Robert Reid reviews Chunky Move’s new work Common Ground
The duet in the age of Avengers: Infinity War. I doubt the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a major reference point for the creation of Common Ground but it’s in the air, along with Trump’s military parade and the posturing over Syria and the Koreas, so it comes into the room with me. I see what I see.
Anouk van Dijk’s Common Ground explores “the duet as a utopian ideal.” This prompts her to pair the feuding and posing of contemporary politicians with the birth of ballet in the 17th century court of Louis XIV. The world that results is austere, mechanical and declamatory.
Invisible energies seem to pass through the space and catch the dancers (Richard Cilli and Tara Jade Samaya). They buffet them around and get caught in their bodies. They pass from one to the other and back again. They fall into relationships of push and pull. Balance and counter balance. The dynamics of power – in relationships and global politics, between ancient gods and the earth, between the dancer and the floor – are the physics of Common Ground.
In Marg Horwell’s design, the dancers stalk each other outside a rectangle of vinyl flooring. Their costumes are also made from vinyl: the seams are exposed and exaggerated as if to call our attention to the material, as if the dancers and the ground they move on are made of the same matter. They chase each other around the floor. They catch each other up and eventually test the edges of the vinyl, literally dipping a toe in into the light that pulses gently on the floor and changes between states of white, red and blue (Paul Jackson).
When the dancers step onto the floor they are immediately weighed down. The gravity here is much different to that of the world outside: the gravity of gods and heroes. In this new world, the dancers are initially crushed to the floor by their own weight. They will learn to carry themselves in this atmosphere, to negotiate its alien topography.
The language of Common Ground is built out of gestures towards classical ballet and van Dijk’s own countertechnique. The dancers move between balancing their weight against each other at impossible angles: individual frenetic spasms wrack their whole bodies, and then soubresauts and walking on relevé calls them back to ballet. When these movements appear, these decay quickly into heavy, primal versions of themselves, impacting the ground with a satisfying thud. Often they are introduced at moments when the chaotic energies that pass like storms around the dancers need to be brought under control. Ballet is a discipline. It restores order to the chaos of the body for a moment, returning the dancers to themselves.
They use this language to slip in and out of enacting rituals of greeting, hand shaking and waving like foreign dignitaries on the world stage. They lean on each other; they struggle together, collapse together into each other, limp on together.
Jethro Woodward’s sound fills the space with a gentle grind of mechanical noise, the chittering and beeping of machinery and distant subsonic booms, occasionally overwhelmed by a wave of classical violins. At points, the seats of the auditorium physically vibrate beneath us. Sometimes we can just hear a muffled authoritative voice underneath this, giving a lecture or making a speech. Addressing a crowd at any rate. I can almost make out what the voice is saying, but it’s not important that I can’t, because the tone itself is clear: it is bureaucratic, dispassionate and faintly threatening. These are voices that have power.
Just as I am settled into the rhythm of this world it is interrupted by the performers screeching a high-pitched babble directed towards the audience. It turns in on itself. It is an argument. A screeching of furious birds. I can’t help but think of this as Twitter’s contribution to the titanic battle taking place onstage. The gods of human struggle clash and exhaust themselves in a universe of metaphor, and for a moment there is an unpleasant incomprehensible barking.
These gods literally tear up the floor. Cilli picks up a corner of the vinyl and holds it over his head. Samaya is destabilised as the universe warps. She tumbles and fights to regain her balance. Samaya tears a hole in the vinyl, separating it enough to push her feet through onto the real floor of the room. She seems planted, a new shoot growing from the earth.
Eventually this small tear will be opened up, and they climb beneath the vinyl. The lump they make together underneath, thick and rubberised to protect the dancers feet and the venue’s floor, becomes a mountain risen out of the earth.
From this mountain they emerge naked and dragging the floor behind them. It trails like royal robes or the capes of superheros. They circle each other, winding the capes of flooring into bundles of useless material, shed it like a skin, and exit the space. They have spent almost their entire time together on the floor, but they enter alone and they leave alone.
As do we all.
Common Ground. Presented by Chunky Move at the Chunky Move Studios. Choreography by Anouk van Dijk, performed by Richard Cilli and Tara Jade Samaya. Lighting design by Paul Jackson, sets and costumes by Marg Horwell, composition and sound design by Jethro Woodward. Chunky Move Studios until May 5. Bookings.
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