★★★½☆ Anouk van Dijk offers something epic that sometimes gets lost in the intimate.

Chunky Move Studios, Melbourne
February 19, 2016

Anouk van Dijk is a choreographer who thinks big. The Dutch dance maker’s latest offering, Rule of Thirds, is the final installment in a triptych of visually and technically audacious works in her Embodiment series. Each is both a commentary and yet a departure from the last, inviting an audience to discover something fresh built upon a foundation of memory. This epic architecture is also capable of a surprising illusion; while Rule of Thirds only uses four dancers presented on a featureless stage, it somehow manages to conjure an expansive, abyssal universe, ripe with narrative subtext.

Through a shroud of haze, barely illuminated by some seemingly distant glow, a sweeping form cuts through the darkness: a serpentine coil unfurling and re-spooling in the half-light. These limbs seem divorced from any anatomical logic, twisting around the torso in a constant, inexplicable caress. Other dancers join this mesmeric display, peeling into closely synchronised duets or fractured, defiant trios. There is a pervasive atmosphere of aggression and dominance, either explicitly or in its passive, vulnerable antithesis.

Chunky Move regulars will be familiar with many of the statements this piece makes. There are close links to a vocabulary of gestures that belong not only to the three works in this series but to other productions in van Dijk’s canon. However, hers is a lexicon that is impressively responsive to emotion, and when passed through a different visceral prism, certain repeated cells of choreography are transformed. Van Dijk is also astutely intrigued by the physical capabilities of her dancers; even through passages that contain multiple performers executing the same steps, there is a preserved element of individuality.

There may be a fair amount of recycled material in Rule of Thirds, but van Dijk is also clearly inspired by how signature movements can be made bespoke when crafted on a particular dancer’s body. All four of this production’s artists deliver a skillful performance, but James Vu Anh Pham is particularly noteworthy. The clarity of intention and virtuosity of execution he displays is hypnotic and it’s clear that van Dijk has allowed him to reinterpret the nuances of her choreography to make the most of his long limbs and hyper-extended joints. Another solo at the close of the work, danced by Chunky Move newcomer Luigi Vescio, also capitalises on the idiosyncrasies of his physicality, delivering a highly sensual, erotically charged coda.

A similar philosophy to Ohad Naharin’s Gaga approach, van Dijk’s “countertechnique” further adds to the illusion of space and the distortion of the audience’s perspective. There is a sublimation of forces, warping the dancer’s response to gravity, implying either weightlessness or overwhelming force. The impulse of the movement travels through the bodies on stage, accelerating them from taut, sinuous fluidity into a more muscular, provocative physicality. This allows a seamless progression through this piece’s many episodes, solidifying this hour of dance into a convincing whole.

Slightly less successful are the apparent narrative aspects of this piece. With choreography that taps into such a universally accessible emotional terrain, the topography of Rule of Thirds is sometimes interrupted by more specific and often inscrutable details. The differences in the activewear costumes, the UV luminescent bands on the dancers’ fingers and most mysteriously, the brief appearance of a solitary figure, dressed in a black onesie, face covered, all seem significant and yet ambiguous in the context of the piece. Given the clear invitation for the audience to connect with the broad visceral brushstrokes of the choreography, the apparent prominence of these theatrical aspects feels pointed. There is, of course, a strong dramatic ethos to van Dijk’s process that is often rewarding, but when the punchlines of these intimate narrative quirks are so elusive, I can’t help but feel they place an unnecessary burden on an audience’s understanding of this otherwise satisfying work.

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