the unexploited

keith gallasch: antony hamilton, drift, dance massive

Alisdair Macindoe, Drift, Antony Hamilton

Alisdair Macindoe, Drift, Antony Hamilton

AS FELLOW REVIEWER CARL NILSSON-POLIAS HAS SUGGESTED (see review), AANTONY HAMILTON’S DRIVE-IN DANCE WORK DRIFT APPEARS TO DERIVE FROM THE HEAVY METAL COMIC BOOK OEUVRE. A TRIO OF APPARENTLY HUMAN FIGURES IN VAGUELY FUTURISTIC OUTFITS OCCUPIES A STARK POST-INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE. WITH GREAT EFFORT, AMIDST VERY REAL DUST-CHURNING WIND AND INTERMITTENT RAIN, THEY TRAVERSE A SMALL STRETCH OF EARTH, BREAK INTO VIGOROUS, ALMOST RITUALISTIC DANCING, AND THEN ENCOUNTER A BARE-BREASTED, SHAMANISTIC WOMAN WHO CONDUCTS HER OWN RITUAL BEFORE BEING BRUTALLY ABDUCTED BY THE TRIO. SHE FINALLY SINKS INTO THE EMBRACE OF THE LEADER AND THE QUARTET JOURNEYS ON.

With those ingredients (strange humans, wasteland, ritual, sex and a dash of violence) it’s not at all difficult to imagine a Heavy Metal version of Drift—particularly in the style born of the magazine’s origins in the French adult sci-fi/fantasy magazine Metal Hurlant and its visually sophisticated team of influential comic book artists, like Moebius. Much of the content of Heavy Metal (first published in 1997) still comes out of Europe and from the same artists. Hamilton duly exploits the sweep of the freeway overhead, echoing the clean lines of Moebius and his ilk and amplifying the sense of wasteland isolation with light (dim, yellowish) and sound (cosmic storms crackling out of the car radio). In our vehicles we quickly forget the nearby buildings, development sites and passing cargo ships of Docklands.

Squatting in the dust before us, huddled together like a single being, the trio appears to be near immobilised, locked into a staccato pulse from which they can’t escape. One (Alisdair Mcindoe) is costumed in dirty white, his size and the sheen of his flesh and matching clothing suggesting leadership and a degree of sci-fi-ish elegance while his companions (Melanie Lane, Jess wong) are short, dressed in grey and hooded, a kind of faceless Ninja-Jawa cross (Jawa, the scavengers in Star Wars). The trio break free, rise up, travel briefly, loosening up as they go, and then dance. Gone is their initial zombie-ish spasming—they gesture, thrust and swivel with Thriller verve, upper arms at times wide, hands dangling, to a beat that creaks like strained metal.

They’re a nervy bunch. As if sensing another presence they stop, move together, dance slo-mo to the off-beat of a treated double bass, plucked and slapped. A monkish chant and the ringing of small cymbals confirm the sense of ritual, but the deep growl becomes a roar and then a scream—the trio hide. A tall woman (Lily Paskas) with long black hair, black tattoos on her throat and lower back, bare-breasted, enters with a long, leaf-less tree branch. She slowly turns, twirling with increasing speed, holding the branch before her, behind and at arms length in an act of considerable endurance, faster and faster to the cruel sound of crashing static, staggering sideways but without falling. Now still, she attempts to plant the branch, pushing it into the shallow earth, finally sliding down its length, exhausted and letting it drop. Her ritual has presumably failed to generate growth. Amidst thunderclaps she is picked up by the two Ninja-Jawas in an elaborate, violent dance of containment that their leader then joins, the arms and legs of all flailing and tangling with Eurocrash speed and precision. The woman’s body is hoisted above shoulders, tossed and meshed with her oppressors until she sensuously melds into the body of the leader. Now a foursome, the group exits slowly, holding the woman, doubtless a trophy, high against one of the freeway pillars. Perhaps regeneration is now possible in this primitive proto-society.

On reflection, Drift could have been pretty exciting as a pop culture-art hybrid. However, the drive-in scenario kept us at a sizeable distance from the work, which only came close to us as the trio dragged the woman along the line of cars. Otherwise, Hamilton made little effective use of the epic potential of his site, especially its depth of field. Had his characters appeared around us, at our windows, behind our cars; had the female shaman arrived from the extreme distance; had the drive-in framing been subverted in some way; with these and more we might have experienced some of anticipated thrills and chills. Instead, Drift felt genteel, too adoring of its sources of inspiration and short on the irony that could have further reduced our sense of distance. Only when the assault on the woman commenced did the work generate discomfort—for the apparent misogyny not atypical of Heavy Metal. It was then that I wished for the other side of the magazine’s coin: for the woman to turn on the men with vengeful brutality. But that would have been another story.

Perhaps when the work appears for Campbelltown Arts Centre later this year, Hamilton, a recognised innovator, will have had time to better exploit his site, to generate a greater cinematic and comic book sense of perspective—a 3D world, not a distant, contained 2D-ish movie screen model. The trio dancing and the quartet struggle are exciting, the costuming is effective and the sound sometimes immersive (if struggling through car speakers). As narrative Drift is thin, but a more radical approach to its staging could make a big difference.

Dance Massive, Arts House: Drift, creator, director Antony Hamilton, performers Alisdair Macindoe, Jess Wong, Lily Paskas, Melanie Lane, sound designer Robin Fox, additional music Robin Fox, Clayton Thomas, costume designer Paula Levis, video artist Kit Webster; Docklands, Melbourne, March 24-27; www.dancemassive.com.au

27 March 2011
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