Dance distilled: Antony Hamilton’s singular logic of movement

Dance distilled: Antony Hamilton’s singular logic of movement

The following was written as part of a writer-in-residency for the Fusebox performance festival in Austin.

 

Dance distilled: Antony Hamilton’s singular logic of movement

By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Writer-in-residence

 

Antony Hamilton’s “Meeting” is modern dance distilled to its most essential elegance.

Two male performers in simple black shirts and grey pants. A stage bare but for a circle of 64 wooden blocks, robotic percussion instruments emitting metronomic metallic pitches.

Hamilton and his co-performer Alisdair Macindoe move in a precise, controlled manner, simultaneously mechanical and fluid.

The Australian duo bring “Meeting” to Fusebox as part of their extended tour of Europe, Canada and the U.S.

 

Hamilton describes the 60-minute performance as a dive into the dynamics between biology and technology.

But “Meeting” didn’t start out that way.

“At first I proposed that I make a work that had no sound at all — a silent choreographic study of a certain movement vocabulary,” Hamilton says, by Skype from a tour stop in Belgium.

“The movement I imagined is itself about the demarcation of time in an episodic way and so I originally imagined this piece to be a technical study of that idea. The movement is doing something similar to sound already.”

Macindoe, a sound artist and dancer as well as Hamilton’s frequent collaborator, suggested using a click track. The end result: Macindoe created mesmerizing robotic wooden block instruments, each programmed by a micro-chip that drives an attached pencil to strike a metal pad.

The 64 blocks, arranged in groupings of eight, create a circle on stage, the pattern of eight mimicking an eight-count musical beat.

“If there was going to be sound it had to be live, not recorded sound from off stage,” says Hamilton.

”I’m always curious about trying to integrate all the elements of a performance onstage so they seem to cohabit in one symbiotic world where one doesn’t exist. I want people to wonder: ‘Which part of it is music, which part is stage design, which part is choreography?’”

Made of simple wood and ordinary pencils, the instruments seem rudimentary, archaic, though they operate by micro-chip.

 

That tension that arises from a seemingly out-of-date machine is what Hamilton finds artistically rich.

Says Hamilton: “We over futurize technology, but the reality is technology has been on a trajectory since the discovery of fire.”

“Still, we have this ever-present fear that at some point in the future, a sentient technology will overtake us. But really we’re already manipulated by technology, by things that define the terms of how we live and we use our bodies.”

Pedestrian traffic crosslights, for example, are designed to dictate when we walk across the street. Doorknobs require we use our hands and not, say, our elbows.

We create machines and then forget how we let them shape us.

Hamilton began ballet training at a young age but also found enormous inspiration in breakdancing and hiphop. “I extracted the movement vocabulary of breakdancing from the rest of its culture and have tried to stretch what that movement can be, mostly the popping.”

There’s a cerebral compulsiveness to Hamilton’s dance-making. He admits to certain preoccupations: numbers and patterns of numbers, micro-movements and repetitive movement and dance that is improvised from a score of number sequences or random gesture pathways.

Asked to sum up his movement vocabulary, he posits: “It’s a collision of the formalism of traditional western dance like ballet, the edge of breakdance and conceptual underpinnings, I suppose.”

Yet Hamilton relies on formalism of customary theater-going presenting his performance in a traditional theatrical setting — a show in a proper theater with a proscenium stage. Audiences more readily find the surprise of his subtly radical performances when it’s framed by the familiar.

After all, Hamilton is fond of the ceremony of theater-going

“I love the ritual of the theater. You make plans to go beforehand, maybe you’ve had a meal, maybe a glass of wine, maybe you meet up with a friend and discuss what you’ll see.”

“I love that part of (going to the theater). And I don’t separate it from the work I make"

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