Australian Dance Reviews

Chunky Move’s ‘You, Beauty’: Dancing with love and cruelty

Chunky Move in Antony Hamilton's 'You, Beauty.'
Chunky Move in Antony Hamilton's 'You, Beauty.'

Immigration Museum, Melbourne.
5 June 2024.

The thing about beauty is that it can sometimes be a tyrant, much as desire and suffering are so often in cahoots. Antony Hamilton’s new work for Chunky Move, You, Beauty, hovers near the intersect. Like a yin/yang pas de deux, it crushes the sinister and the romantic together, compacts past and future, and colours the formal with shades of the bestial. Watching on, we move between them. Dancing, as ever, with love and cruelty. 

Enticing ambiguity is nothing new in contemporary dance, but You, Beauty amplifies this with a deft use of space. First, the cavernous grandiosity of the Long Room at the Immigration Museum, (with its Victorian era neo-classical pomp), followed by the confines of an inflatable ‘tent’ that resembles an icy cave. In each, the ceremony unfolds, elegance always hinting at wickedness, power at corruption, ecstasy at madness.

Alongside the conceptual tango, Hamilton and his creative team craft an aesthetic that recalls the more theatrical elements of cinema. Think Kubrick and Greenaway. Add a dash of Jodorowsky, and spice it with the baroque flourishes of Sorrentino. There is also something sci-fi about the work, in that it seems to happen in a world much like ours…yet not. It is perhaps this slight mismatch that gives the work its intriguing texture.

Into this mix, Hamilton drops an understated choreography. Never showy or virtuosic, it nevertheless has moments of precision and gestural grace. The best details are small, sometimes mere flickers. This helps to underscore the intimacy of the performance, especially in the inflatable cave.

For the dancers, Samakshi Sidhu and Enzo Nazario, the challenge is to move with flexible intention, to dance in the fuzzy space where tenderness and mutual attraction can be confused with a desire for dominance. Although the movement palette is not spectacular, the rigour of the overall performance is exacting, and delivered with a suitable intensity and discipline.  

Wrapped around it all, a smartly restrained production, with lighting and other tricks never over-used. With its blend of sparse, geometric architecture and mollusc-like organic forms, it shifts us between ancient, modern and future in a way that enhances the teasing (confronting?) dualities present in both the performance and the direction.

Staged for small audiences – max 40 – You, Beauty is at once intimate and cold. Is it a love letter or a deviously disguised act of empire? Or, subtler still, an exploration of the figurative, of the human reflex to make art, and to represent our world and ourselves in the likeness of beauty on the walls of caves and in the halls of venerable museums? 

By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.

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