Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
Reviewed August 8, 2023
MEETING, the Bessie Award-winning work from Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe, was a mesmeric study of the body’s encounter with arithmetical systems. Dozens of mousetrap-like machines ticked and whirred through complex layers of sonic patterns, as the two men wove a dance that was fluid, crystalline and everything in between.
The ideas behind this 2015 piece remain so full of potential, it seems, that Hamilton has returned to them years later as fodder for his newest, much grander, endeavour: 4/4. Mathematical precision and physical endurance remain the primary concern, but are this time exploded through a cast of eight, four drifting set pieces, two roaming speakers and the singularly cavernous Malthouse stage.
In 4/4, there are no mechanical contraptions by which to meter the movement. Rather, the score is held entirely within Macindoe’s three-dimensional sound design and an endless catalogue of memorised (and occasionally whispered) number patterns. A steady barrage of thuds, clicks and pops reverberate across the ultra-bare stage, seemingly knocking the dancers in and out of motion. The bodies hit back, too – each backbend or shoulder-pop sculpting the space in an endless rally of tennis.
The work begins on what could be a factory floor – the dancers gliding and pivoting, rising and rebounding like robotic arms in quiet unison. The movement is irregular but never chaotic; each body working in meticulous adherence to an invisible code. Soon the dancers are unbolted and begin to roam, riding the wheeled platforms and bouncing between energetic phrases of break and strong-gripped partnering.
Tapping into the varied training of his ensemble, Hamilton has constructed a vocabulary that borrows heavily from street styles and refracts them through a postmodern lens. Freeform movement is gridded and mapped onto a mathematical framework, forcing us to read these styles divorced from their origins in cyphers or improvised battles. Indeed, Hamilton’s placement of a decidedly social form of dance in an anti-social context – the concert – is arguably 4/4’s most interesting proposition.
Sure, costume designer Paula Levis’ slouchy black street garb, accentuated by mesh cut-outs and acrylic detailing, situate the dancers firmly in the urban realm. And Bosco Shaw’s genius monochromatic lighting is half art installation, half bunker-club. But it’s Hamilton’s ultra-methodical approach to the choreography that ultimately produces something more nuanced than just slick unison and cool aesthetics.
The final scenes lean into this potential, as foggy electric guitar drowns out the percussive beats and the greyness is briefly warmed by a small golden light. A shirtless dancer is embraced by another, a boombox is carried, rave hands are thrown in slow motion. As formal obedience is exhausted and the group collapses together, the lines between the social and the systematic are blurred.
4/4 doesn’t offer many conclusions but it does nudge at some neat ideas. Charged with the task of bringing them to life is the talented ensemble of Chunky Move dancers. Faced with an almost unconquerable mountain, each performer rises confidently to meet Hamilton’s exacting score. Their success on that journey (and inevitable small failures along the way) is reason enough to watch.
– RHYS RYAN