Sensory assault as fear comes to light
The Australian, Arts, Reviews
By Deborah Jones
Gideon Obarzanek’s latest work is challenging and daring. The provocations occur on a number of levels, the most obvious of which are the intensities of light and sound that make Mortal Engine something of a bodysnatcher. It physically invades the viewer.
On a more intellectual level, the ways in which living bodies interact with, direct or are directed by extremely sophisticated technologies raise questions about our humanity and what the future might hold.
Mortal Engine is a development of techniques created by interactive system designer Frieder Weiss, seen n the wonderful 2006 solo Glow, in which a dancer’s movements trigger light patterns and sounds that appear to take on a life of their own. The connections between the substance and the shadow are deeply absorbing as inner thoughts and impulses are made visible, rendering the performer vulnerable.
Glow is a soft word; Mortal Engine gives off a much harder-edged vibe and is indeed an entirely tougher proposition. Six dancers – Kristy Ayre, Sara Black, Amber Haines, Antony Hamilton, Lee Serle and Charmene yap – swarm on and tumble about a tilted platform that’s also a canvas for intricate patterns of light. The bodies are bathed, outlined, defined and often blotted out. They are also battered by swirls of rods raining down relentlessly. Once more, inner impulses seem to be made visible but the atmosphere is dark and troubling, as if we can see people literally struggling with themselves. From time to time a panel rises to make a vertical bed for a couple who, if you like, represent reality and with whom the audience can identify in some way. Mostly, though, the world of Mortal Engine feels like an alternative universe directed by an intelligence that is not entirely benign.
As with Glow, there are images in light to take your breath away, and not just with their visual beauty. At one point in Mortal Engine, figures force their way through a field of precisely laid-out bars of light, the pattern disturbed by their movement and then restored as they pass on. The ebb and flow of scurrying little balls of light around a dancer is intriguing for what it implies about energy given and received; at the same time it is quite disorientating and disconcerting.
Such moments come again and again, although not everything holds the attention equally. Perhaps this is just the dance-lover talking, but a couple of episodes in which light and sound take over almost completely seem to me chilly and less satisfying than the sections in which movement is an equal partner. Nevertheless, Obazanek’s depth and breadth of inquiry is stimulating. You wouldn’t recognise Mortal Engine as coming from the creator of I Want to Dance Better at Parties or Tense Dave. The Chunkies are always on the move.
Chunky Move is supported by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria Department of Premier and Cabinet and the commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.