Last week the Australian dance company Chunky Move brought its 2011 piece, Connected, to Los Angeles. Artistic director and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek may be sorry that he did, as the Luckman Theater's reception included strip-club catcalls (“Yeah! Take it off!”) when the performers removed portions of their costumes. Ah, Los Angeles! Los Angeles, ah! So protective of your image as a hinterland of rubes and hicks!
The House Left screamer was right about one thing: the Chunky Move dancers are indeed lovely creatures. And the piece they performed has much of loveliness about it, although its signature prop is not a chrome stripper pole (“Whooo!”) but an amazingly intricate loom. This mechanical sculpture, by American artist Reuben Margolin, spans the breadth of the stage with its web of strings, culminating in a suspended net that responds to the dancers' movements. This could be a promising taking-off point; one wishes that Obarzanek had given his performers somewhere to go.
The show opens very typically for contemporary modern dance, with dancers indicating chaos through jerky and almost spastic movements before the choreographer imposes a central theme. This sort of dance master-as-puppeteer self-aggrandizement has become a common enough motif that it is now tiresome; more refreshing would be a choreographer who admitted that he had little to say by having his dancers begin with order and, under his command, descend into anarchy. Mitigating the viewer's annoyance and yet compounding it, while the hurly-burly continues downstage right, other dancers calmly put the finishing touches on the loom's suspended net, distracting attention from any potential impact the simultaneous choreography might offer.
In the most interesting portion of the 55-minute show, the string-ends are attached to dancer Joseph Simons by Marnie Palomares, the sole performer not forced to buck and kick like a shot deer. Her slow, sexually magnetic movements reflect a variation on the triangle of Frankenstein, his bride and his creature; as she embraces Simons in a cycle of romantic gesture, she consistently gazes back over her shoulder at the hanging net she has made. That net pulses and breathes in a void, mirroring her interaction with the actual human in her arms, finally overwhelming her interest such that she abandons her lover and reclines seductively under that monstrous creation of thread until it wraps her in an embrace both larger and less sympathetic than a man could provide. This nice commentary on the nature of artistry, however, illuminates primarily the choreographer's limitations. He has made a thing, he has embraced that thing, and that, solipsistically, is that.
The narrative then flops into an awkwardly humorous tale of security guards at a museum, perhaps guarding the very sculpture whose creation we have watched. Unfortunately on-the-nose voiceovers relate the tedium of the unappreciative observing the ineffable, and predictably the dialogue veers toward the much-traveled gutter of what-is-art. Perhaps as a joking commentary as we hear about a janitor mistaking art for junk, the troupe takes off its pants. So maybe that idiot wasn't so mistaken when he hooted for that glimpse of skin: they do have nice legs, and I can't name a better reason to have stayed through the last half-hour of Connected.
Chunky Move in Los Angeles (national tour)