Thursday, March 08, 2012

Antony Hamilton’s Black Project 1

One hesitates to write a review as glowing as this... not, for once, because of the critic’s age-old terror of over-praising a work, but because, well, if this work is as good as I believe it to be, we might lose Antony Hamilton to the international festival circuit and not see him for a decade.

Antony Hamilton’s Black Project 1 (Photograph: Ponch Hawkes)

Certainly, Hamilton has earned any international acclaim coming his way. Even the works he has created on students, at the VCA for example, have shown an extraordinary attention to choreographic and design detail and a rare integration and sophistication of production values.

Federation Square by Louise Forthun

Black Project 1 is no exception. Though this premiere season is just five performances, and the top ticket price is a mere $25, Hamilton’s work is ingenious and extraordinarily inventive in its conception and awesomely disciplined in its execution.

Antony Hamilton and Melanie Lane (Ponch Hawkes)

Aside from Olaf Meyer’s precise and agile video projector lighting and the brilliant, synthetic score, it’s all rather low tech. Imagination, judgement and taste hold sway here. And one could hardly ask for more. On stage, Black Project 1 is like Tron in 3D, or the skeletal neon-lined cityscapes of painter Louise Forthun come to life. And it’s all done with masking tape and reflective chalks and paints.

Cold (1996) by Louise Forthun

There is a robotic accuracy in the movement of Hamilton and co-star Melanie Lane. (Think robotic arms working side-by-side on a production line rather than sci-fi androids aping human characteristics.) They dance in near-perfect sync, varying pitch, torsion and speed like a jog-shuffled video image.

Indeed, were one to play back a visual recording of the live event, it would look processed: sped up and slowed down, or played backwards. Like a music video by Mark Romanek or Chris Cunningham. Time and gravity are toyed with; are treated with disdain.

Photo: Ponch Hawkes (click on the image to enlarge)

Black Project 1 begins with a low, wide, dark space defined with gloomy light and subtly moving projected clouds. Revealed in the matte gloom are a pair of poised horizontal bodies. They’re like overturned bronze statues or figures unearthed at Pompeii, pallid things frozen in a moment of vigorous action.

Hamilton and Lane are so perfectly motionless, so inanimate, they might actually be mannequin likenesses of themselves. The audience is still toying with the possibility, with the illusion, when the two start up. The skin and costumes are an oily dark grey, darker and less shiny than bronze.

In one of the more astonishing moments, Hamilton and Lane chalk lines on the floor that record their lightning fast circular movements. What’s left is like a trace of subatomic particles on an old photographic plate. Either that or a chart of the movement of stars around a pole in a time-lapse image.

This is a work of cosmic aspiration. Of macro and micro. It’s infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. It is a work that champions the power of imagination over technology, and the human body -- the body in space -- over any technological facsimile.

The music (variously by Robert Henke, Mika Vainio and Christian Fennesz, who are based in Germany and Austria) is a raspy mix of Pink Floyd (think ‘Welcome to the Machine’) and Tangerine Dream.

Black Project 1 conceived, designed and choreographed by Antony Hamilton. Video projection by Olaf Meyer. Set construction by Matthew Scott. Costumes by Antony Hamilton.

Part of the double bill
Clouds Above Berlin. Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, March 7. Tickets: $25. Bookings: 03 9322 3713 or on-line. Season ends Sunday.

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