Dance Massive: Drift

Antony Hamilton’s previous full-length works have been unified by a predilection for the adolescent or naïve. In the excellent Blazeblue Oneline, it was the playful mark making of graffiti mixed with cardboard box Transformers. In I Like This, Hamilton, together with Byron Perry, ended a piece about dance creation with a beautiful image of themselves as prelapsarian boys under a doona—fascinated by the magic of light, the possibility of imagination. In Drift, the theme continues with what feels like a pastiche of Heavy Metal comic book tropes.

On the other hand, the clearest point of difference between Drift and Hamilton’s earlier work is that this one eschews the theatre and takes place under a highway. Whether it is the epic scale of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata in a disused quarry, or the intimate celebration of the Flinders St – Elizabeth St intersection by The League of Resonance, site-based works call on their environs and their architecture for framing, for meaning, for reflection. Hence, it seems utterly appropriate that a work set underneath a highway should also be a drive-in show, where we park side-by-side and tune in to the soundtrack’s frequency. In fact, there is a giddy thrill in being given a map and a radio frequency instead of a ticket.

And so, in the gravel and dust beneath the CityLink overpass, down past the Xanadu tent, beside the film studios, in the shadow of the crippled remains of the Southern Star Observation Wheel, across Railway Canal from the city of shipping containers, in front of a row of cars, Antony Hamilton and friends create a post-apocalyptic vision. In that sense, this is a work that responds to its space. The Docklands, and the Wheel in particular, are the perfect location for an examination of the end of history, the folly of civilisation and the browbeaten individual.

Drift has already begun when we arrive. Three dancers are crouching and fretting their way across the ground in single file. They are led by a man in a dust-coloured hoodie who is shadowed at every step and bounce by a pair of ninjas. Yes, they are almost certainly ninjas. A soundtrack of noise, hum and beeps on our radio begins to divulge string instruments, percussion, an incoherent voice or scream. Above us, the tops of concrete pillars flicker with an enigmatic light.

We are watching from some distance, through the inherent frame of a windscreen with the necessary intermediary of glass at a landscape-cum-set that is vast in its reach and its scale. Yet, the dance itself is small and precise, with the physical strobe of jerking motions that Hamilton has incorporated so frequently in his work. Therein lies a problem. There is already a detachment in sitting behind glass, there is a detachment in being in the familiar space of one’s car and there is a distance between audience and the barely-lit dancers. One senses that Hamilton wants to play with this detachment in the sense of its consequent voyeurism—that we have stumbled upon a strange world in a place we have no call to visit normally—but that feels like a conceptual cul-de-sac given that there is no follow-through either on the notion of gaze, or on our presence. Instead, these distancing factors compound on each other to obscure and detract from the choreography. Or rather, the choreography does not fully meet the demands of the location. In this sense, Drift does not respond to its space but merely uses it as a backdrop.

Nevertheless, there are glimpses of what could have been. After the ninjas have left, a woman emerges in nothing more than boots, undies and bejewelled bracelets swinging a large tree branch in desperate circles. The image is strikingly strange and drew some confused looks from a group of young men who happened to wander past, but the image that stands out is when the woman, trying to plant the lifeless branch in the barren ground, holds onto its bulk to stop herself from falling. A spotlight falls on her and the wind blows her hair dramatically to one side. The image of nakedness, lifelessness and futility is framed perfectly by the massive concrete pillars and suddenly the work responds to its epic setting with an image of epic decay.

It finishes with a disappearing act. The topless woman, the ninjas and their leading man have clashed but eventually come to terms and, together, hugging the contours of concrete, they escape from view and we are ushered to start our engines and depart. As we drive off, talk turns to deserts and princesses, shamans and evil warlords, Conan the Barbarian and the seventies. The adolescent pop culture of the drive-in lives on.

This article originally appeared online in RealTime’s Dance Massive coverage, 2011, and is reproduced with permission. http://realtimearts.net/feature/Dance_Massive_2011/10260