Chunky Move Puts Mechanical Technology in Motion at Meany

Chunky Move's Connected (Photo: Jeff Busby)

Reading the notes before the performance by Chunky Move (at UW’s Meany Theater through April 14; tickets: $39) left this audience member totally bewildered. Yet in rereading the notes after the performance, the light dawned and they made sense.

Gideon Obarzanek, the imaginative choreographer and director of this Australian dance company, was describing the collaboration between two arts, an intentionally mobile sculpture and the choreography designed to mimic it with moving bodies on stage, the two impelling each other.

The sculpture, by America’s Reuben Margolin, follows his series of “large scale undulating installations that attempt to combine the logic of mathematics with the sensuousness of nature,” as they are described in the notes.

The fascinating result, an hour-long performance titled Connected, had the sculpture taking up a full third of the stage. It looked like a streamlined Rube Goldberg piece with, at one side, a bicycle-sized wheel incorporating strands like a dreamcatcher, and dozens of strands coming out from it slanting upwards to the other side, dropping then in orderly rows almost to the floor with bulbs at the ends, perhaps like a machine which came out of a 19th-century factory.

To begin with, while the sculpture was still, the dancers careened around frenetically, sometimes individually, sometimes together. With moves you’d never expect to see in a ballet studio, the dancers in their oiled ease, speed, and flexibility displayed superb training in their genre.

The performance moved from segment to segment, seeming to have no particular reason for their sequence, no particular beginning or end to the work. During the first part one or more dancers took time to connect small pieces to the bottom of the hanging strands. Later one dancer connected the other four to strands themselves, like marionettes with horizontal strings. As they moved, so did the hanging strands, showing the connected pieces to be a grid of open squares which gracefully floated up and down in different configurations.

At another moment, the dancers, who had been wearing knee-length tights with short or long sleeved tops, four in black, one in white, gradually left the stage and came back dressed as security guards in suits, ties, and plastic name tags, walking around the stage while voices gave comments made by real-life guards about their philosophy on their dead-end jobs. One guard walked in squares, each side blocked at the end by another guard, so the square became smaller and smaller until she was blocked from moving anywhere, after which they shed most of their clothes to bikini bottoms and long-sleeved shirts, playing athletic games.

The accompaniment, by Oren Ambarchi and Robin Fox, for this mesmerizing production sounded like what you would hear on an ancient factory floor, with the repetitive sound of machines changing with different areas of the factory. Sometimes there were electronic whistles, at others the noise of things moving in a tunnel with attendant air pressure, only occasionally with actual tones, sometimes very loud and sometimes no sound at all.

The work was performed without intermission and in other hands and lesser inspiration might have seemed more disconnected than connected, but the sense of early mechanical technology in motion pervaded thoughout, and was enhanced by the lighting of Benjamin Cisterne.

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