Chunky Move and Malthouse Theatre’s ANTI—GRAVITY is the creative force to be reckoned with amongst the programs of Asia TOPA and Dance Massive. We talked to the Artistic Director of Chunky Move, Anouk van Dijk, about her dynamic collaboration with visual artist and filmmaker Ho Tzu Nyen and their new piece reflecting the elusive, transformative nature of clouds.
It was the previous work of the Singapore-based visual artist and filmmaker that helped inspire ANTI—GRAVITY’s main theme. “Tzu had previously made a film installation based on the iconographic power of clouds, exploring how people read different things into clouds in different cultures and how they have been depicted in paintings,” van Dijk says.
“Together we looked at how clouds move slowly and constantly change formation, and how they build up a lot of pressure inside them, creating rain or thunder and lightning. All of that can be translated into the moving body and we thought: a cloud is like a moving body, or a moving body can behave like a cloud. That’s where it began.”
This was the first time van Dijk had worked with a visual artist, and Tzu Nyen’s first collaboration with a choreographer. It brought about some changes in the way both artists go about their work, bringing a new life to each of their crafts.
“Tzu researches his topics quite intensely and then he starts to distill that into some key points for his work. It’s a very abstract, different way of working and we used this approach,” van Dijk says.
“The creativity of the dancers and our whole team exploded. I structured the work differently than I normally do too. The development of the music and even the costumes came from this little seed; this burst of creativity that he brought to the project. Tzu is the source and the dramaturgical thinker, but also the provocateur, because he came up with things that, in the theatre, you don’t normally do.”
The dancers who will bring ANTI—GRAVITY to life are also approaching their craft differently, creating a variety of new movements for the piece. “We’re using a lot of different smoke machines on stage – one casts a very low fog that dissipates very quickly and one actually creates a cloud up in the air that will hang there and then become a haze. Working with so much smoke has changed how the dancers imagine their bodies to move,” van Dijk says.
“We thought of a cloud as having shape and content but no surface because it keeps changing. You can think of your body that way – it has a lot of content, like blood and fluids, but its surface is always changing, and that also affects how you move.
“On the other hand we’ve worked a lot with pressure and bodies are smacked and squeezed and pressed against each other.”
Like a lot of van Dijk’s previous works, ANTI—GRAVITY is inspired by universal themes of humanity. “In a way, in all my work, I’m interested in the forces that influence us as humans, ranging from the environment we’re in, the political climate, to issues of cultural belonging. On more of a dance level, music can really change your behaviour, and other dancers can elevate you or accelerate you or bring you down,” she says.
“Gravity is the most pure influence on us. I’m really interested in cancelling out gravity and on the other hand using gravity to its upmost. In my dancing, people fly through space, spin to the floor, come back up, and before you know it they’re back on the floor again.
“People have a yearning to actually ascend, to lift themselves up. And at the same time we are held back by the physical weight that we drag with us. We are earthbound. That dichotomy is beautiful to work with in dance. Classical dance has always worked with the idea of elevation and literally lifting yourself up off the earth. But contemporary dance has been much more influenced by ritualistic dancing; farmers, connecting to the earth, connecting to the ground. Lots of urban dance forms deal with a kind of affirmation of the force of the earth. In my work we hover in between. We try to go up, we try to go down, but both are unstable.”
Dance Massive and Asia TOPA are only a small portion of Melbourne’s thriving dance scene, and for van Dijk this city is a very exciting place to be. “Australia’s very hot at the moment – everyone’s very interested to see what is happening here. Melbourne is the biggest dance community in Australia. I would say it’s the heart of dance for the whole Southern Hemisphere,” she says.
“A lot of dancers and dance artists gravitate here because there’s so much going on, on so many levels.”
By Amanda Ribas Tugwell