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Creators of 'MEETING' (shown as a part of LIFT festival 2016) Anthony Hamilton & Alisdair Macindoe Talk Shop with Jesse Stanley

 

Two men stand in a circle of small boxes. As their arms slowly oscillate, each action is defined by a tiny pop as the boxes begin to move. They are 64 robotic percussion instruments, each tapping a pencil, creating an insistent, mesmerising range of sounds. A stream of activity unfolds, with all actions carried by the meditative pulse of the machine beat. Part of the thriving Melbourne dance scene, with Hamilton’s unique physical grammar and Macindoe’s bespoke musical instrument making, MEETING fuses bodies, space and the robots into a dynamic and riveting choreographic sound installation.

 

Antony Hamilton is an award-winning Australian choreographer. His work involves a sophisticated melding of movement, sound and visual design and has been showcased around the globe, including at The Lyon Opera Ballet, Australian Dance Theatre and The Victorian College of the Arts. His critically acclaimed Black Project 1 and 2  received the prestigious Helpmann Award for Best Choreography in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work.

Alisdair Macindoe is a Melbourne-based dancer and choreographer who trained in dance at the Victorian College of the Arts. As well as producing his own pieces, 525600LOVE and Bromance, he won the 2013 Helpmann Award for Best Male Dancer for Stephanie Lake’s DUAL and the 2012 Green Room Award for Best Male Dancer for his year’s work.

 

I caught up with Antony & Alisdair in Australia via email.

 

Jesse: How did you two find each other as collaborators?

Antony: We met years ago, in company classes at Chunky Move, where I was working as a dancer at the time. Alisdair was still studying, but clocking up extra curricular training in the independent scene. We hit it off a couple of years later when we worked together dancing in a project with Melbourne choreographer Lucy Guerin. From there, we've collaborated on many projects in different capacities.

 

Jesse: What drew you towards the idea of 'robotic' percussion accompaniment to begin with? Were there multiple prototypes that didn't work before you landed on the current ‘percussion-bot'?
Alisdair: Initially the work was going to have no music, it was going to be an investigation of a moment technique based on numeric counting. When Antony approached me about the project having no music I thought it was a really interesting concept. Upon unpacking the reasons behind the concept of ‘no music’ we realised that the project would be conceptually sound if the whole system was developed as part of the work. If the sound design and composition was a technical investigation with the same interests as the movement and choreography then the two systems, movement and sound would be their own universe. There would be a meeting of the two!

Antony: Alisdair ingeniously envisioned the robotic percussion instrument, which references the tapping out of rhythms in rehearsals with a pencil in hand. Astoundingly to both of us, he was able to develop the instrument to have an incredible range of sonic possibilities, and the machines have a mechanical 'fitness' that no human could ever compete with. Perfecting the programming however, was where most of the technical hurdles lay, and where Alisdair really took his abilities to an amazing level.

 

Jesse: Was there a methodical process that you used to develop the physical vocabulary for the show?

Antony: The process had it's foundations in previous works, where the same sort of vocabulary was used to create different types of dynamics with choreographic material. But actually this work had a far more straight forward premise than previous works. It was a study of form, with the simple arc of the work being a journey from uncomplicated actions and rhythms, accelerating through more sophisticated and difficult material as the work progresses. The movement language itself is largely limited to a narrow range of possibilities to do with very specific duration, trajectory and location of movements aligned to specific time signatures. Concurrently, there is an attention to the body in the beginning of the work, that over time transfers to an attention on the robots. 

 

Jesse: Is there any room for improvisation within a structure that seems to demand such accuracy and precision? 

Alisdair: A lot of the show is highly structured improvisation where a rhythmic numeric system and simple physical rules are the only set material. We as performers are creating a lot of the content inside the structure live. 

Antony: There is in fact a lot of improvisation in the first third of the work in particular. The structures are fairly narrow though, so it may still be an investigation of exact time codes for only arm, head, arm in a looping sequence for a few minutes. Then it might move to the same time code, but with a different spatial trajectory, and the use of the whole body rather than separate locations.

 

Jesse: Have there been any shocking revelations in the development of this show or through your collaboration as artists?

Antony: Yes. I discovered that even when attempting to make a work that is essentially a technical problem to resolve, it is difficult for that to not have narrative implications. Also, the strange meditative concentration produced absurd images and physical and vocal impulses in what we were doing. So the activity itself of making the work, in turn effected the choreographic language in unexpected ways, thereby altering it unintentionally. 

Alisdair: We didn't expect the show to be as successful as it has been, In the first year we toured the work extensively and won several awards. Not shocking but defiantly and welcomed surprise!

 

Jesse: Does MEETING benefit from a special type of performance space / if so, how do you go about choosing the locations you will perform in?

Alisdair: We adapt the show to each space, there are basic technical requirements for the performance space, but for a dance show it is quite versatile.

Antony: This question comes down to how much we want to control what the overall vision is. It is a different work depending on where you perform it, in some ways. But in essence, the critical elements of the work are always there, whether in a large or small space.

 

Jesse: In the past you've both worked extensively as more 'mainstream' dance choreographers/practitioners. Was there a particular catalyst that fuelled your departure to a more experimental choreographic & musical framework? 

Alisdair: As a sound designer for dance I really like to collaborate and create in direct response to the concept and the director who’s driving the work. Antony is never afraid to try something new so from the inside designing the robots didn't feel unusual… 

Antony: I'm not sure I agree with that statement. I would describe almost all of my other works (except for maybe 'points in time' and 'the counting') as having an 'experimental' underpinning. I suppose one would need to define 'experimental, but it's interesting to note that I intended MEETING to be a much more 'purist' dance piece, particularly compared to previous works which I considered to be less concerned with pure movement investigation. 

 

 

Meeting shows as a part of LIFT Festival June 28th-July 2nd @ Battersea Arts Centre

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