Friday, April 28, 2017

Dancing Machine: Antony Hamilton & Alisdair Macindoe's Meeting

Alisdair Macindoe & Antony Hamilton in Meeting, at Toronto's Berkeley Street Theatre until April 30. (Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti)

In Meeting, man doesn't just encounter a machine; man is like the apparatus itself, a whirring, ticking, mechanized instrument measuring and maneuvering through space. Created and performed by Australian choreographer Antony Hamilton together with fellow Aussie Alisdair Macindoe, designer of the 64 custom-made robotic instruments encircling the performance on the stage floor, the roughly hour-long dance is a showcase of mental and physical stamina, utterly fascinating to watch.

Part of Spotlight on Australia, a six-week festival of interdisciplinary dance, theatre and circus art which Canadian Stage is presenting through May 7, Meeting opened this week at the Berkeley Street Theatre – the same night as Tamara Saulwick's Endings, an evocative and elegiac theatre piece about death. Meeting closes on April 30, and is a must-see for anyone interested in knowing why dance from Down Under is in a class of its own.

The two men, dressed identically in black t-shirts, trainers and steel-grey joggers, are not twins. Macindoe is tall and athletic-looking while Hamilton is comparatively small and wiry. Yet they relate to each other as if they were interlocking tooth-wheels in the same halting machine. With neutral facial expressions, they seamlessly synchronize their robotic movement sequences with the rhythms rising from the mini-drum boxes beating incessantly on the ground around them.The view from inside the alarm clock. The movement vocabulary is precise, angular, geared and levered while the concentration required to pull it off is awe-inspiring in the extreme. The dancers don't move, they fractionalize, carving out new ways of looking not just at dance but also at the overwhelming influence of technology in our time.The man-machine relationship has been investigated before in choreography, perhaps most famously by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer in the 1920s and Bronislava Nijinska, sister of Vaslav Nijinsky, during the experimental art years of the early Soviet Union. Nijinska's Machine Dances of 1921-25 showed dancers simulating the mechanized movements of moving machines. This fascination with the industrial "other" has continued into the 21st century, as evidenced by French contemporary choreographer Angelin Preljocaj's 2014 perpetual-motion ballet, Empty Moves, inspired by Singer sewing machines. Where Meeting stands apart from what has come before is its inclusion of an actual piece of machinery as part of the dance.

Antony Hamilton in Meeting. (Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti)
The robotic sound devices are wooden boxes with thin red tappers the size of pencils. They look like metronomes turned on their side. Each drums out a pre-programmed score of dynamic beats, providing a tightly constrained rhythmic framework for the dancers to work with and against. Hamilton and Macindoe move in the spaces between the beats, pushing their highly attuned partnership to the limits of physical expression. The timing has to be perfect.

The temporal and spatial boundaries represented by the machines compel the dancers to adhere to an internalized counting structure whose complex number sequence erupts into the open like a stuttered cry for help. But the soundscape isn't fixed. Hamilton and Macindoe artfully, if not amusingly, lift themselves over the circle of tap-tapping machinery to rearrange the individual boxes in scattered geometric line formation. Some of the drums they align with bells to create anew species of syncopated sound. The dancers do a heel-toe walk around and over them, as if navigating a minefield.

The sound boxes tyrannize as much as they rule. But the dancers respect the role they play in motorizing their art. Hamilton and Macindoe, in fact, give them the last word. Exiting the performance space, they leave the machines to carry the show without them. Which they do quite nicely, thank you very much. Bosco Shaw's calibrated lighting design shines down on the robotics thrumming and humming like a storm of cicadas on a summer's night, illuminating the compulsive rhythm driving the dance.

– Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York and the Dance Gazette in London, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press). A staff writer at The Globe and Mail for 32 years, she was her newspaper's award-winning dance critic from 1985 until 2001 before transitioning to the Style section as the fashion reporter. She has also served as the paper's rock critic and as an investigative reporter in the visual arts with a focus on art crime. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she writes on dance, theatre, the visual arts and fashion for Critics At Large.

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