Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Connected

Director Choreographer Gideon Obarzanek
Sculptor Reuben Margolin

It would be a mistake to believe the dancers are the only performers in Connected.

This is a richly layered work by Chunky Move’s Director/Choreographer Gideon Obarzanek in collaboration with Californian sculptor Reuben Margolin; a diptych in dance and theatre connected by the quiet unfolding of a ‘living’ sculpture and an electric score by Oren Ambarchi and Robin Fox that pounds with an almost physical narrative.

The stage is set with Margolin’s kinetic sculpture, a giant wooden loom with innumerable luminescent threads suspended over the empty space. Already the performance has begun. It is a da Vincian study of machine, imagination and the promise of flight. The program tells me that it is 17th century engineering, but it sits out of time like all invention. And art.

A dancer throws herself across the stage; it is a tumbling, a writhing, a frenetic hurtling to the jangling industrial music that punches into the space. It is a practiced freefalling form joined by other dancers frantic to unite and separate, as the techno music pulses like a charge snapped from the main; ricocheting and loose, punctuating the movement. Two dancers move together as if acquiring the other’s kinetic energy, an impulse born of Newton’s Cradle, as they connect and divert by the force of the other's trajectory; bodies drawn into each other’s orbit, pulled and repelled, as if in slow motion. It is a perceptual guidance: they are bending light waves in a mirage of dance to wonder at.

But it is the quiet activity across the stage that begins to draw the eye.

A dancer methodically starts connecting the sculpture’s strings with magnetic strips of paper. It is a meditation on making, vivid and fascinating against the wild distraction of constant motion; a moment of pure concentration that requires nothing more than a slow, steady building. The dancer leaves but others join; it is a collaboration of making, a reverential melange of purpose.

The languorous allure of the sculpture comes alive as dancers are bodiced to its threads. The dancers shift and sway, the sculpture floats and lifts and turns and drops like a sigh. It is unfolding and luminescent, it moves on waves of light, it is the wave. In a tender moment, a sole male dancer still held by its strings draws the sculpture to the lips of a waiting female dancer. This is no lofty object; it is an intimate expression of earthly love.

Contrast this to the second act where the theme of disconnection is palpable.

The sculpture is now set in a gallery, its movement enacted by a mechanised pulley. It is an automated machine, still moving, but devoid of human touch; plugged in on life support, rather than living. Dormant, but not dreaming. The dancers become gallery guards who, through voiceovers from actual security guards, relate the monotony of their role. It is distraction, rather than connection, a disguise by circumstance. Gone is the loving reverence in work, the meaning in the making, for nothing is made here – not even feeling. The sculpture is object and commodity; it has succumbed to the anaesthesia of the gallery guards. The moment asks us what the real value of art is – to maker, to viewer. Is there life beyond the making?

Perhaps the answer lies in the final sequence, when the pounding music surges again like a shock, stripping the guards of their uniforms and personas, and reanimating the sculpture like a crash-cart. Living again, it gently descends, enveloping the guards in a final moment of touch.

Perhaps the answer lies in whether we believe we possess art, or whether art possesses us.

Connected is structure and grace, engineering and allegory, production and poem. Atom and dream. A constant collaboration between each, where one does not crowd or hide the other. An exquisite hybrid arts performance of logic and feeling. It is heaven and earth, but the real territory is us. We knock, we bounce, we crack, we cry, we follow our own or a new trajectory. But first we connect.

Wendy Newton

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