Dance Review: Chunky Move's Common Ground
Chunky Move is a company known for taking risks. Their latest work, Common Ground, is layered in so much meaning that the overarching themes of the work are almost too big to comprehend, and as we leave the opening night performance, our minds are only just catching up with the incredible artistry of what we have seen. Described by Chunky Move as a 'choreographic game of chess', Common Ground revolves around two dancers, Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli, in an exploration of the power balance that exists not only between genders but between every facet of human interaction. Artistic Director of Chunky Move, Anouk Van Dijk (you might remember her story from our recent interview here) sought inspiration in the origins of ballet in the 17th century, where in the court of Louis XIV dance was presented as a male show of power, and the evolution of that inequality into the landscape in which we now sit, politically and socially. The result is a fascinating pas de deux, the dancers transferring energy back and forth as they seek to find commonality with one another.
The opening sequence is strikingly simple. The two dancers step into the space (there are no wings, they begin outside a square performance area that contains a white tarkett dance floor), as though they are two boxers sizing one another up. Classical music is playing in the background, linking back to the 17th century starting point for the piece, and the dancers, wearing plain white tunics, circle the space. At times they are opposite one another, then one will speed up and catch the other, falling in line behind, before another speed change increases the gap between them. It is almost like a game. Suddenly, they stop, facing forwards, holding hands, at the far back of the room. They begin a sequence where they play with the idea of stepping onto the white floor, brushing their feet back and forth in fluidity, sometimes in perfect synchronicity, sometimes following one another. There is a particularly interesting moment where they swap hand grips over and over, each time one of them putting their hand on top of the other's, until their hands are so high above their heads that they are pulling up onto their toes to reach. It is a visual reminder that they are constantly trading power with each other.
They fall onto the dance floor, and it is like they are exploring this new space together. The music intensifes into a pounding drum beat, and their movements broaden. At one point the hand sequence is reversed. Throughout the floor work, turns and jumps, there are key moments when they rely on each other for balance and stability, as well as moments where one will leave the performance space to stop and take stock of the other. Within the choreography we can see Van Dijk's signature Countertechnique in effect, as both Samaya and Cilli dance without the restriction of a set 'centre'. Instead, they dance in a way that makes use of multiple shifting axis' in their bodies, a style that Countertechnique is known for. The pas de deux sequences shift slightly in mood and form as the work progresses. There is one striking moment when they suddenly stop dancing, and lean heavily on each other, their feet far apart and their torsos connected. The music fades down to ambient noise, so both dancers can be heard breathing as they push against one another. The physical tension between them is a power struggle in itself, amplified by their audible breaths.
From here, the atmosphere of the piece enters a new phase, where each point of contact between Cilli and Samaya is a catalyst for further movement. There is jerking, shaking and swaying, as they vibrate with an energy that seems to intensify as a result of one another. The electricity between them is another demonstration of power, and it is at this point that the dancers both turn their tunics inside out to black, signalling an increase in intensity. The frenzy of movement that follows is playful, with repeated jumping motifs that become almost primal in their energy. We can clearly see the dancers' effects on each other, taking it in turns to lead and be led, constantly switching their grips as they hold hands. Everything is reactive - even the quieter moments. There is a stunning sequence where Cilli stands directly in front of Samaya, who sways ominously from side to side, like a pendulum, behind him, illuminated by red floor-level lighting. He feeds off of her energy, and begins to sway, slightly off kilter from her. We are constantly reminded of their need for each other through the lifts and partnerwork that follow, focused around their interlocked hands. There is a sensuality to the piece as well, which in these middle sequences can be seen in the softer moments, when they collapse together on the floor in a kind of ecstasy.
The key turning point in this work is when the dancers begin to play with the white tarkett, an unexpected extra dimension. They peel back the corners and hide beneath it, they pull apart the centre, and teeter as they balance within the tiny gap created, and they send ripples through the material like shockwaves of energy radiating across the floor. The culmination of this is an incredible moment where they both tear apart the floor together, step inside and hide underneath. They lift the floor up above them as they slowly emerge, a cacophony of street noise, cheering, guns, and political speeches blaring, perhaps eluding to the chaos of society today. They entwine, switching positions in yet another power play, until they emerge naked (this performance does include nudity), the tarkett wrapped around them like capes. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders as they walk slowly around the space, dragging the tarkett, laboured and heavy, until they meet again in the middle. The final, unexpected sequence of the work returns once again to a soundtrack of baroque music. Both dancers, still nude, collapse onto one another, back and forth in a kind of heavy elegance that demonstrates their necessary connection, and their inherent equality. Stripped of everything external, they hold each other up as humans, on common ground.
From start to finish, Samaya and Cilli demonstrate mastery both technically and as performers, and an obvious commitment to Van Dijk's creative process. Van Dijk's vision with Common Ground is clear, but the levels of meaning behind her choreography, Jethro Woodward's multi-dimensional soundtrack, Paul Jackson's modernist lighting design, and Marg Horwell's costumes and set are so nuanced that you would discover new layers even if you saw it a hundred times. At the very core though, is an exploration of shifting power in a climate where equality is more important and more talked about than ever. These two dancers represent what it is to be human, if we can perceive one another in a common place.
We highly recommend experiencing this performance. Tickets to Chunky Move's season of Common Ground are available here. Please note this performance does include full frontal nudity.
Article by Emily Newton-Smith
Photography by Pia Johnson, supplied by Chunky Move