Chunky Move at Theater der Welt Finding Clarity amongst Smoke and Mirrors

Chunky Move's in 'An Act of Now'
Chunky Move's in 'An Act of Now' | ©Jeff Busby

Grounded in the phrase ‘think global, act local’, Theater der Welt 2017 assembles artists and performers from across the globe examining themes of ‘escape and migration, globalization and trade’ as told through dance, performance art and song. Among them Australian dance company ‘Chunky Move’.

Contemporary performance art is unique in that it allows for a kind of universal language. Found in movement, color and form this expression comes to act as a bridging mechanism with the capacity to traverse international communicative barriers. Following the guidelines of UNESCO’s mission to achieve mutual understanding and diplomacy on a global scale, this year, the International Theatre Institute has brought Theater der Welt to Hamburg’s Harbour District.

Chunky Moves 'An Art of Now' Chunky Moves 'An Art of Now' | ©Jeff Busby To outsiders, contemporary performance art is largely misunderstood. This is possibly one of the great failings of recent times. Its modes of expression through delicate symbolism and emotion allow for a form of expression that is universal. This kind of universal language, found in movement, color and form come to act as a bridging mechanism with the capacity to traverse international communicative barriers. Following the guidelines of UNESCO’s mission to achieve mutual understanding and diplomacy on a global scale, the International Theatre Institute brings Theater der Welt to German theatrical spaces every three years. 2017, Hamburg played host to forty-five productions from five continents between May and June.
 
Grounded in the phrase ‘think global, act local’, Theater der Welt 2017 assembles artists and performers from across the globe examining themes of ‘escape and migration, globalization and trade’ as told through dance, performance art and song. Curated by a local ‘band of four’, this year’s artistic program aims to promote unity across borders in its use of the harbour as both its setting and its theme. Audiences “[…] are invited to engage in a counter-model to the current zeitgeist of nationalisation and isolationism. A few weeks before the G20 summit, Theater der Welt also uses art to remind us that fair domestic policy is only possible with cultural diversity” (Amelie Deuflhard, Sandra Küpper, Joachim Lux, András Siebold – Artistic programme, Theater der Welt 2017).

Australian Dance Company Chunky Move participated at Theater der Welt in Hamburg Australian Dance Company Chunky Move participated at Theater der Welt in Hamburg | ©Jeff Busby Chunky Move, The Company founded in 1995 by Gideon Obarzanek has built itself up to be one of the premier contemporary dance companies in Australia. Their innovative productions are based on an ‘‘artistic vision driven by an investigation into the multifaceted possibilities of the body and its relationship to place, context and environment’’ (Chunky Move). 2017, Melbourne based Dance Company, Chunky Move performs their work An Act of Now in Hamburg’s Kakaospeicher in conjunction with Theater der Welt and the Australian Government’s cultural initiative, Australia Now.
 
Every year, a selection of the country’s finest artists and performers are flown to a new country in order to express Australia’s creative identity to international audiences with the support of the Australian Government. With the host country for 2017’s program being Germany, it has coincided with Theater der Welt and Australia Now have thus supported Chunky Move in their efforts to travel and perform in Hamburg.

The dancers of Chunky Move during their performance The dancers of Chunky Move during their performance | ©Jeff Busby Chunky Move’s award winning An Act of Now was originally performed in 2012 in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne as the first work to come out of Chunky Move in its collaboration with their new Creative Director, Anouk van Dijk. Originating from The Netherlands, van Dijk is the creator of Countertechnique, a movement system she has developed over the course of twenty years. It is especially designed for professional dancers as the exercises allow them to move their bodies with the least amount of effort in order to prevent injury and strain. An Act of Now ‘‘looks at the body-environment relationship in extremely physical terms and plays heavily into [Countertechnique]’’ says van Dijk. The Company itself has since come to embody Countertechnique within the very flesh of its choreography and many of Chunky Move’s students are now trained as teachers of the system. 

An Act of Now: Expression of Australian Culture

 What’s most intriguing about An Act of Now are the parameters of expression in communicating Australian culture. The work is site specific, encased in a smoke-filled glasshouse performed in an expansive, ten-thousand square metre repurposed cocoa factory on the docklands of Hamburg’s North River.  The performance itself invites its onlookers to ‘watch and listen in on headphones as Van Dijk’s intense physical choreography unfolds within the glasshouse, creating a deeply immersive and intimate audience experience’ (Chunky Move).

Chunky Move’s award winning An Act of Now was originally performed in 2012 in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne Chunky Move’s award winning An Act of Now was originally performed in 2012 in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne | ©Jeff Busby Van Dijk says that this serves as ‘‘a reaction, as well as an interaction with the new environment and vastness of the Australian continent’’. Operating within a confined and highly claustrophobic space, ‘‘you see how this herd controls, follows, is being led, disobeys, apologises and comes to a consensus.’’ This idea of the relationship between the body and environment is evident in van Dijk’s initial impressions of Melbourne when she moved there with her family in 2012. She notes ‘‘Thinking about it, many people don’t only physically live on top of each other in big cities, they also live on top of each other in terms what they expect from one another’’. As more or less an outsider looking in, the Dutch choreographer allows for a nuanced expression of an otherwise jumbled and intangible aspect of Australian life.

On art as a unifying expression of culture

There is a certain capacity for positive, patriotic expression that only exists in art. This can in many ways be utilised for the purpose of large scale unification. An Act of Now not only expresses the chaos of multiple bodies in close proximity; on a broader scale it’s an expression of Australia’s unique position amongst globalized cities. ‘‘Australia is an immigrant culture whereby a multitude of cultures negotiate personal lineage to the dynamics of a multi-cultural society on a daily basis’’ says van Dijk. Critics of the Australian education system suggest that our fixation solely on the failures and achievements of our Anglo-Saxon inhabitants have left little room for an awareness and appreciation of our successes as a multicultural nation. The resulting product is a cultural identity that sees nothing but ambiguity surrounding our more unifying cultural attributes. It is only apparent to particular segments of the population that expanding upon the capacity of Australia as a nation harboring a population stemming from multiple origins is of great benefit socially and economically. This is where art can play a role in extracting these beneficial attributes and amplifying them with the hope of reinforcing and encouraging collaboration to advance the nation as a cooperative whole.