ANTI-GRAVITY, the latest show by Melbourne dance company Chunky Move, is both visceral and cerebral – an immersive and highly sophisticated paean to clouds and the weight of gravity. Artistic Director Anouk van Dijk has combined forces with internationally renowned multimedia artist Ho Tzu Nyen, whose interest in clouds is well known.
Ho Tzu Nyen was inspired to investigate clouds after reading Hubert Damisch’s A Theory of Cloud: Towards a History of Painting (1972), which explores the aesthetics and symbolism of clouds through the work of master artists. He has produced a series of works on the topic, including four-channel video work, The Cloud of Unknowing, which has since been acquired by the Guggenheim New York. This is his first venture into dance.
The performance begins slowly, dancers performing individually upon a stage divided into squares of light. Each lit area seems to represent a different stage of the rain cycle, beginning with a smoke machine making clouds which swirl and rise across the stage, fall and flow. Gravity in this first half, is represented by Luigi Vescio, who balances stones on his body, creating a counterweight to his precarious leaning. He balances unobtrusively in the near right corner as the viewer’s attention is drawn in other directions.
The dancers transform from the celestial to the terrestrial across the stage: rising vapor and falling rain. As the clouds swell and rise and dissipate, the dancers are thrown between stillness and movement, the pressing weight of gravity and the irresistible rise of cloud. It’s a slow build, rising to almost frenetic peaks, in which the performers come together and flow apart, undulating in circles and lines, spinning off on their own and returning again, held together by tenuous arms and legs, like water molecules in a cloud. They’re physicality is captivating.
For van Dijk, who is known for developing the ‘counter-technique’ style where dancers use momentum (which in downward motion is affected by gravity) to move faster and with more fluidity, creating a work about gravity as a means of further exploring our relationship to the force. Throughout the performance, the dancers carefully trace its contours, challenging the effect it has on their bodies in leaps and climbs and even a pneumatic lift.
The performance is in many ways like a piece of installation art, with pumping smoke, water, mirrors, rocks, towers and even a weather balloon. It is a deeply layered piece, and the attention paid to lighting (Paul Jackson) and sound (Jethrod Woodward) is impressive. Woodward’s score in particular is truly multi-dimensional: a layered sub-woofer droning and swelling instrumentation that pulls the audience bodily through the performance.
Dreamy, surreal and mesmerizing, ANTI-GRAVITY is more interaction than performance, an abstract work of control and abandon. It is playing as part of Asia TOPA, Asia Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts.
ANTI-GRAVITY: 17–26 March, Merlyn Theatre, Melbourne
Concept, Choreography and direction: Anouk van Dijk
Co-creator and concept: Ho Tzu Nyehn
Visual Design: Ho Tzu Nyen, Paul Jackson and Anouk van Dijk
Lighting Design: Paul Jackson
Composition and Sound Design: Jethro Woodward
Costume Design: Harriet Oxley
Performed by: James Batchelor, Marlo Benjamin, Sarah Ronnie Bruce, Tara Jade Samaya, Niharika Senapati and Luigi Vescio