‘Token Armies’ marries dance and large scale sculpture in a fearlessly ambitious production

‘Token Armies’ marries dance and large scale sculpture in a fearlessly ambitious production

Words by Augustus Welby
Image by Dian McLeod

Premiering at the Melbourne International Arts Festival, Token Armies is Australian choreographer Antony Hamilton’s most ambitiously scaled work to date.

The work seeks to scrutinise the fixation on human primacy, placing more than 20 performers alongside biomechanical life forms and bringing the audience into the action.

Hamilton’s work tends to be quite philosophically motivated, centring on themes with concrete significance. The idea for Token Armies came to him almost fully formed.

“I had a vision of an actual world and an aesthetic and how it’s populated and what I imagine it looks like from the outside,” Hamilton says. “That’s been floating around in my head for about three or four years. Because it’s of such scale, it’s taken a really long time to find a way for that to manifest and be produced.

“It feels more like feature film work, where you do lots of pre-production work, lots of world-building and then you populate it with performers whose role is largely already defined.”

The scale of Token Armies means that preparations for its premiere have been exhaustive. The hard work behind the scenes correlates with the production’s focus on ideas of work and labour, things to be done, processes to go through and resolve.

“The performers are constantly engaged in these activities that have the appearance of a work,” he says. “It’s never really fully understood when you’re watching it what the rationale or reason is for the work, but you get the feeling of a collective effort to produce something and do something.”

A signature of Hamilton’s work is his preference for working with dancers while not really thinking about dance.

“Dancers have this skill-set, way of thinking, this embodied knowledge, this way of experiencing the world and moving through the world that is really very good at facilitating other ideas than dance,” he says. “It’s like using a language and applying it in a different way. Often dancers and choreography, for me, are there to facilitate another thing.”

In this work, Hamilton will employ the dancers to make an example of humans’ reliance on the body, which has sustained despite consistent technological breakthroughs. While he’s known as an adventurous creator, he believes the narrative elements of his work also stand out.

“I look back at the works and they’re actually very theatrical and they have these narrative arcs that are not explicit but they suggest these bigger stories or mythologies about the way humans are and the larger troubles of the human journey and project,” Hamilton says.

Token Armies premieres less than 12 months after Hamilton was appointed co-CEO and artistic director of Melbourne’s flagship contemporary dance company, Chunky Move. Token Armies represents the sort of fearless creativity he hopes to foster at Chunky Move.

“It would be very challenging to produce a work of this scale on a regular basis,” he says. “This work is extremely ambitious for the company, but that kind of ambition and that kind of vision is necessary to show that it is possible. And hopefully it would give a sense that it’s not impossible.”

A single colossal sculpture will orbit the room throughout the performance, which was built by animatronics gurus Creature Technology Co.

“I approached Creature Technology to design and fabricate some of the sculptural elements in the work. In the independent arts sector, it’s quite challenging to find people to work with at this sort of scale because the commercial cost of these things is so great it’s out of most artists’ reach.

“I went in there with a notebook and a few concept drawings into this huge company and had to pitch my project to them as an independent artist and I managed to get them onside. It’s quite outside of their realm of activity but I am always super interested in engaging with creative people from all kind of fields.”

Token Armies makes its world premiere at Melbourne International Arts Festival from Wednesday October 16 to Sunday October 20. Find out more and grab your tickets via the festival website.