Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in this Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe), Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria) Pat Nourse (creative director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits, who is in a separate business partnership with Tamasein Holyman) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) to help us identify the people and organisations changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In the arts, one such person is Antony Hamilton, artistic director and co-CEO of Chunky Move.
So you think you can dance. You know what, it doesn’t even matter what you think, because Chunky Move’s artistic director Antony Hamilton thinks you can. “We want everyone in the general public to feel that Chunky Move is for them,” he says. “There's something that it can offer everyone.”
Hamilton signed on as the dance company’s artistic director in 2019, but his association with Chunky Move stretches around two decades. And once he took the creative reins, Hamilton made it a priority to champion a model of collective leadership. That is, making sure as many artists as possible have the opportunity to present works. And it’s a vision realised in the output of works that Chunky Move has been commissioning, committing to two small-scale commissions per year – but in fact achieving four such works this year and three last year. Yes, even under lockdown, taking performances from the live stage into the digital realm. “We do spend a huge portion of our creative budget on other artists’ work,” says Hamilton. “In order to amplify the voices of many, what we've chosen to do is lots of smaller activities, rather than a couple of big things.”
Chunky Move is upfront about what it wants to achieve, and partly that’s the recognition of dance as an everyday artform. Something that everyone can enjoy, regardless of cultural capital. And as Hamilton explains, bringing dance to everyone paradoxically involves both making it highly visible while at the same time hiding it. “For example, the recent works that I’ve made have been a bit more spectacle-based,” Hamilton says. “Bigger, more fun, exciting works, [where] there's a lot more going on visually, with design and with music. And in a way, the dance is not a footnote, but a supporting element in just as much as anything else in the work.”
The other side of that coin is getting the average person actually dancing themselves. After all, Chunky Move isn’t just about people watching dance but taking part in it too, with the company offering contemporary dance classes for both experienced dancers and those who might think they’ve two left feet. “It's very much one thing to be an observer of an audience and enjoy it as a visual experience. But it’s something that offers participants a great deal,” Hamilton says. “For me, there's really no better practice than dance, actually, that combines creativity and fitness.”
But for Hamilton, dance and what they do at Chunky Move isn’t just about expressing creativity or working on physical wellbeing. Dance has the power to literally change how you see the world and how you see your body. “Even as you're just walking down the street... you do a little bit of dance training, a little bit of attending to your body in that focused way and all of a sudden the way that you interface with the world around you just shifts that little bit,” he says. “It sounds kind of corny, but I do love that idea that if you can convert the way you think and the way you approach the steps that you take in your life – and literally, I mean, literally the steps – there's this residue of creative possibility right there under your feet.”
The company might be at the forefront of dance here in Melbourne, but as for looking into the future, Hamilton’s not too fussed. “I have always been attracted to turning the corner and not quite knowing what's there,” he says. “If we predicted too closely what the outcomes would be of the future, I feel like there would be something lost in the sense of adventure.” That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any insights – or advice – for those looking to make a name for themselves in the future of the arts. “Listen. Listen carefully to people. And listen more than you speak,” he says. “Then I think the other thing is to trust yourself. We know that careers are changing, we know that science and technology is really shifting the landscape of careers. So I think it really is just about carefully listening but then trusting your instincts.”