Friday, January 26, 2018

PuSh 2018: Meeting at Performance Works

Meeting, presented by the PuSh Festival at Performance Works through this Saturday, is a collaboration between choreographer and dancer Antony Hamilton and composer and instrument builder Alisdair Macindoe. It's also a collaboration between the two men--who both perform in the piece--and the percussive objects that Macindoe has designed for it. These objects, tiny wooden blocks with pencils attached via levers to their sides, are arranged in a large circle on the floor of the stage. Outside the circle are an array of other objects: small round and larger rectangular tin dishes; some chunkier pencilless wooden blocks; what look like a couple of miniature didgeridoos. On either side of the downstage lip of the circle are two music stands.

At the top of the show, Hamilton and Macindoe walk from the wings and enter the circle. Nothing happens. Then, after a time we hear a tapping. It echoes around the circle and then repeats as we struggle to locate the block from which it emanates. Just as we do, all 64 of the blocks erupt into a cacophony of sound and the performers start to move. At first the choreography is angular and precise, almost like robot-style breaking as the dancers pivot and twist and turn and extend their arms joint by joint in response to the rhythm of the instruments. As this rhythm grows faster and increasingly complex, so does the choreography, with Hamilton and Macindoe moving in and out of unison and also every now and then interrupting their mostly staccato and vertically-oriented gesture phrases with more bendy and fluid torso ripples and head ducks, like they are Neo and Trinity from The Matrix slowing down time to dodge a bullet.

The synching of the physical and sound scores is a bravura feat (and also perhaps explains the presence of the two music stands, which otherwise do not move). There are many moments in the first part of the piece when the audience gasps or claps in delight at different displays of syncopated virtuosity, as when the men slice the air with their hands over and over again in a mind-boggling game of non-touching patty cake, or later when they start counting together in time to the instruments' beats. But in the second part of the piece, after the performers do a slow-mo retreat from the centre of the circle (this time looking very much like Neo and Trinity), they let the objects take over completely, deconstructing the circle block by block and moving the other objects in such a proximate manner as to produce, on cue, a whole symphony of taps and chimes and bongs.

After a moment of worshipful reflection (and a bit more choreography) before the idols they have thus arrayed, Hamilton and Macindoe exit the stage. The rest of the score is produced solely by the instruments. To be sure, there is someone in the tech booth sending wireless signals (I'm assuming) to produce said sounds. Nevertheless, we are left with an image of non-human agency that resonates quite powerfully with larger philosophies of vital materialism currently circulating in performance theory.


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