Chunky Moves dances the irreducible

Philipa Rothfield

David Tyndall, Sarah-Jane Howard, Luke Smiles, Chunky Move, Hydra

David Tyndall, Sarah-Jane Howard, Luke Smiles, Chunky Move, Hydra

David Tyndall, Sarah-Jane Howard, Luke Smiles, Chunky Move, Hydra

According to anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, mythology is the means by which society expresses the mysteries of existence. These enigmas are not apparent to the naked eye. Rather, they lie beneath the surface of the stories we tell ourselves, locked in deadly embrace. If Levi-Strauss is right, then Chunky Move’s Hydra is a work of mythic proportions. The name and its surrounding publicity suggest a mythical inspiration for the work, but it is also possible to interpret Hydra in the narrower sense suggested by Levi-Strauss—as standing for the irreducible conflicts that underlie human existence.

Hydra opens with twining figures who seethe through the shallows. These sexual creatures seem not of this world. Their wetsuit flesh suggests that they hail from the depths, whether of mind or matter we do not know. Their natural habitat is below, underneath the surface. Contrast these beings with what appear to be humans whose dress is urbane and whose movement tells a different tale. These mortals lurch through space, throwing themselves from situation to situation. They are not in control. They expend energy but life speaks through them, they do not speak it. Almost somnambulist, their lexicon of movement reminds me of B-grade zombie films.

The set of Hydra connects and separates the two levels of reality represented by each type of being. It consists of a shallow pool of water, covered by a removable wooden floor. As the work progresses we see land become water become land again, through a series of deformations and reformations. When the land level is lifted, the structure looks like the inside of Moby Dick—a large wooden ribcage.

The water creatures are pitted against the humans. There is no love lost between them. Yet, the humans must interact with the water. They fall into it, fall out of it, they lie across its boundaries. Although none of the beings in this landscape exhibit anything as explicit as consciousness, each will destroy the other if occasion allows. Some wonderful duets and trios occur betwixt and between these creatures.

Whatever Hydra is about, and not knowing is a strength of the piece, it is clear that it represents conflict. For Levi-Strauss, the inability to resolve the fundamental contradictions of human existence is the lifeblood of myth. Myth covers over that inability, somehow pretending a resolution; through what we might call narrative closure. At the end of Hydra, the wooden floor is reassembled. An uneasy peace reigns but not all is resolved.

The last section of Hydra involves a live performance by Michael Kieran Harvey on piano and Miwako Abe on violin. Repeated waves of musical consciousness lap the action, lulling us into stillness. The otherworldly temporality of the music breaks any sense that the end of the work is an earthly one. Rather, there is an ineluctable movement towards a truce, one which leaves everyone drained. The sense is meditative.

What then are we left with? Hydra can be seen as a battle between oppositional forces, perhaps where man=culture and woman=nature (not again). But it is richer than that. Firstly, the mortals’ movements are complex; they are definitely skilful yet they manifest a human fallibility. Choreographer Gideon Obarzanek leaves the world of displayed virtuosity for something else here. Secondly, there are several fine kinaesthetic interchanges, duets and trios, which need not be reduced to a single storyline. I like the abstraction that washes over Hydra. It’s thoughtful. If it is about the conflicts of myth, these dwell way beneath consciousness. It is not for us to plumb the depths of each and every mystery.

Hydra, Chunky Move, choreography Gideon Obarzanek in collaboration with dancers Fiona Cameron, Luke Smiles, Kathryn Dunn, Sarah-Jayne Howard, Michelle Heaven, David Tyndall, Stephanie Lake; musical composition James Gordon-Anderson, Darrin Verhagen; design Bluebottle, National Theatre, Melbourne, August 2-12.

RealTime issue #39 Oct-Nov 2000 pg. 39

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2000