Dance Massive: Connected

Chunky Move’s recent work has been characterised by dancers surrounded by the digital. In Mortal Engine and GLOW, Gideon Obarzanek paired the lyricism and vulnerability of the human form to the spectral bling of interactive video graphics. Connected is a lo-fi third chapter. Where the earlier pieces extrapolated on the human form with projected pixels and lasers, Connected does so with strings and wood in the form of a giant Reuben Margolin kinetic sculpture.

Entering the space, the first thing we experience is the dominating presence of this sculpture, resembling an incomplete loom of dangling warp. Two dancers soon enter and, as one tumbles across the floor to the fuzzy glitches and scratches of Oren Ambarchi’s score, the other begins carefully completing the sculpture, clicking magnetised shards of paper to connect the suspended threads into a grid of diamonds. The tumbling dancer soon becomes two, then three, then four, rolling and undulating across the floor but the deployment of numbers cannot conceal the niggling sense that we are being merely diverted while the main course is prepared.

When the paper grid is completed, the sculpture becomes a latent contraption of elegant beauty. And when the dancers’ bodies are then hooked up to the other ends of the threads, the image is made all the more wondrous. Like a diagram of light rays, the strings emerge from the human subjects, refract through a wooden lattice, bounce across the ceiling and drop down into the reflected image of the grid. In that moment, the connection of the human to the mechanical becomes both abstracted and essentialised.

The physical connection itself is not inherently revealing or even interesting. When a person rides a bicycle, they are connected to a mechanical contraption of exceptional elegance and their vertical force translated into horizontal displacement, but this relationship reveals nothing more than the strength of their quadriceps. The bicycle does not express. On the other hand, Margolin’s sculpture, in the frisson between its mathematical rigidity and kinetic fluidity creates the potential for a mechanical poetry. As the dancers shift their bodies forward and back, their movement is translated into the undulation and contortion of the grid. It becomes an infinitely variable abstract canvas for our associations—a bird’s wings, an open ocean, an enveloping cloak.

As such, the sculpture augments the expressive potential of the dancers by extending the reach of their neurons into new fibres (one imagines the ineluctable fun the dancers must have had in rehearsal, exploring the potential for expression and variation, like babies still conquering gross motor skills). When the sculpture is attached to an intimate duet between a man and a woman, the reflected shudders and waving of the grid seem to describe an elusive mathematical representation of love. When the duet evolves into sexual thrusting from the man, the grid responds with some unimpressed crinkling—a neat bathetic joke.

The grid as a reflection of the human form also makes manifest the very scientific thought that created it. It is an expression of the rational mind, a reminder that what we invent is inevitably in our own image, no matter how apparently disembodied. The programming of Connected in parallel with Narelle Benjamin’s In Glass, brings this aspect into clearer focus. Where In Glass treats reflection as a shady psychological force, Connected celebrates the altogether different shadiness of the scientific and mathematic by making it symbiotic with the corporeal.

However, just as this celebration begins, it grinds to a halt. The eponymous connectedness is dispelled when its potential is only beginning to be realised and, instead, the sculpture is unplugged from its human drivers and plugged into a wall socket. As an automaton it becomes even more mathematical and pure, losing none of its beauty, but the dancers become irrelevant (cast your mind to the poetic force of Stifters Dinge). To his credit, Obarzanek acknowledges this irrelevance with a surprising shift into semi-verbatim theatre that transports us very literally into the inner life of art museum security guards. There is perhaps a vein of social critique here, or for that matter an opportunity to emphasise the intricate beauty of the first half with the banality of this episode, but it feels instead that the promise of the first half is left underutilised and that Obarzanek is dancing around rather than with the concepts he provokes.

This article originally appeared RealTime’s Dance Massive coverage, 2011, and is reproduced with permission.