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Dance Massive 2009

 Da Contents H2

dance massive
March 15 2009
knowing pop
carl nilsson-polias: luke george, lifesize

March 14 2009
ensemble power
carl nilsson-polias: rogue: a volume problem, the counting, puck

virginia baxter: rogue: a volume problem, the counting, puck

March 13 2009
carl nilsson-polias: splintergroup, lawn

March 12 2009
nothing hidden, much gained
carl nilsson-polias: lucy guerin inc, untrained

dance massive
reality dance
keith gallasch: lucy guerin inc, untrained

talking australian dance internationally
virginia baxter: ausdance, international dance massive delegation day

dance massive
March 11 2009
18 minutes in another town
virginia baxter: helen herbertson & ben cobham, morphia series

dancing the cosmic murmur
jana perkovic: shelley lasica, vianne

March 10 2009
dance party art
keith gallasch: 180 seconds in (disco) heaven or in hell

March 10 2009
passing strange
keith gallasch: jo lloyd's melbourne spawned a monster

dance massive
March 9 2009
horror stretch
jana perkovic: splintergroup, roadkill

March 8 2009
in bed with a mortal engine
keith gallasch: chunky move's mortal engine

limina, or saying yes to no
jana perkovic: michaela pegum, limina; and the fondue set

who’s zooming who?
virginia baxter: chunky move, mortal engine

March 7 2009
rabbits down the hole
tony reck: the fondue set's no success like failure

suspending the audience
keith gallasch: splintergroup in roadkill

the return of the super-marionette
jana perkovic: chunky move's mortal engine

words for the time being
virginia baxter: russell dumas, huit à huit—dance for the time being

March 5 2009
lateral intimacies
jana perkovic: shannon bott & simon ellis' inert

March 3 2009
after glow
keith gallasch talks with chunky move’s gideon obarzanek

critical mass
virginia baxter: melbourne’s dance massive

engineering the arts
kate warren talks with arts problem solver frieder weiss

nothing to lose
keith gallasch: the fondue set’s no success like failure

worlds within
philipa rothfield: shelley lasica’s vianne


the return of the super-marionette

jana perkovic: chunky move's mortal engine

Charmene Yap, Mortal Engine Charmene Yap, Mortal Engine
photo Andrew Curtis

Whereas Chunky Move's Glow (2005) was a chamber work, a 26-minute technological bonbon for a small audience, never losing the softness implied in the title, Mortal Engine looks and feels closer to a high-concept rock concert. A series of infra-red cameras surround the set, filming the dance from various angles, and feeding the information into a set of computers. The movement triggers light projections and sound effects, which also, at different points in the performance, respond to one another, liberated from the presence of the dancer. The result is a complex creature of stage multimedia, generated in real time.

On a steeply tilted stage, a circle of light, an egg, grows and multiplies, jitters with multiplicity, until a body, Charmene Yap, is wished into being. Dressed in a tiny, skin-coloured leotard, her body is nonetheless never feminised, remains the every-body that the female dancer so often is on stage, and mutates, and grows, and morphs, always a bulb of light until setting the entire stage alight. Parasitically, a cluster of five dancers, a polymorphy of purple darkness, assimilates her into an organic, but never quite human, mass. In pitch black, the raked stage is the only source of light for most of the time. The penumbra refracts our view of the dancing body, until we cannot make out human form in the geometric shapes it assumes and breaks, resembling now an insect, now bacteria. James Shannon's solo (performed on other nights by Antony Hamilton) is another mollusc-like dance of bare life emerging out of the stage mathematics. In other moments—and Mortal Engine plays out like a series of tableaux rather than one fluid sequence—it draws on our terror of contagion, subconsciousness gone haywire, loss of individuality, loneliness.

Kristy Ayre and Adam Synnott's duets insert a semblance of human relationship back into this otherworldly world of multiplying cells and evolutionary dead-ends, in contrast to the simple biochemistry that surrounds them—encounter, attraction, devouring of bodies. As a fragment of the stage lifts into an upright screen of television snow, their restless sleep is presented to us as if they were laboratory specimens, two vertical bodies on a butcher's board, turning to and away from each other, physical contact cut short and reconnected. There is a tenuous line drawn here between our wild subconscious and the biochemical Darwinism that our bodies perhaps still remember (in cancerous growth, in radiated mutations); between the primordial terror of the world outside the womb, and the mad jouissance of evolutionary freedom.

Choreographically, Gideon Obarzanek explores every aspect of boundary anxiety as abject forms appear before us: a female body turning into an insect, bodies merging into grotesque multi-limbed evolutionary mistakes, writhing mass organisms growing out of group choreographies, the body attaching to a machine. This is a masculine, if not boyish, choreography. There can be no sexual tension without individual consciousness, and for most of Mortal Engine the dancers are formless hybrids, the duets entangled symbioses, mergers rather than dialogues. When finally, in the latter half of the show, James Shannon and Charmene Yap discover sexuality in a small, physically humble encounter, a long duet of hands and extended fingers, it reverbrates with astonishing intensity. By the time they embrace, Yap's body naked except for tiny briefs, it is a breathtaking, electric moment of intimacy.

Yet the constant threat of technology remains the menacing undertone of the performance. The human body, presumably the centre of the show and seemingly orchestrating the effects with movement, is less important than this set-up might suggest. It completely disappears for long sequences of son reacting to lumiere, or vice versa. The grand finale, despite the presence of dancers, is a one-gadget-show of a green laser beam bouquet turned on the audience, cutting through smoke, and creating a mesmering illusion of being sometimes in a tunnel or a maze, sometimes floating between death and rebirth, sometimes flying over clouds. It effectively liberates the technology from the iron cage of the flat screen, immersing the audience in the stage going-ons, and painting laser images on the auditorium like a canvas. The performance assumes the aura of occultism, a demonic spectacle.

Mortal Engine is an extended metonymy, its own subject: a mad man-machine merger. It is both grotesque and almost unbearably optimistic, an ode to technology akin to UK choreographer Wayne McGregor's work with Random Dance. In McGregor's Entity, another mainstage hit of recent times, and another computer-generated, albeit more cerebral choreography, the same type of asexual, plain-costumed bodies danced their friendly duets without romantic undertones, gender stripped particles in the wide cosmos, struggling to assume a sense of singular self in a universe governed by cold laws of science. In Mortal Engine, the question of hybrid consciousness is not even posed: the psychotic, over-mediated, techno-body is celebrated as an end in itself. Even when frightening, it nevertheless shines bright.

There is no pause for question in Mortal Engine, and no space for error. In our high-speed, over-mediated world it is easy to love Mortal Engine: it poses no threat to the order of things. It doesn't aim for rebellion, merely extends the spectacle.

It is telling that Mortal Engine would have its hometown premiere in the same year that we're celebrating 100 years of the Futurist Manifesto. Marinetti's proto-fascist call to give ourselves to the Unknown in glee, to embrace the velocity and momentum of machines and overcome the dusty limits of history, resounds loudly in Chunky Move's latest creation. This is an important dance work, absolutely pushing at technological boundaries. It hammers its point so incessantly, with such futurist negligence for understatement, that one feels beaten, rather than elevated, by its display of technological might.

Chunky Move, Mortal Engine, direction, choreography Gideon Obarzanek, performers Kristy Ayre, Sara Black, Amber Haines, Antony Hamilton, Marnie Palomares, Lee Serle, James Shannon, Adam Synnott, Charmene Yap, interactive system design Frieder Weiss, laser & sound art Robin Fox, composer Ben Frost, set design Richard Dinnen, Gideon Obarzanek, lighting design Damien Cooper, costume designer Paula Levis; Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, Mar 4-8; Dance Massive, Mar 2-15

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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