On the even of his Melbourne Festival debut, the new artistic director of Chunky Move discusses his plans with Karen van Ulzen.
Antony Hamilton springs into the room wearing his trademark knitted beanie. Today it's yellow, and matches his bright orange t-shirt, colours that fit in well with the orange and rust décor of the building. We are at the home of Chunky Move in Melbourne, which has become Hamilton’s office this year since being appointed (alongside new executive director Kristy Ayre) as the new artistic director.
Like the two previous directors, Gideon Obarzanek and Anouk van Dijk, Hamilton is a choreographer, and comes to the role with nearly 20 years of experience. He is an impressive example of an artist who has made a living and built a career in the precarious independent scene.
It is this experience that has taught him the value of non-ensemble companies like Chunky Move. From its inception, Chunky departed from the standard company model of dancers employed year round, instead employing on a project basis. The company opened its doors to support other creative projects and guest choreographers, particularly emerging choreographers. It was a response to an increasingly fluid dance scene, where a growing number of choreographer/dancers were following their own specific arts practice and committed to creating their own employment or performance opportunities. Hamilton was one who benefitted from this set-up – he was a dancer with Chunky Move and was commissioned to create new works for the company’s Next Move program in both 2011 and 2013.
Now that he is in charge, he intends to extend CM's open structure even further. While he won't be stepping back from his own creative practice, a large part of his role as director will be curatorial.
“Chunky Move has always done well in that space and championed the voice of artistic diversity. But we would like to see that become a much more significant identity of the company. To be honest, lately it has felt like the company has operated more like an ensemble company [than] an independent support company. We plan to probably go radically further with making this company a space in which it has multiple artistic voices.”
Subject to funding, for 2020 Hamilton plans to partner with the Next Wave Festival in commissioning two new works by female choreographers. He also plans to launch a new fellowship in 2021 in addition to the ongoing annual commissioning program.
On the performing side, he is already working on a major three-way co-production with Candoco (UK) and Restless (Adelaide) – both dance companies for disabled and able dancers – called Rewards for the Tribe. And he is beginning a new productions for CM of his own.
He also working on partnerships with organisations to enable a network of “activators” – at present he is in discussion with Melbourne Museum, M Pavillion, the Science Gallery and Chapter House. He is also working on strengthening the company’s relationship with the dance department at the University of Melbourne. For Asiatopa in February he hopes to host a “pretty extreme contact improv” company from Japan, Contact Gonzo, and host a choreographic lab as well as a performance.
His long term vision is to “recognise the plurality of creative voices that are out there and their inherent value and the value that Chunky Move gains from them as an organisation – from sharing that information and creating more threads of connection between the practising artists and the organisations.”
Hamilton is particularly keen to dispose of the concept of the “emerging” artist. Having begun his independent career as a young man, he is acutely aware of the obstacles and attitudes that can stand in the way of a young aspiring choreographer. “I know I felt ready to choreograph from a young age,” he says. “I think we do a disservice to what we call 'emerging artists' – we keep them in an 'emerging artist's pen' until they're 35, we put them in a holding pattern. Artists have something to offer from the time that they're born and can pick up a crayon.
“It's different to what someone who's 40 has to offer; it's different to what someone who's 70 has to offer; but they still have something to offer.”
As for his own choreography, he is making his debut as CM director at the Melbourne Festival. Called Token Armies, the work is a collaboration with Creature Technologies, the Melbourne-based, international production company that specialises in shows featuring animatronic animals, such as Walking with Dinosaurs, King Kong the Musical (and the present new stage production of Moulin Rouge on Broadway). It will involve the largest non-volunteer ensemble CM has ever employed on a single production.
Many of Hamilton's creations explore the relationship between human and mechanical or electronic objects, where it is not always clear which is in control or where the border between the organic and constructed lies. His works are often populated with spooky, ambiguous figures, neither animal, nor machine, nor abstract. He is fascinated with our interaction with the built world and just how it affects notions of human will and primacy and “our ability to make decisions about the future of our species”.
“The myth is that the technology is there to serve us and do our bidding but we can we easily forget that it's also bending us and our way of communicating, our way of existing, to its will.”
Taking place in the cavernous arena of the Meat Market, Token Armies will consist of about 23 humans alongside a number of large, anthropomorphic, moving “creatures”. Performers will be grouped around the space like moving museum exhibits, with the audience, swathed in cloaks, forming part of the experience. It's a project he has had on his mind for about four years but struggled to see realised as an independent because “the scale of it is pretty outlandish,” he confesses.
He has been having enormous fun working with the artists at Creature Technology. “I keep thinking, how do I get an internship here? It’s such fun!”
Hamilton is a thoughtful man who speaks carefully and is clearly deeply committed to not just Chunky Move but the ecology of dance at large. Chunky Move is in responsible hands.
(Token Armies will run from October 16 to 20. See here for More Melb Fest details).
Pictured top: Antony Hamilton. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.