Complexity of Belonging is a new work created by Chunky Move's artistic director Anouk van Dijk working with German theatre and opera director Falk Richter. This is the fifth time the two have worked together, with actors and dancers, to create a work which explores our modern world and the place of the individual within it. Themes of race, ethnicity, gender, desire, sexuality, fear, and the need for connection are played out within a world dominated by modern day technology. Whilst allowing people to connect across distance, this technology also serves to disconnect them from each other. Too often they become voices on the end of a mobile phone, a frozen image on Skype, a punchy description on a website, or simply a brand.
Within the framework of a young artist interviewing different people about their lives for an installation she's working on, we meet a range of characters, each trying to come to terms with who they are, what they want to be, and how to find their place in today's world. There's the businessman who is constantly travelling, so much so that there are times when he isn't sure where he is. His girlfriend, a psychologist, has travelled from Europe to Australia to be with him, but he is so often out of the country that their main connection is via Skype. Perhaps virtual sex is the answer, but as always, timing is everything. There's the gay couple trying to connect via mobile and organise a visit to one set of parents who live in the US whilst also struggling with the issue of parenthood, if, when and how. There's a young Aboriginal man who is “too white” and an Asian-Australian both searching for their 'place' here. On the lighter side there is the travel writer who has never travelled overseas, he finds all the information necessary for his articles on Google!
In the past I have sometimes found the use of spoken word in dance an unnecessary distraction from the beauty and message of the movement, but not in this case. Word and movement are intricately intertwined, each complimenting and counterpointing the other, the performers moving effortlessly from one to the other. The interconnection is seamless, part of a continuum that flows backwards and forwards bringing the individual stories together in a way that illuminates a myriad, complex elements that are part of Australian society today.
The text is distilled, the dancers relaxed in moving from speech to movement and back again. A stand out moment was when a young woman is describing her ideal man. The opening night audience erupted in fits of laughter, not so much laughing at her as with her as they recognised aspects of themselves in her search for the perfect mate and the impossibility of anyone matching her high standards.
The set is simple, never distracting and really effective. The background offers a sweeping panorama of the Australian outback, blue skies and red earth, which embraces the action. A 'billboard' acts as a screen onto which images are projected showing the performers in real time, or scenes such as the view out of a lounge-room window, or a high rise building. An office space is evoed with a trestle table, laptop and whiteboards. Armless lounge chairs are 'danced' around the stage by the performers, forming hurdles, boulders, an airport departure lounge and pedestals. The 'scene' changes are effortless and totally integrated into the performance, with no sense of a break. Equally, focused as we are on the dancers, the music and the lighting are easily overlooked, a tribute to the way in which they work to enhance the performance.
Deeply moving and frequently hilarious Complexity of Belonging offers insights into Australian society that perhaps only those who come from, or have lived in, another society are able to achieve. Van Dijk and Richter can 'see' our society from the outside looking in, whilst also being a part of it. Working closely with their performers and drawing on their individual experiences, they have created a work in which text and choreography blend seamlessly, to create what they describe as “choreographic theatre”, where theories of belonging are brought into concrete form through the combination of movement and text.
Complexity of Belonging is a performance that may be enjoyed on many different levels; it both entertains and makes you think. I have no doubt that every viewing would offer something new and intriguing. A must see.
Melbourne Festival, Chunky Move and Melbourne Theatre Company in association with Brisbane Festival present
Complexity of Belonging
by Falk Richter and Anouk van Dijk
Venue: Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, Melbourne
Dates: 6 – 25 Oct, 2014
Tickets: $70 – $64