Assembly | Chunky Move & Victorian OperaPhoto –  Jeff Busby

is a collaboration between Chunky Move and the Victorian Opera, which explores the nature of crowds, how we act and move and think, and how we seek to find a place and meaning within the maelstrom.

The theme for the 2011 Melbourne Festival is ‘coming together’ – this unique, and as music director Richard Gill suggests seemingly ‘strange marriage’, between two of Victoria’s premier arts companies seems to exemplify the theme and its possibilities.

By combining Gideon Obarzanek’s starkly contemporary choreography and direction with Gill’s selection of ancient unaccompanied vocal music, the audience is forced to rethink their preconceived understandings about art, space, and time. The tension between the individual and the group, and alienation and connection, is intensified by the juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary genres. The pure acoustic vocal sound from the periods of Plainchant to the Renaissance (perhaps excluding the unsettling contemporary Motown pop song finale of My World Is Empty Without You), creates a sense of grandeur, or as Obarzanek suggests, ‘the sound of something vastly infinite’, which changes our perception of the movement of the crowd on the stage.

The stripped back design (lighting by Nick Schlieper, costume by Harriet Oxley, set by Obarzanek and Chris Mercer), a staircase littered with ordinary people as part of the human throng, provides strong often humorous, and very familiar visions of the way we move, act, and react as part of a crowd. The waves of people cascading, marching, and sliding down the stairs complemented the waves of sound – at times pure sonorous song, at times the cacophony of people talking over one another, or the cheers and hoots of a footy crowd.

The conflicting elements within and throughout combine to create a work as enigmatic as the crowd of people it presents. Listening to the resonant sound of the music, I felt the warm pleasure of hearing individual voices combining in harmony. But I was often confronted by the movement that challenged the harmony; movement that oscillated from the organised harmony of ordinary public behaviour, to the aggression of a mob, and the helpless flocking coming from a need to be part of the group.

Assembly is a unique work, which stems from a very unique collaboration between two very different art forms. It works, however, because the partnership between Chunky Move and the Victorian Opera, and the enthusiasm of Obarzanek and Gill and their combined company of almost sixty dancers and singers, seems to be a natural one. Both companies continue to push at the boundaries of performance, and to challenge audiences’ notions of the borders of dance and music.

Although the opposing elements sit somewhat uncomfortably as something unfamiliar, I was excited and intrigued by the possibilities it presented, in particular for classical music and singing to find a new place within contemporary life and art.

Assembly is at once an exploration and a celebration of the possibilities of what can be achieved and created with collaboration, cooperation, and unity. I have never seen anything quite like it.

Melbourne Festival in association with Sydney Festival and Brisbane Festival present
Chunky Move and Victorian Opera

Director & Choreographer Gideon Obarzanek
Music Director Richard Gill

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall | Cnr Southbank Boulevard & Sturt Street, Southbank
Dates: 6 – 8 Oct, 2011
Tickets: $95.00 – $25.00
Bookings: Melbourne Recital Centre (03) 9699 3333 | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038

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