Dance review: 4/4, Merlyn Theatre

Embodied, rigorous and sensorially spectacular, Chunky Move’s latest dance work will linger long past the final beat.

As audiences take their seats in the Merlyn Theatre at Malthouse Theatre for Chunky Move’s latest premiere, 4/4, eight figures are spread across the stage, moving in slow, drawn-out gestures like roving sculptures. A simple set-up of modular platforms and speakers (that later act as plinths) creates a concise landscape for choreographic potential.

The light dims, and electronic beats bounce back and forth across the stage, activating the dancers’ movements that thread between locking and acrobatics, and at times resembling the slow controlled sequences of Tai Chi.

Sound and lighting cues map out the choreography that feels emblematic of Antony Hamilton and Chunky Move, but continues to push the boundaries of contemporary dance. The synergy between the performers – Mason Kelly, Melissa Pham, David Prakash, Harrison Ritchie-Jones, Aimee Schollum, Michaela Tancheff, Nikki Tarling and Jayden Wall – builds gradually. At times they seem to be one, ignorant of the individual and solely existing as a collective; while at others they are fully aware but embrace the other as their own. They gracefully shift from executing robotic movements with a human charm, to running wild with loose limbs and limp bodies.

4/4 is a time signature, it’s a group of eight separated but not quite fractured, it also equals one. In multiple points throughout the show, the performers push around the platforms like rafts, creating complex and nuanced relationships between themselves and the audience.

The piece is no doubt physically demanding, but it has also been offered care and breathing room. In one sequence 4/4 is an ode to street dance, where elements of krumping and dance battles emerge as pairs of dancers interweave through each other’s movements.

Sound design by Alisdair Macindoe and lighting design by Bosco Shaw are integral – sophisticated, in-sync, simple but never flat nor dull.

The ending is one that lingers in the memory. After taking the audience on this journey of collective embodiment, seven dancers hype up a single icon, who now stands on the plinth with arms raised. There’s the potential for multiple readings, perhaps one of them the fall back to reality that focuses on individualism and idolatry. It drives home the notion that 4/4 is a work of dance that does not please, but provokes.

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Whether it is in the visual arts or the performing arts, creating profound conceptual work that is still sensorially attractive is no easy feat – 4/4 has achieved this with rigour.

4/4 by Chunky Move Artistic Director, Antony Hamilton
Performers: Mason Kelly, Melissa Pham, David Prakash, Harrison Ritchie-Jones, Aimee Schollum, Michaela Tancheff, Nikki Tarling, Jayden Wall
Costume Design: Paula Levis
Costume Fabricator: Fiona Holley
Sound Design: Alisdair Macindoe
Lighting Design: Bosco Shaw

4/4 is being performed at Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne from 8-12 August; tickets $20-$55.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_