METASYSTEMS_Anna TweeddaleTwo interesting new contemporary dance programs are being given their first Canberra performances in the Canberra Theatre Centre Courtyard Studios. Both push the boundaries of contemporary dance and both are being presented as part of the Canberra Multicultural Fringe Festival. They are METASYSTEMS, choreographed by James Batchelor, and POST PHASE: The Summit is Blue, choreographed by Chloe Chignell and Timothy Walsh.

META SYSTEMS James Batchelor is rapidly carving out a name for himself as one of Australia’s most interesting young dance practitioners. His latest work METASYSTEMS is receiving its world premiere as part of the Canberra Multicultural Fringe, and part of the Canberra Museum and Gallery Pulse exhibition. It will also be presented at the Paris Biennale and in the Australia in Turkey Festival in Istanbul later this year.

Inspired by his observations of workers on a building site, and listing an architect, Anna Tweeddale, among its co-creators, Batchelor utilises 320 cement bricks and four performers, Emma Batchelor, Madeline Beckett, Amber McCartney and himself, to create a complex systematic sculptural construction.

The work is presented in a bare studio space in harsh white light. The only setting being two piles of cement bricks arranged neatly at the back of the performance area. The four performers enter, clad in stylised work gear unified by neat white sandshoes and beige gardening gloves. They march in unison, the rhythm of their tramping feet, and the clunking of the bricks as they are constantly stacked and re-stacked, providing a relentless rhythmic accompaniment.

The performers are blank-faced through-out, absorbed in the task of arranging and re-arranging the bricks in precise patterns. From time to time, Batchelor and McCartney break away to perform dance movements among the patterns. These movements are deconstructions of movements observed by Batchelor on building sites.

The work progresses relentlessly until it resolves surprisingly and beautifully in a tableau with the four performers nestled in foetal position among four interlocking cement brick sculptures.

METASYSTEMS is an extraordinarily interesting and ultimately beautiful work which will reward further viewing. It is notable for its originality and complexity, and as an exciting demonstration of the maturation of Batchelor’s ability to present complex ideas in accessible dance form.

POST PHASE: The Summit is Blue Chloe Chignell is a Canberra dancer who is also an emerging choreographer engaged in exploring abstract themes. Her work, POST PHASE: The Summit is Blue explores ideas of failure, using the metaphor of scaling an ice-capped mountain to explore the changing relationship between beauty and physical endurance”.

The work is presented in two parts. The first part, sub-titled The sublime attends to gravity, choreographed and danced by Chignell, commences with the dancer prone on the floor in front of a large pile of melting ice positioned in front of a suspended clear plastic cloth.

In subdued lighting, and to a gentle soundscape by Brian Eno, Chignell slowly, very slowly, moves from the floor and commences to perform a meticulous series of repetitive dance phrases. These phrases eventually become more urgent and less meticulous as the dancer tires, until eventually she stops.

The second section The endless motion of the motionless man, choreographed by Timothy Walsh to a soundscape by Steve Reich, is performed by two dancers, Chignell and Amber McCartney. This section commences with both performers in underwear sitting motionless, on either side of the melting ice. Each clasps a large block of ice to their exposed skin and when they could bear the cold no longer, they put down the ice, donned tracksuits and performed a series of jetes in unison, over wooden rods laid out on the floor.

Then, in a movement reminiscent of whirling dervishes, they twirled until overcome by giddiness, and finally picked up large white sheets to fling around the stage, before finally succumbing to exhaustion.

According to the program notes, the purpose of all this was to test the dancer’s limits and push their endurance to extremes, questioning what is possible. While it no doubt did this, it also made rather uncomfortable viewing for those audience members who may have been concerned about the dancer’s welfare.

Common to both programs were excellent performances by all participants, but particularly from Amber McCartney who was striking presence in both programs. Both programs showed evidence of having been meticulously rehearsed with attention to good production values. Both are recommended to anyone interested in experiencing new directions in contemporary dance.

Courtyard Studio – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Season: 12 – 15 February 2015

Image: James Batchelor in METASYSTEMS – photo by Anna Tweeddale

Review: Bill Stephens