Chunky Move: Permission to be beautiful

Chunky Move's 'You, Beauty'. Photo by Eva Otsing.
Chunky Move's 'You, Beauty'. Photo by Eva Otsing.

How easy it is to be distracted by ugliness. The daily doomscroll clicks buttons in our brains that tempt us into declinist and dystopian thinking. Yet, turn our gaze from the lurid glare of news drama and viral fanaticism, and we may soon find room for beauty.

Having recently spent time with Chunky Move Artistic Director Antony Hamilton, it is apparent that he has been through a similar process, re-examining the focus of his attention. “I have to be honest and say that I am tiring of this view of the world that is a bit more heavy,” he reveals. “So, I was as hungry as anyone else for some, you know, lightness and love.”

As the creative driver of one of the country’s premier contemporary dance companies, Melbourne based Hamilton has form. “A lot of my work, as fans and followers would recall, has had a sense of hardness. A sort of darker quality around the thematics, like the integration of technology and biology, and you know, ‘doomsday prophecy’ and darker futures,” he admits.

Thus, when the lights come up this June on Chunky Move’s newest work, You, Beauty, the end of the world will not be nigh. As Hamilton explains, “The departure with this work is the tone and sensibility. This one peels the layer back on a more sensitive side to my being.”

A two hander, featuring dancers Samakshi Sidhu and Enzo Nazario, You, Beauty is intimate and personal. “It isn’t strictly about love and beauty, but there’s a sort of interest in our experience of it, and also of the very intimate nature of duets…Here’s two people that share a space, and here’s how the world shrinks around people when they’re in love.”

That mutual space (figurative and physical) is very much a feature of the work. “There are still continuing elements of the way I work present in this piece,” Hamilton states. “[They are] largely to do with this interest I have in integrating set materials and spatial ideas into the choreographic world and language.”

Here is where we reconnect with the oeuvre of both Hamilton and the company. Incorporating location and architectural/textural elements into the choreography is one of their trademarks. Chunky fans will not be surprised to learn that You, Beauty will use an inflatable set, and that it will not live in a black box.

When it premieres at RISING (Melbourne’s winter arts festival), it will occupy the stately Long Room at the Immigration Museum on Flinders Street. Of the space, Hamilton notes, “It’s very formal in a way, but very beautiful; and also very vacant. It’s not touched in the same way a theatre is with technical elements, like rigging. It also has incredible acoustic properties. There’s this wonderful natural reverb that just makes everything sound gorgeous.”

Having scoured their central Melbourne neighbourhood for the right space, the company’s thinking was to find a venue that would allow for “audiences to have an experience that was out of the ordinary.”

In this case, audience capacity is 40, and they will view the work from outside the inflatable, before being invited in.

Of the set, we learn that it has a cocoon like quality, one that offers a “mixture of beauty and dread.” Elaborating, Hamilton says, “It moves in a way that is sometimes quite unsettling. So you know, there’s still this lingering duality of, like, beauty and terror. But, for audiences, we turn it inside out and upside down to give them a really interesting sensory experience inside that space.”

What becomes clear as we speak is that, despite the intricacy and psychology of the creative process, both Hamilton and the company live in, and contend with, a more mundane reality. 

Although Chunky Move reside at the top end of the national arts funding food chain, and have significant brand recognition, they are still thankful for the umbrella of festivals like RISING. “The landscape for the arts at present means that, for companies like us, we would struggle to make work outside a festival context,” Hamilton concedes. “At a kind of fundamental level, festivals and companies coming together in partnership is a really critical aspect of how we survive.”

This is more than merely financial. Crucially, festivals create a space for audiences, a form of permission to dive a little deeper than Hollywood and Broadway. For organisations like Chunky Move, the festival context is a lifeline, bringing new eyes to them, and to contemporary dance as an artform.   

“Festivals have that role of building trust with audiences,” Hamilton observes. “You know, they sort of rely on festivals to create a space in which they can explore new things. But, it’s really on the festivals to deliver a great program.”

In a world seemingly beset with ugliness and destruction, we can but hope that the folk behind RISING and You, Beauty deliver on their promise of something better than the cut/copy doom-porn of clickbait angertainment.     

Chunky Move’s You, Beauty premieres 1 – 15 June, as part of RISING. For tickets and more information, head to chunkymove.com/works/you-beauty

By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.

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