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Chunky Move teams up with Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen to create a work inspired by clouds
Chunky Move’s latest work is inspired by ‘clouds’ – but don’t expect something pretty or languid. In fact its robust set design and choreography actively push back against the idea of the ‘romantic ethereal’ that we usually associate with this atmospheric phenomenon.
The concept comes from visual artist Ho Tzu Nyen, whose practice has explored “the iconographic representation of clouds” in some depth. Nyen and Chunky Move’s artistic director Anouk van Dijk used this as a springboard for a study on “stability and transience” (per their program note) – with results that are visually and choreographically rich.
We enter the auditorium to discover a stripped-down performance space dotted with clearly defined ‘stations’ in square pools of light: a tall white panel that appears to be made of stone; a room-sized glass case; various fog machines, one of which is placed on a square piece of AstroTurf; a pane of reflective glass standing upright in a metal frame; an industrial cherry picker dormant on one side of the space; a tower of large brown rocks on a warehouse trolley; a shallow, rectangular basin of water shimmering near to the front row.
Among this collection of objects, a performer is kneeling and looking downward: still, unobtrusive in a floor-length flesh-coloured nightgown. Gradually, we become aware of composer Jethro Woodward’s droning soundscape.
The stillness is interrupted when a dancer enters the space determinedly, steps up onto a small podium with a microphone and remote control in hand, and, at the press of button, sends smoke shooting out of a fog machine at her side. The fog catches in the performer’s hair, appears to pour out of her chest and emanate from the pores on her arms, then slowly dissipates. It’s an inventive use of a common theatrical tool that would usually only serve to enhance the lighting design.
The dancer then recites a series of Italian words relating to clouds and similar imagery: “fumo, bruma, condensazione, precipitazioni, vapore...”. The recitation continues: “anima, massa, pesantezza, hypertensione, illuminare, acustico...”. These words refer to elements integral to performance, such as the human body, the human condition, and our perception of the on-stage action.
Further performers enter the space and occupy the remaining spotlights. The first plays absently at the edge of the basin of water, a second redirects stage lighting using a reflective sheet, another operates a MacBook, clicking through a slideshow of images of clouds. And so it all proceeds, with the performers demonstrating the properties of the various objects..
Van Dijk’s and Nyen’s exploration of clouds, stability and transience is perhaps most tangible in a brief scene during which a dancer perches himself atop the framed pane of glass and appears to be levitating. Meanwhile, centre stage, two females execute highly physical phrases of movement in unison.The choreography could be described as typical of Anouk van Dijk’s artistic practice: in contrast to the illusion of weightlessness beside them, one of each dancer’s feet is always firmly planted on the floor. They use gravity as a productive force, rather than fight against it (as ballet dancers would) to achieve an appearance of lightness.
About half way through, the show makes an abrupt departure from this experimental approach – signalled by the tipping-over of a panel at the back of the stage, which becomes a white platform on which the ensuing action takes place. A metronome like bass beat kicks in and the lighting becomes brighter, flooding the space in warm hues that contrast with the cool blue tones and metallic surfaces of previous scenes.
The dancers congregate – for the first time – on the platform, and link hands in a circle.They stomp their feet rhythmically in unison, perform counter balances, and spring about like modernist dancers doing ‘sissones’. They leave the podium and pulse, swing, thrash and kick in response to the musical crescendo. In this scene, smoke and mirrors seem to lose significance, in favour of an earthy, ritualistic, somewhat ‘primitivist’ dance routine.
The dramaturgical arc is complete when the lights dim and Anti-Gravity returns to a structure resembling the opening scenes. A weather balloon is passed between the performers and the narrator who opened the evening repeats parts of her text, although this time in English.
It could be argued that Anti-Gravity and its constituent parts are inherently at odds with the concept of ‘clouds’. The performance work makes little attempt to show a striking similitude with the phenomena; my expectation that the contents of the set’s water basin centrepiece would evaporate went unfulfilled. Neither does the performance subvert our perception of the concrete set design, choreography and dancers’ bodies to any great extent. What is more profound, however, is the theatrical ingenuity of the work, and the performers’ execution of demanding choreographic sequences that extend beyond the capabilities of most professional dancers.