• Joel Bray in his solo work, 'Dharawungara'. Photo: Pippa Samaya.
    Joel Bray in his solo work, 'Dharawungara'. Photo: Pippa Samaya.
  • James Vu Ahn Pham in 'Nether'. Photo: Pippa Samaya.
    James Vu Ahn Pham in 'Nether'. Photo: Pippa Samaya.
  • Joel Bray in another scene from his solo work, 'Dharawungara'. Photo: Pippa Samaya.
    Joel Bray in another scene from his solo work, 'Dharawungara'. Photo: Pippa Samaya.
  • James Vu Ahn Pham and Lauren Langlois in 'Nether'. Photo: Pippa Samaya.
    James Vu Ahn Pham and Lauren Langlois in 'Nether'. Photo: Pippa Samaya.

Chunky Move Studios
Southbank, Melbourne
November 9

Chunky Move’s Next Move 11 is a surprising and energising program. This annual showcase for emerging choreographers has presented some wonderful contrasts over the years as well as providing a platform for divergent and significant choreographic voices. 

This year’s program impressed with two accomplished and dramatically different pieces. The first, Nether, choreographed and danced by Lauren Langlois with collaborator James Vu Ahn Pham, is a stunning, compressed and meticulous artwork. 

Langlois writes (in the program notes) that she was inspired by a vision of an alternative reality and she has sought to create a “unique and otherworldly” movement language. What she has made is truly arresting and fresh in its inventiveness. She builds a beautifully consistent and sustained vocabulary that seems to have its own internal system of references and laws. It helps that she and Pham are remarkable dancers who appear capable of embracing any kind of movement and to transcend expected patterns. 

Nether is set in a desolate world of smoke that is suddenly cut by a laser-like effect that fans into the audience. The environment is set up in detail before the dancers first appear, immersing the viewer. It is Pham who is first revealed amid the fog, prowling or stalking in a way that neither quite resembles a human nor animal nor machine but recruits features of each. Moving from robotic to intricately organic, his bodily isolations look like incremental readjustments or evolutions of a movement or communication system. This vocabulary expands for both dancers over the duration of the work. Indeed, time seems to collapse as sections become shorter and tighter but more expansive and elongated in movement quality as the work progresses.

The laser effects create corridors and different levels in space where the dancers appear and disappear, sometimes seeming to inhabit different planes. One wonderful effect has broad bands of shadow appearing to wrap themselves around the dancers’ bodies and stretch and pull at their limbs and torsos. Although a very prominent feature, the lighting by Amelia Lever-Davidson is not overdone but anchors the work in its imagined future dystopia. The costumes suggest utilitarian and protective imperatives – semi-transparent jump-suits over underwear.

Nether is a highly polished work that displays a compressed economy in its choreographic language. The dancers are outstanding, and the entire vision draws the viewer in to an easy suspension of disbelief 

In dramatic contrast, Joel Bray has created a moving and heartfelt “lament for the rite-of-passage I can never do”. Dharawungara is a solo (performed by himself) imbued with an aching loss for cultural practices that were obliterated by white culture and that he can only reimagine through fragments of knowledge passed down (ironically) by European anthropologists. It also remembers Bray’s brother Binni, whose name means “the strength of the shaft of an arrow”, and the notion of the passage from boyhood to adulthood and its associated rituals is marked through the work. The effect is a loose but coherent semi-narrative in dance and story that is approached with as much wit as seriousness.

Bray addresses the audience directly, speaking of his Wiradjuri heritage. He speaks of the theft of language and dance and songs, leaving “a buffet of trauma”; of a people that “had the dance beaten out of them”. He then goes about piecing together a likeness of ceremony from anthropological documents. In front of a projection, tee shirt pulled over his head, Bray’s face is superimposed by that of the thief-anthropologist. Bray paints up, using purple Dulux, adding to the sense of approximation and re-imagining of something he can never know. Moments such as this together with ritual tea-making by audio artist Naretha Williams draw in other prosaic and enduring rituals. Williams also mixes sound from the stage and adds narratively to the telling.

In his journey to connect with tradition, Bray creates something vivid and lyrical that at once connects to the rite-of-passage denied him and yet invents its own renewal. Not to be under-estimated is Bray’s lightness of touch – Dharawungara is not a grim work in spite of its serious intent.

Next Move 11 continues a tradition of presenting substantial, quality and engaging work to audiences.







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