to celebratory to tender.
All the while you are getting the message from these performers in casual street clothes just like us: for a variety of reasons, humanity is carelessly dancing itself to death. “Lifeless” bodies are dragged across the stage and flop like rag dolls in duets. One moment it can seem like a party, the next a battlefield.
This contradictory cross-hatching of sights and sounds is heightened by the five-piece onstage band in formal gear playing mostly classical instruments – cellos and violin extending to flute, trumpet and harmonium – and popping up all over the place. After interval, they are first to return with a cheery front-of-curtain appearance that includes the Merry Widow waltz, to which the audience sings and whistles along, by invitation.
When I first saw Grand Finale at last year’s Adelaide Festival, it was disturbing but arm’s length away. Australians are not unaffected by war, refugees and the perils of climate change, but they mostly seem distant.
This week in Sydney, the frighteningly atmospheric effects of set designer Tom Scutt’s tall mobile blocks interacting with the theatre smoke and constant changes of Tom Visser’s lighting designs looked like recent views of NSW south coast beaches as the bushfires bore down .
We have now seen what climate change is doing to our already parched country. A new virus has added to the unknown threats. Are our leaders paying attention? Some in particular should go and see Grand Finale to alert them to the menace behind that title. They probably won’t, but you can. It is well worth the mental discomfort – just keep spreading the word.
Until February 2