Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Einstein on the rubbish dump: Keep Everything by Antony Hamilton

Last week Sally Bennett tweeted this:

Me: “Why dance?” Antony Hamilton: “Two words. Michael Jackson.”

Had she asked me, I would have said three words.  “Safe from harm.” 

Actually, I wouldn’t have said a single word.  Just rummaged around for my Pod (or, gasp, an actual purchased CD if I were at home!) and played her some Massive Attack.  Loud.  Resistance is useless... or futile depending on your choice of sci-fi/sci-fantasy.  Dance is in your DNA.  (And let’s not forget Douglas Adams’ middle name was Noel!) 

In the longer Q&A, printed in the Herald Sun on June 11, Sally’s exchange with Antony is recorded thus:

Why did you choose dance?

Two words: Michael Jackson. 

Funny really.  Watching Keep Everything (a concept I can relate to as a life-long hoarder, diarist, photographer, archivist, yada yada yada) I could imagine that Hamilton’s impetus was oratorical, a desire to comunicate.  His dance is a kind of oration.  Not fancy rhetoric, mind.  It’s more a vomit of unrefined things.  Ideas, words, half-formed, half-understood things.  His avatars (they’re so much more than dancers!) seem to be talking in tongues.  Glossolalia is the word.  [= “the fluid vocalizing (or less commonly, the writing) of speech-like syllables which lack any readily comprehended meaning, in some cases, as part of religious practice.”]  It’s as if they have no idea of what they need to say.

Lauren Langlois, Benjamin Hancock & Alisdair Macindoe in Keep Everything (Photo: Jeff Busby)
 Language has infected them.  Possessed them.  Think of the epiphany at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Instead of the gift of tools? weapons? violence? the ‘gift’ is vocal. 

In the beginning was the word. But before the word could be spoken there was the intake of breath, the flex of the diaphragm and the raw physical act of speaking it aloud. Before those, there was the beat of the heart and the throb of hot blood through arteries to power the muscles.  Before those, again, there were biochemical processes.  Sodium and potassium needed to fire the nerves, glucose for energy. And before the word itself was the metaphor.

More than any of Antony Hamilton’s recent works, the origins of Keep Everything are in language. Language and the physical act of speaking. Much of the dance in Keep Everything comes from the thoracic diaphragm -- from below the chest -- and radiates out in rhythmic and sonic waves.

And the diaphragm -- the idea of the acoustic diaphragm and its capacity to convert mechanical energy into sound and sound back into mechanical energy -- is the metaphor which powers this particular work.

The transducer. 

In my review, published in yesterday’s Australian, I wrote about the synaesthetic quality of the sound design and lighting, that the sounds glow and the lights roar, mostly in sync with one another. But, really, they’re just two of the more obvious dimensions in an infinitely complex -- yet elegantly simple -- equation.  Keep Everything is a demonstration of Antony Hamilton’s theory of relativity. Light, sound, movement, gesture, speech, song, fighting, tickling... they’re all... what?  Interchangeable? Sorta.  Translatable? They can be converted from one form to the other. 

Funnily enough, there’s an equal and opposite power to match glossolalia.  One can listen in tongues!  And, those of you who have followed me for a while, will know what I’m going to write next.  Talking in tongues is sometimes referred to as ‘talking to god’.  Yep, only god gets ya!

But, here, I reckon meaning isn’t important.  It’s not what Hamilton is trying to convey.  He just wants us to be infected too.  Or -- for those of us who already have it, full-blown -- to get a booster shot. 

On Facebook, Saturday morning, Hamilton told a friend that Lauren Langlois is  “devastatingly good in this work.”  She is.  But you’ll have to stop for a moment and reinflate that word.  Think: to overwhelm, confound, stun.  And you’re getting close.  I use the word ‘fearless’ an awful lot to express my admiration for dancers.  To express my awe.  But here that word is oddly off.  NQR.  Langlois comes from some bizarro universe where fear is not known, so there’s no need for the word to even exist.  Like some Swiftean utopia where there is no need for the verb “to lie”. 

Not screaming, scatting. (Photograph: Jeff Busby) 

She performs like an immortal might.  For fun.  To extend herself.  To scoff at the boundaries of physics.  You could hardly imagine a performer more committed to the task at hand... were it not for the proximity of Alisdair Macindoe and Benjamin Hancock! 

Again, if I may quote myself, they’re avatars in Hamilton’s evil twin universe. 

Hamilton’s recent preoccupations with evolution and entropy -- and the universe’s push-me pull-you jog-shuffling between the two -- are here, too, like an ever-present but subliminal fourth dimension. The world of Keep Everything is simultaneously primordial and apocalyptic. It’s a double helix: Einstein on the Beach and 2001: A Space Odyssey entwined.

In his program notes, Hamilton writes of his “conscious attempt to avoid neatly organising events into a logical and well crafted dramaturgical narrative.” Well, he has achieved his aim at every level. Not just structurally -- no bookending here -- but atomically. There’s hardly a repeated phrase in this dense, hour-long work, unless it is one that has been repeated in reverse. The dance alphabet itself morphs and evolves before our eyes.


Keep Everything begins with an aural bonfire. It could be volcanic creation or nuclear catastrophe.

As Hancock frees himself from a mound of downstage rubbish, chattering away like one of Beckett’s happiest hobos, Langlois and Macindoe stretch their biomechanical limbs behind him like fast-evolving android apes. As they rise to full height, their movements become refined and smooth. The three bodies then collide and ricochet off one another like figures in a video game.

What follows is an extraordinary mash up of Pilobolus and Mummenschanz, of recombinant bodies and what can only be described as physical solfège, of comic biz and scat singing, of manga martial arts and Terry Gilliam-style fantasia.

Keep Everything may not have the broad appeal of Hamilton’s last work Black Project 1 (on its way to Spring Dance at the Sydney Opera House) but it will be adored by the contemporary dance and performance art cognoscenti. 

Keep Everything. Directed and choreographed by Antony Hamilton. Lighting by Benjamin Cisterne. Sound by Julian Hamilton & Kim Moyes. AV design by Robin Fox. System design & operation Nick Roux. Design consultant Paula Levis. Costume construction Naomi Van Dyck. Production manager Michael Carr. Stage management Blair Hart.

Performed by Benjamin Hancock, Lauren Langlois and Alisdair Macindoe.

At Chunky Move Studios, until June 23.

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