Running a dance company under lockdown presents unique challenges, but that hasn’t stopped Chunky Move’s Antony Hamilton. By Maddee Clark.
Antony Hamilton, artistic director and co-chief executive of Chunky Move since 2019, has been an independent dancer and choreographer for 20 years. During that time he has established himself as one of the core creative talents of Australian dance. He is deeply interested in the idea of the contemporary, and his work investigates technology, modernity, machinery and the language of the body.
He occupies multiple creative roles within Chunky Move, as a co-leader and choreographer as well as a teacher of dance. A practitioner who values the sensory and tactile qualities of performance, he has led Chunky Move through a challenging year of physical distancing.
What works do you have in front of you at the moment?
We have one hybrid work in development now called Yung Lung. The original idea was that it was going to actually be a party, an immersive work for audience. The audience would come to see what is essentially a performance in the same way they would come and see a DJ or a band. It would be Chunky Move performing on a large-scale sculpture, by the visual artist Callum Morton, that we’ve been working with. We envisioned the sculptural work as a Mount Rushmore type of piece, with these giant heads of these old men and young dancers all over it. A crazy party on top of these old guys’ heads! [Laughs]
We often work on productions where dance meets design, where there’s a strong aesthetic underpinning to it. It’s very visually driven, and working with visual artists as collaborators is important to that process.
Sounds amazing. I wonder what’s going to happen in that party space that you create, what the audience will bring into it?
That’s a good question, and the practicality of it is another issue. We’ve been talking about how to bring that many people into a space together at a time where most presenters are pretty risk-averse at the moment and are not so confident about bringing a large group of people into a tight space to have a party like this. We’ve even talked about the idea of a vacant, empty event. Where the party goes on but no one can come. Which is… odd to think about.
But I think about the idea of an empty theme park where all the rides are still going and the music is playing loud and the lights are all going off but there’s no one there. There’s something kind of nostalgic, and melancholic, in that. Spectacle is not so popular right now, but it’s going to be quite a spectacle, and ideally it will bring audiences into a sense of real playfulness and fun. I hope that they can really involve themselves in the work.
How has the lockdown changed the way you practise?
Cultural institutions and organisations have been delayed by a year. Out in the real world, though, culture still bubbles along and finds ways to twist and turn, and stories are still told. Then in the company context, you have stakeholders, you have government bodies. Promises and commitments are made, certain works are expected, and then you have to produce them.
All of this makes the “contemporary” idea feel strange. Ideas change so fast, you know, the conversation is always moving. By the time the work is planned for presentation it’s already a year old in your mind, so a lot of work that’s been produced this year is already two years old in terms of concept. It becomes like fashion forecasting.
A very unique thing about the work you’re doing at the moment is that it doesn’t specialise in a particular style or form or genre of dance.
It doesn’t at the moment, that’s for sure. I mean ultimately it is down to me, because it’s the kind of choices I’m making about what kind of company I want it to be. There’s always the option to turn Chunky Move into an ensemble company, but I feel that we have enough ensemble companies in Australia, and they serve a really important function to maintain these physical practices that do require that daily practice and that depth.
But there aren’t too many dance companies in Australia who focus on a sort of plurality of voices, that have that plurality running through them. So there’s more of a dialogue. But you can’t have everything, you have to choose a path, and follow it for a while, and see where it leads. But it’s been really wonderful because we’ve put a lot of focus into commissioning. There are just too many other voices out there that need a platform, you know?
Antony Hamilton’s notebook. (Credit: Antony Hamilton)
How does your choreography work in that context, when you always have new voices and creative teams coming through? Do you choreograph alone first, or with the team?
Most of the larger works I’ve created have been large ensembles and have, in the past, been commissions with other companies. In those cases there’s a certain kind of coaching and team building that’s required. You need good communication, and the ability to manage people’s personalities really well. But ultimately all of the back-end stuff, of engaging the artist and everything, that’s all done.
Sometimes I’ll use quite structural ways of creating choreography and other times it’s just very spontaneous and immediate. I’ll be trying not to overthink it, to let the body really just begin. I do whatever I can do with my hands and feet, and the rest of my body. Which is not unusual, I think, for any animal species, the body is very important to their existence. It’s a mixture for me, sometimes I’m just moving around in the hallway at home, you know, or walking down a street, there’s not really any space for me that isn’t a potential space for creative beginnings. With the creation of choreography in the studio, often there’s not a lot of stuff planned, it’s usually quite spontaneous.
Is there anything at the moment that you’re reading that’s inspiring for you?
I just read Three Japanese Buddhist Monks the other day. That made me reflect on, I suppose, what you’re born into the world with, this material body that you have. There are some beautiful passages about this idea that what you can do with your hands, perhaps, should be the limit; if you can’t do it yourself, perhaps don’t do it. It made me think about the potential to extend my body.
That’s a wonderful invitation to inhabit your own skin, isn’t it?
It is, yeah. It was good to reflect on other people’s solitude, on the way through solitude and finding peace within it. These are three writers from 900 years ago, who I can find commonality of experience with, you know. Because we’re at a time when we see so much ideological division, it’s just good to be reminded that humans have been feeling the same things for thousands of years. For me that provides a sense of comfort, that we’re okay, that the thoughtfulness of people prevails from that.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 23, 2021 as "Antony Hamilton".
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