Chunky Move Studios, South Melbourne
April 27, 2018
Common Ground is a refreshingly direct duet. The work is an impressive stripping away of the artifice, props and technology that we have seen in recent works by Anouk van Dijk to reveal the strength and beauty of the dancers. It also explores an idea that lends itself to a nuanced teasing out.
The dancers (Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli) share and command the space in a dance of mannered combat and courtly civility. Common Ground moves through phases and iterations of ritualised power-play that involve opposition and intimacy, aloofness and mutual reliance.
In making the work, van Dijk has referenced the birth of ballet in the court of Louis XIV and its embedded politics, but instead of locating the dance as a solo for a godlike ruler, it is refashioned as a spectacle for two equal partners - albeit partners ever on the lookout to wrest advantage from the other.
Common Ground starts with the dancers sizing one another up as opponents, walking the periphery of the space, eyeing the other off. There is an underlying sense of play in their manoeuvres. They come together, hands held, in a display of the niceties of Renaissance courtly dance. Slow, precise and meticulous, these two sections are revisited through the work in different moods. Accompanying Baroque musical motifs mix with the stark modern design aesthetic of the work to create a feeling of the ancient being carried forward into an abstract, timeless now.
The movement seems to reference gladiatorial contests, wrestling matches and martial arts discipline mixed with moments of immense vulnerability as the dancers prowl, bend, twist and assume ingeniously configured counterbalances and holds. Samaya and Cilli are strong, cool and powerful, Samaya revealing moments of classical technique amidst her compelling athletic contemporary vocabulary. Both dancers shift effortlessly from fluid to staccato movement phrases and keep the work mesmerising to watch.
The look is spare and futuristic. The lighting is simple and atmospheric and shifts are indicated by changes in level and colour. The sound ranges from Baroque to chant to digital. A naturalistic storm makes the auditorium rumble with sound. The costumes are simple reversible shifts that change from black to white. In the final phases of the work, the dance floor becomes a prop: a robe to protect, to hide beneath, to adorn or to swallow the dancers in a cavern. The weight of the flooring slows the movement as it is worn and dragged, allowing the dancers only slow regal progress. It is also surprisingly fluid and sculptural.
Ultimately the dancers emerge naked and vulnerable, their mutual reliance on one another apparent. Each carries and supports the other. They finally walk abruptly from the space in opposite directions. It seems that the game will continue.
- SUSAN BENDALL
All photos by Pia Johnson.