Chunky Move Studios, Melbourne
Reviewed June 1

Rewards for the Tribe – a first-time collaboration between Melbourne’s Chunky Move and Adelaide’s Restless Dance Theatre – is a curious experiment in choreographic art. Ruminating on questions of divine geometry and the unattainable “perfect form”, five dancers navigate a world in which the boundaries between object and subject are both hardened and dissolved. It’s thematically ambitious, and while not all of its ideas feel fully realised, there are many moments of humanity and humour.

Leading the collaboration is Chunky Move’s artistic director and choreographer, Antony Hamilton, who has assembled a cast of talented dancers, with and without disability, to serve as both the vehicle and the site of his playful inquiry. Joining them on stage is a colourful collection of giant vinyl-covered geometric shapes (set design by Jonathon Oxlade) which energetically enter and exit the space through a busy system of ropes and pulleys.

In many ways, this is a dance of objects and bodies; a pas de deux between the solid and the fleshy. In the former, we find clarity, fixity and symmetry. In the latter, we are destined for imprecision and slippage. The relationship between these states is the impetus for Hamilton’s exploration; a juxtaposition of forms that invites us to rethink how, and to what, we ascribe value. 

Set in a stark white space that feels somewhere between a gymnasium and a laboratory, the performers arrive like a nomadic tribe, muttering and whispering to themselves in a slight daze as they navigate each other and the growing pile of objects. Aviva Endean’s mostly atonal electronic sound design blends live-looped vocals with meandering soundscapes built on cranks, thuds and clicks.

Choreographically, the performers busy themselves with the labour of arranging and rearranging the oversized objects – pushing, stacking, toppling – over and over. Embellishments emerge as the dancers begin to manipulate each other’s limbs in short but clever duos and trios that attempt to mimic the impossibly perfect lines of their geometric props.

Littered throughout the endless rearranging of objects are various tableaux or, as Hamilton puts it, the “ritual of image making”. A nude body standing broad-shouldered resembling Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, a huddle of bodies on a tiny raft like animals on Noah’s ark, and a God-like character marvelling at the world turning on its axis. In each of these images, we glimpse humanity; a transitory moment that both submits to formality and bursts forward with life.

These tableaux are charming and the clearest distillation of the show’s themes. But the hour-long work otherwise feels overdrawn and dynamically flat. The movement vocabulary gets stuck on the same ideas and, save for a few excerpts of clashing chords and melancholic woodwind, Endean’s composition similarly lacks breadth.

Rewards for the Tribe is not a particularly fun experience. Hamilton’s concern – a critique of the artworld’s most enduring declarations of form – is a big undertaking and the matter is handled a little too earnestly. But, if you let go of the academic framing, the work offers a small but poignant comment on our shared humanity and how we might navigate life’s hardness with a little more flexibility.


All photos by Jeff Busby

'Rewards for the Tribe continues until Sunday June 5. More info here.

comments powered by Disqus