In the design

Wendy Lasica looks for clean lines in Chunky Move’s Melbourne Fashion Festival showing

Chunky Move’s Melbourne Fashion Festival showing

Chunky Move’s Melbourne Fashion Festival showing

For Chunky Move’s contribution to the Woolmark 1999 Melbourne Fashion Festival Lucy Guerin’s group work, Zero, is a sophisticated and daring piece. Made for the entire company, it is an episodic but not literal progression of large and small group and solo sections, comprising a work that makes for compelling viewing. Guerin has set up a formal but abstract structure that defies our expectations. There are continual surprises—your attention is drawn from one part of the space to another, from big movements to tiny details. Sometimes a trio in a downstage corner is mirrored in the opposite corner upstage. Sometimes the ensemble work is crisp and tight, other times it is looser.

The work subtly builds to its conclusion when Phillip Adams and Luke Smiles perform a virtuosic duet. Adams manipulates Smiles, asserting his power by containing and constricting Smiles’ movement. They remain physically connected and confined to a tight square of light centre stage. The dependency play is riveting and one of the more obvious emotionally charged moments.

It is clear in Zero that Guerin’s decision to work without a theme has actually freed her to make more potent choreographic decisions than in her last work, Heavy (1998). However, I was acutely aware of every lighting cue and change in the soundtrack tempo, which I found distracting.

In complete contrast to Guerin’s abstraction and clarity comes Gideon Obarzanek’s All The Better To Eat You With, a late 20th century panto-style presentation of Little Red Riding Hood. Dancers sporting exaggerated character costumes recreate the narrative through mime and rather hackneyed interpretive movement sequences. Given the desensitisation of us all (children included) to violence and death through accessible popular culture forms, this interpretation of what is a scary children’s story goes no further than the basic expectations of how this story could be read in current cultural context.

It is literal and simplistic in its storytelling and lacks the dynamic movement vocabulary we have seen in some of Obarzanek’s previous works eg Bonehead (1997) and C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D.2 (1998) The set, however, is stunning. Also designed by the choreographer, it is a series of simple, stylish aquarium-like installations, that bubble, slosh, reflect and absorb light, complemented by a large pool table-sized slab of light—sometimes used as a screen and perpendicular to the floor, sometimes horizontal, hovering above. It tilts, turns and creates a fascinating diversion to the live performances happening around it.

Obarzanek’s effective design for That’s Not My Movement, But this One Is (a short work with Guerin) also provides much of the interest for that work. Small, candle-lit perspex boxes clustering near the 2 dancers, but gently swaying, exude a warmth that does not exist in the unsatisfying solos these choreographers have created for each other. The sense of incompleteness leaves me wondering why the clarity of the design is not as apparent in the movement.

There were some breathtaking and believable performances, especially from Fiona Cameron, Luke Smiles and Phillip Adams in Zero, but I missed the worldly understanding inherent in the performances of Obarzanek’s first Chunky Move ensemble. The loss of key performers like Narelle Benjamin and Brett Daffy, who have been replaced by some technically able but less experienced performers, has created a less individualistic approach to the performers’ interpretation of the work. The strength of Chunky Move in the past has been this sense of the personal within an ensemble setting.

Chunky Move, Bodyparts, choreographers Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin; performers Luke Smiles, Lisa Griffiths, Phillip Adams, David Tyndall, Byron Perry, Fiona Cameron and Kirstie McCracken; collaborators Damien Cooper, lighting designer Audra Cornish, fashion designer Peter Haren@TDM, composer Darrin Verhagen, costume designers Laurel Frank, David Anderson; Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse, Melbourne, February 16 – 27

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 32

© Wendy Lasica; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1999