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Tracing Industrial Bodies with Antony Hamilton

Laura Tooby
Photography GIANNA RIZZO

Antony Hamilton, artistic director of the genre-defying contemporary dance company, Chunky Move, will soon premier one of his most rigorous works to date. Throughout his opulent career as a dancer and choreographer, Hamilton’s fascination with the relationship between the ‘artificial’ and the ‘natural’ has been central. Beyond dance, Hamilton also incorporates a long-standing love of urban, technological and minimalistic visual art, which informs the industrial stage design around his performances. Visually dissolving the dancers’ bodies, this immersive detail reveals Hamiltons’ elusive capacity to fuse material and creature, with insightful ideas. With insight, his latest work, titled 4/4, sensitively questions the popular perception of humanity as the ‘operator’ of modern technology. Hamilton’s 4/4 is an exhibition of industrial design and calculated choreography that mirrors humanity’s relationship with their constructed environment.  The contemporary dance work serves as an iteration of his internationally acclaimed duet, Meeting (staged in 2015), which materialised through Hamilton’s calculated choreography and Macindoe’s machine-making obsession. The compelling performance questioned humanity’s perceived control over their technological environments.

Laura Tooby: You began developing 4/4 in May 2023. How are you feeling about releasing it into the world in a couple of weeks’ time?

Anthony Hamilton: I feel like we're exactly where we need to be with the work. This choreographic process has really built a sense of camaraderie a collective direction and purpose. This is felt amongst the dancers, mixed-media artistic collaborators, the production team, and the key donors for the work. Technically, 4/4 is perhaps, one of the most difficult works of choreography that any of the dancers have ever performed. Everyone has put so much into this process, so I'm really excited to put it on stage.

LT: The upcoming, 4/4 serves as an iteration of your 2015 work, Meeting, a duo performed by yourself and Alisdair Macindoe. Can you tell me about the original work?

AH: So, the foundation of 4/4’s choreographic tools and processes stems from Meeting. It's something that me and my collaborator kind of hit on together. Meeting was this method of making art through lists of random numbers and then using each of those numbers to signify the duration of a movement before that movement is interrupted. The results were fascinating because it was as if the system was teaching you a new language. 

LT: Quite frequently throughout your work, you have used a choreographic style that creates a calculated, rhythmically complex movement language. Why have you chosen this style to communicate the subject matter of 4/4?

AH: I’m interested in the idea that a kind of narrative actually always emerges from abstraction. You do not need to find any other rationale or meaning behind it, because the meaning is produced through the practise. It is something that over time I have discovered; that it is quite impossible to make anything that truly divorces a sense of meaning from the technical. An audience cannot help themselves but find their own sense of meaning in a situation before them, you can’t stop them. 

In the past, movement language has occupied the content of other works that I've made. Though it's not often the subject of the work. All of the technical choreography served as a distinct narrative arc or dramaturgy distinct from the concept. In 4/4 however, it’s very much the case that the subject follows form. The subject of the work is the exploration moving the work through time. 

LT: Do you create choreography with a more ‘clean slate’ approach or does a vision drive your work?

AH: I like to act as an audience to the work that I am making. I'm interested in listening to what the process is speaking back to me over time. It is quite an intuitive approach that involves a lot of thinking. Listening is really a strange space. It's very, very hard to actually pin down and ask yourself, where does that come from? I don’t know whether impetus for an idea really emerges from within you.

It is important to consider also, that this way of making has evolved over time. When I started out as a choreographer, with no portfolio, I was in a void. This often meant I was looking for my own voice for a long time. Though, after nearly 20 years of making, I have got this body of work behind me that serves as research to each subsequent creation. So, in a sense, 4/4 occupies a part of serial research and exploration.

LT: Throughout your work, there has been a consistent intrigue with the ‘artificial’ in relation to the ‘natural’. Could you elaborate on this fascination?

AH: My interest in this area came about through reading philosophy and science literature. Most notably, I read a few fantastic books by the British author, John Grey. The first one was called Straw Dogs, which illustrates humanity’s ‘myth of progress’. The book captures the idea that progressing ethics and morality is largely ineffective. It theorises this with examples of humanity’s repetition of mistakes throughout history in a cyclical fashion. In the same way, political ideologies that repress society continue to resurface despite their historic detriment.

Then there is this other interesting element embedded within this book, which examines the intersection of ethics and new technology. More so, now than ever, we can understand the problem within this relationship. The book reveals how technology, despite the fact that it has an exponential base of knowledge, doesn't necessarily benefit our lives. 

Additionally, this other book I read by Grey, The Silence of Animals, reclaims humanities status of equality with nature. The book describes the British Library in London, and the enormous significance it holds in regard to human knowledge, history and intellect. The author points out that the pigeons regard the building as a refuge. Hence, the building is arguably of more importance to them then it is to us. This exposes our capacity to inflate human value within our environment, as a modern instinct. 

LT: What is the significance of the industrial aesthetic of the set, prop and costume design in 4/4? Do they share a common meaning with the work’s title?

AH: I’ve always been interested in a deep integration of the design elements with choreography. I believe they occupy a very significant place in terms of their balance and their dialogue with the current society. From my point of view, we are balancing this equilibrium between all the design elements. The human body is just another layer, just another design element. I find this process quite dehumanising. For the dancers, it requires an ‘I’m just stuff’ attitude, it’s a way of dropping the ego and realising that we as individuals are not special. Simultaneously, it’s beautiful. We can see that everything is special, all at once. This correlates directly with my intrigue of our constructed environment and humanity’s place within it.

LT: What is most important for you as a practitioner and a creator going forward?

AH: Going forward, I will still be interested in the same kind of thematic concerns for dance. Something down in my heart of hearts tells me that I've always probably been more interested in visual arts and design, more than dancing. And here I am in this position as a choreographer in a professional company, and I have been dancing all my life. I think my other focuses have been good for the work, because that's what's made it different, I suppose. I have developed this passion for creating really strong visual languages that complement the performances. I love that. I would also love everyone to come and see our amazing dancers in 4/4.

4/4 is on show at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre from August 8–12, 2023.

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