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Anti-Gravity (Chunky Move, Dance Massive)

21 March 2017 | 7:11 pm | Maxim Boon

"Dance that is both of the earth and the air, of both thought and action."

Gravity is undeniable. Its force effects every action of our universe, from the inconsequential jangling of pocket change to the awesome ebb and flow of star stuff in the cosmic ballet of constellations. And yet, we cannot see gravity. We cannot hold it, touch it, or capture it in any tangible sense. It is, and yet at the same time it isn't; a force that exists simultaneously in the physical and the abstract.

The intersections between those influences the body can engage with and other phenomena that escape human intervention are masterfully explored in Chunky Move's latest large-scale outing. This collaboration between choreographer and artistic director Anouk van Dijk and multi-media artist Ho Tzu Nyen is a fearlessly complex and visually arresting study of natural forces and the way artistic expression can defy them.

Van Dijk is an experienced hand at knitting together the input of many creative minds, which is fortunate given the bewildering multiplicity on display in this piece. Anti-Gravity, which is a response to Ho Tzu Nyen's study of clouds, toes the line between conventional dance-theatre and art installation. The stage is cluttered with various exhibits: a tray of water; a patch of grass stacked with stones; a large, haze-filled box containing an enormous sphere; a translucent screen and projector. There is a stark, almost sterile quality to this assemblage - a sense of self-contained detachment to each of these remote constructs.

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As six dancers begin populating this space, this collection of elements reveals itself as a buffet of creative discovery. The stage becomes constantly dynamic as each dancer engages in their own discreet instigation. Occasionally, the pull of the performance re-focuses the audience on a particular event, but there are still details on the periphery to engage with, if we so choose. Perhaps the most remarkable feat of this piece is the way it uses the insubstantial in an astonishingly architectural way. Light is reflected in powerful beams that carve up the cavernous dimensions of the auditorium. Deep, tectonic throbs of electronic noise, from Jethro Woodward's driving, multi-channel score, cause the very walls to resonate. Puffs of smoke punctuate the air with thick, obscuring plumes. Van Dijk crafts and directs these sights and sounds as deftly as a human body, manipulating the un-manipulatable with almost inexplicable confidence.

Anti-Gravity is described as an "immersive" piece, although it isn't quite in-line with the promenade-style productions that European or American audiences might recognise. That's not to say it isn't as exhaustively thorough in its attention to detail, however. Indeed, there are moments where the level of sophistication borders on overwhelming, but this is an easily forgiven foible, given that this is highly experimental dance-theatre that still manages to succeed in almost every respect.

Creating a work that is as freely conceptual as it is robustly choreographic requires an artist with a pioneering vision who is not easily intimidated by risk taking, and van Dijk can surely feel proud of the boundaries she's pushed in Anti-Gravity. It is telling though, for all its many-layered textures, that this piece is strongest when it enters a more conventional mode. Van Dijk has spun a lexicon of movement that is somehow simultaneously fluid, full of diaphanous, spooling lines and achingly beautiful poise, and yet muscular, taut and grounded. It is dance that is of both the earth and the air, of both thought and action. A perfectly captured duality of the formless made flesh on stage.

Chunky Move presents Anti-Gravity, til 26 Mar at Malthouse, part of Dance Massive.