Performance review: PENDULUM, Melbourne Fringe

The mesmerising choreography of dancers in concert with swinging bells.

What does experiencing live performance afford us that no other medium can match? The ability to witness the seemingly miraculous in real-time, surrounded by other spectators who confirm that what you saw actually happened. Sometimes the event can be high-octane, relying on explosive thrills and theatricality to draw our mouths open, and at other times we are magnetised by the spellbinding power of stillness, precision and atmosphere. This intriguing work, a collaboration between percussive artist Matthias Schack-Arnott and choreographer Lucy Guerin, hypnotises spectators through the interweaving dance of the human and non-human.

Billed as ‘an expansive performance installation’ and originally a commission for RISING designed to be housed within the National Gallery of Victoria, PENDULUM was, due to the pandemic, previously afforded only one public performance. Now remounted in an outdoor, albeit roofed venue in Docklands for Melbourne Fringe (bring a coat) this performance installation has found an ideal new home in which to be experienced by Melbourne audiences.

Arriving at Shed 21 in Docklands spectators congregate around the ensemble of suspended pendulums, each beautifully designed, and flanked by the industrial skyline as cranes, skyscrapers and an ominous Bolte Bridge provide a backdrop to the experience. Bodies dressed in gold enter the space without much fanfare, and with more of a glide than a bang, human is introduced to the non-human. 

The dancers, like the pendulums, appear at first glance to be a unified image, hair tied back and dressed in gold. However, as they manipulate and interact with the pendulums, dropping, swinging and weaving around them, the individual characteristics of both stir our attention. Who is controlling whom?

Guerin’s choreography transforms the corporeal vulnerability of the dancers into efficient machines operating and interacting with their metallic dance partners. We are reminded in moments of the miraculous and delicate nature of the human body as the dancers melt to the floor, flowing like the water we see in the distance before reassembling and getting back to work.

While the allure of this golden ensemble can be seen in its Apolline unity it is its interaction with the chaos around them that keeps the work from falling into an ambient mood. Hearing dancers shouting verbal cues to each other reminds us of how without this precision there could be destruction, mirroring the risk human bodies take every day. 

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As the movements are enveloped by the build, fall and suspensions of Schack-Arnott’s sonic world, the sunset reminds us that time is indeed passing. Bosco Shaw’s lighting design is exceptional throughout, blurring the line between the functional and the poetic and mirroring the glimmer of industrial lighting from building work in the distance.

The interaction between light, sound and movement (both human and non-human) is entrancing and spectators are hard-pressed not to begin swaying and undulating themselves as they are drawn into PENDULUM’s spell. 

On one hand, PENDULUM can serve as a meditation on posthumanism, where the agency of the human is distributed across forces and objects they do not control; on the other, it is a hypnotic experience that bypasses rationalisation and puts the spectator into the centre of a feeling of timelessness.

Either way, PENDULUM demonstrates inventive vision and astute programming as the public continues to be tempted back to engage with live performances post-pandemic. Perhaps those who find solace in doom-scrolling or binge-streaming may come out into the elements and experience the show’s hypnotic trance. 

at Shed 21 Docklands
Executive Producer: Brendan O’Connell
Co-creators: Lucy Guerin and Matthias Schack-Arnott
Choreography: Lucy Guerin with the dancers
Composition and Sound Design: Matthias Schack-Arnott
Lighting Design: Bosco Shaw
System Design and Programming: Nick Roux
Pendulum Design: Rob Larsen
Costume Design: Harriet Oxley
Dancers: Deanne Butterworth, Tra Mi Dinh, Alice Dixon, Stephanie Halyburton, Helen Herbertson, Amber McCartney, Lilian Steiner

Tickets – $25 – $39

PENDULUM will performed until 23 October 2022 as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Harry Haynes is a theatre director and researcher. He grew up in Spain, was born in the UK and previously lived in London. He has been living and working in Melbourne since 2018. Harry is extremely passionate about nurturing vulnerability in emerging artists and storytellers. He works at Deakin University and is currently undertaking a PhD.