Metasystems, James Batchelor and collaborators; Post phase: the summit is blue, Chloe Chignell and Timothy Walsh. Courtyard Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre. February 12- 15. Canberra Multicultural Fringe.
Metasystems, with choreography by James Batchelor in collaboration with architect Anna Tweeddale, appears to be an austere work about construction and deconstruction. Four performers spread two piles of concrete bricks across the floor of the performing space in meticulously laid out, but changing patterns. We hear a deliberate thump as each is placed in position and then watch as the bricks are rearranged over the course of the performance. It all seems to be working according to a mathematical formula, although one or two minor mishaps spoilt the purity of the arrangement on opening night.
Two of the performers, James Batchelor and Amber McCartney, have a dual function. They not only assist the other two performers, Emma Batchelor and Madeline Beckett, in laying out the bricks, but there are times when they dance between and around the rows and piles of bricks. Their movements take on an expressive function, often mirroring in dance the construction and the shape and placing of the bricks.
Two aspects of Metasystems stand out. Firstly, inherent in this work is a powerful understanding of body time. With no music and not always even the steady thump of bricks on the floor to guide them, Batchelor and McCartney frequently dance in unison without obviously watching each other. They sense the timing of the other and rarely falter.
Secondly, the work ends in an unexpected way. Having watched some 45 minutes of walking and brick-carrying, it is something of a shock when in the final moments the dancers separate out an individual space for themselves among the bricks and snuggle down into the construction. Suddenly something personal is injected into the show, even a hint of emotion. That Batchelor can surprise like this is what makes his work so worth following.
Post phase: the summit is blue is in two parts — the first The sublime attends to gravity choreographed and danced by Chloe Chignell to music by Brian Eno; the second, The endless motion of the motionless man, choreographed by Timothy Walsh and danced by Chloe Chignell and Amber McCartney to drumming by Steve Reich.
Chignell has a lovely fluidity to her movement and her arms in particular are expressive. But I found her choreography lacked an easily observable structure. I longed for a clear spatial pattern that would give her sometimes repetitive and predictable choreography more clarity, and thus meaning to her program notes.
Timothy Walsh's piece began with Chignell and McCartney sitting on chairs clutching bags of ice against their torso for what seemed like a long time. With a change in drumming rhythms they discarded the ice bags and began a series of moves. They jumped, spun, and manipulated large pieces of fabric. They got faster and faster and in the end they reminded me of whirling dervishes. But by the end the dancers had got beyond being able to control their movements, in one case to the extent that I became concerned for the well-being of the dancer. The work was about pushing the limits of the body, but safety concerns made it an unpleasant experience for me.