It starts with a single, simple and static object. A large dimly lit box, through which four seemingly disembodied hands emerge from one side, dancing up and down, possibly seeking to escape through the crack. The music is menacing, reminiscent of the score of an arthouse thriller.
As the sides of the box peel away, the interior becomes a patterned backdrop against which artists in matching hooded costumes perform jerky but perfectly synchronized movements like the cogs of a fine machine. oiled. It is dance that meets visual art; the aesthetic is surreal, almost dystopian, eliciting a sense of foreboding as we wonder what lies ahead.
Object, Originally created by Australian Dance Theater artistic director Garry Stewart in 2016 in collaboration with German contemporary dance company tanzmainz and redeveloped under the direction of Sarah-Jane Howard for this return season, is a work that shows the body as an art object and aims to explore the broad concept of objectification.
With sophisticated choreography and a thrilling Brendan Woithe soundscape that stimulates the intensity of the work, the 11 dancers on stage deliver a performance that takes its audience on a journey. It is a journey with moments of beauty that is exciting and hypnotic – but also stimulating.
Like Object progresses, movement becomes smoother and at times intensely physical, as both literal (through costume) and figurative layers are peeled off to reveal the physical skin and what Stewart describes as “our living and breathing subjectivity.”
Bodies are pushed, pulled, displayed, distorted, appropriated and abused as the work questions the way humans objectify, the use of balaclavas covering the face adding to the impression that some are “other”, less than humans, maybe even extraterrestrials. At one point, the dancers are grabbed by hands that go through holes in the wall; at others, they are conducted like an orchestra by a performer atop a long L-shaped prop (one of the many props used with excellent effect throughout the performance), or thrown to the floor, tied and rolled.
There are playful moments in the room – one particularly clever sequence sees dancers tied up in pairs, one carrying the other upside down like a backpack to create a curious eight-limbed creature – but the impression dominant is empathy and respect. eroded by the process of objectification. The dancers objectify each other, and as spectators, we are accomplices. We are the ultimate voyeurs, and it doesn’t always feel comfortable.
“This work plays with the word ‘object’ and everything that we associate with it culturally,” says Stewart, who has built a reputation for ambitious and boundary-pushing work and is currently completing his final year at the helm of ADT. “From the notion of the body as an aestheticized art object to considering what is allowed when we consider other humans as simple objects…. “
Object is a true ensemble piece presented by a very talented group of dancers, with the androgynous lighting, set design and wardrobe choices integral to the success of the performance. Sometimes the intensity can seem relentless – that’s what it needs to be objectified – but there seems to be a ray of light at the end. A glimpse, perhaps, of the freedom of prying eyes and gripping hands via a lush garden that appears through a doorway before the walls fold back and the box closes.
Australian dance theater presents Objekt at Dunstan Playhouse until September 19.
When you agree to make a regular weekly, bi-monthly or tax-deductible monthly donation to InReview, each scheduled donation will be matched by Creative Partnerships Australia. This means you are supporting twice as many InReview articles to order, edit, and publish.
This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.