Thursday, March 17, 2011


Since Chunky Move settled in Melbourne in 1998 they have premiered many different shows (mostly one a year, sometimes slightly more) and I can remember the theme and essence of every single one. Each season has been so distinctly different from the other. Choreographically they have similarities, but conceptually they are unique. There has been series of dances in night clubs, public surveys to inspire dances and most recently, engagement of high-end interactive software and lasers to create the very sophisticated Glow and Mortal Engine. There's always a bite or hook in a Chunky Move premiere. Some might call this good marketing (which it is), but it is more more than that. Chunky Move’s mission is to engage with contemporary culture - in whatever form that might be - and contemporary culture is always changing. 
Cast of Connected. Photo by Jeff Busby.
And it's not just techno and computers either - it's contemporary art of all kinds - even art that's made of mechanical materials like string, metal and plastic. 

For Connected artistic director/choreographer Gideon Obarzanek embraces a three-dimensional installation designed by American sculptor Reuben Margolin who makes large-scale undulating artworks that “attempt to combine the logic of mathematics with the sensuousness of nature.” (his words) Margolin's contribution to Connected is incredibly beautiful, with hundreds of thick white strings hanging from the ceiling. Dancers attach the ends of the strings together with oblong pieces that create a gridded canopy at the bottom of the strings. Through a pulley system and a metal, loom-like structure upstage the dancers are tied into the strings and make Margolin's artwork move back and forth, up and down by shifting their bodies forward and backward in space. 
The visuals are extremely effective - the vast whiteness of the sculpture against the earthbound bodies and the curvaceous moving of the sculpture against choreography that is often angular, rigid, and brittle. Benjamin Cisterne's lighting smartly accentuates the sculpture's geometric possibilities. The five dancers - Harriet Ritchie, Stephanie Lake, Marnie Palomares, Alisdair Macindoe and Joseph Simons - are at one with Margolin's sculpture and each other. There’s especially nice tension between Macindoe and Palomares when he is tied to the machine and she is (unattached) wilting and rising under the parachute-like base of the sculpture. (As in photo below.)
Alisdair Macindoe and Marnie Palomares in Connected.
Photo by Jeff Busby.

About half way through the work, Connected takes what feels like a totally different turn. Lake returns to stage dressed in a suit, tie and name tag and starts talking about her experiences as a gallery attendant in a museum. This leads to the others reappearing similarly dressed while recorded voices start offering more stories about being museum guards. All of a sudden we are not watching the merging of human with mechanical. We start intellectualizing the context of installation art from the perspective of involved but detached parties. 
The anecdotes are surprisingly compelling - one guard talks about keeping people 20 centimetres back from the works; a woman passes time finding typos in the titles of artworks; another man counts the floor board slats to keep his mind busy and a cleaner thinks a piece of stolen artwork is rubbish and disposes it in the dumpster.
This section of the work doesn’t physically engage with Margolin’s sculpture. In fact, the choreography shifts into simplistic walking patterns  - diagonals, straight arms moving in various angles, gesturing hands in and out of pockets. It’s rigid, it’s banal - perhaps reflecting the guards’ daily experiences. Compared to the sensuality and complexity of what has come before, it’s a visual let-down. But maybe that’s the point.
There are two very different dance works in Connected. Yet, Connected, as a theatre experience, is not disconnected. The juxtaposition is a jarring contrast, but it also makes sense. Margolin's sculpture seems to finds a way to humanize the art that the guards can only see as object. And if that's the case, it begs questions about the context for installation art. How is its relationship with the human body different than its presence in an empty room? Who is it for? What's its purpose? And where exactly does dance fit into the equation? I don't think Obarzanek or Margolin exactly know the answers themselves - and they don't need to. 

Over a decade on from their inaugural Melbourne season, Chunky Move isn't resting on tried and true material. Obarzanek and company continually inquire and explore, seeking out unique collaborations and opportunities. Excitingly, they aren't afraid to venture into new territory even though they don't know where it's going to take them. They keep their audiences (and themselves) guessing what's next. What better way to stay connected to the contemporary?

Click here to read my review of Connected in the Herald Sun, 18 March, 2011.

Malthouse Theatre
15 - 20 March 2011

Connected - Sydney Season

 Sydney Theatre Walsh Bay, 22 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay
 10 – 14 May @ 8.00pm, and 14 May @ 2.00pm
Bookings: or +612 9250 1999

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