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Bold Moves to Find Common Ground
Contemporary dance is known for its emotive story-telling. However, employment of 'countertechnique' authenticated the duo's 'real-life' story. Pic: Pia Johnson
Common Ground, the latest major work from Chunky Move Studios, is compelling from beginning to end. Internationally celebrated Artistic Director Anouk van Dijk shines the light on two of Australia's premier contemporary dancers, Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli, whose form, beauty and personal expression received both audience and critical acclaim. Common Ground sets high technical standards and narrative challenges which redefines audience perception of contemporary dance. Common Ground smashes its own genre restrictions: it is a poetic and mesmerising dance-drama.
Tara Jade Samaya's facial expressions heightened her on-stage charisma. Pic: Pia Johnson
Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli search for common ground, find ways to return to it and use dance to reside within it. They show us that 'common ground' is not only a human quest and need, but also dream that can be achieved in a world torn by division. Richard Cilli believes: 'No matter how far apart we may be from another person or another entity, separateness from them is an illusion We can find common ground anywhere.' Tara adds a feminine touch: 'When we have true compassion and empathy for someone else's state of being I feel like that's common ground.'
Not only does Common Ground showcase virtuosic dance ability, but it also introduces Melbourne dance audiences to 'countertechnique' a movement system pioneered by Van Dijk. Essentially an improvisatory style that makes consistent use of counter direction (and mirroring), 'countertechnique' challenges contemporary dancers schooled in performance choreography and those trained to implement director-creator interpretation. 'Countertechnique' gives dancers the freedom to evolve creatively: the production of Common Ground takes it one step further as premier dancers develop duo-resonance onstage. The element of 'reaction' and turning 'information into action' keeps dancers and their audience 'in the moment'. 'Countertechnique' makes stylistic sense for Common Ground because its content-focus is relationships and the tension that intimacy and personal complexities create.
The extraordinary dance performances of Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli as well as sound, costume, stage and lighting design, have created a jaw-dropping contemporary dance event. Pic: Pia Johnson
Chunky Move is known to push the boundaries of dance-genre and artistic endeavour: Common Ground gives contemporary dance a voice in humanist debate. Tara and Richard use their bodies to reveal soul-truths: the audience is absorbed into their non-verbal world rich with power struggle and gameplay. These dancers draw us in through their physical tension, light courtship, incessant humour, as well as captive narratives of grief, separation and explosive passion. As we connect with their highs and lows, we come back to themes that underpin relationships and circumstance: power and equality. Tara and Richard are free to contribute dance detail and explore their partnership resonance within these thematic checkpoints. The balance between disciplined dance forms and relationship authenticity is what makes this journey so epic.
Richard Cilli is dance-sculpture. As well as being one of Australia's premier male dancers and awarded choreographers, he is undertaking 'countertechnique' teacher training. Pic: Pia Johnson
Common Ground is 'found' at thematic checkpoints and through electrifying partnership connection. Human and dance history is mapped through an eclectic yet tightly composed musical score, which works to give the audience a conceptual-time framework. Sexuality is inclusive, and yet strangely irrelevant as Tara and Richard manage to embody the feminine, the masculine, androgyny and even asexuality. Minimalist costume design with tight, monochrome lines suggest sexual archetypes, which change quickly and even symbolically to explore an even deeper social sub-text. Nudity explores gender, form and sexual equality. 'As a costume', nudity is yet another tool used to show disciplined physical skills, body shaping and the inevitability of intimate love.
Anouk van Dijk credits Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli within her Opening Night address, as 'contemporary dancers who have unashamed curiosity' in their approach to dance, and who have 'an unique willingness to explore the new techniques upon which Common Ground rests'. Curiosity is vital to be able to take 'counter technique' direction. Audience sensory perception is on high alert with a collective appreciation that 'anything can happen'. Common Ground achieves intimacy and shared experience: we resonate with their relationship milestones along the way.
Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli are poignantly beautiful. Brilliant technical dancers, they deliver intense performances that stay with you long after curtain-call. Their on-stage dance partnership mirrors respect. I urge you to seek inspiration from Tara and Richard to experience a truly exquisite, embodied connection. They have made 'countertechnique' an exciting physical, dance reality.
Common Ground gives a utopian spin on the dynamics of power, which Anouk van Dijk has artistically framed in contemporary dance. Anouk van Dijk explains the total effect: 'In Common Ground, Tara and Richard can be seen as dancers, co-dreamers, co-inhabitants of an abstracted world. A reminiscence of our shared history and current states lives in their bodies, the music, the costumes, the lights'. The result is dance poetry, each technical artist adding rhyme and meter, sub-text and drama.
The set becomes a character within this conceptual narrative. On Opening Night, Tara Jade Samaya acknowledged 'the floor' as a member of the cast and crew. Pic: Pia Johnson
Let us set the scene. The bold ochre-toned stage provides a warm space. Dancer floor-craft fills the cavity, and lighting by Paul Jackson sculpts the dancers' bodies so that they can tell their stories, with fluid physicality. There is a hidden layer: dancers submerge through the flooring in tales of rebirth and ecstasy and we gasp as the floor, a third character, is in total alignment with dancer will. Marg Horwell's set design makes our own physical environment seem strong, yet fragile. Herein lies another modern twist: Common Ground achieves 'spatial intelligence' that is ground-breaking and mind-blowing.
The bold, florescent mono-tone lighting helped to turn the landscape, into an immersive dance-scape. Pic: Pia Johnson
Jethro Woodward's musical score provides 'go-to' reference points for dancers and turns contemporary dance into dance-theatre. His compositions and arrangements help us to grasp that common ground is sought, destroyed and regained over time, and that dance as an art form reflects all forms of power and inequity. Tara and Richard's dance-melodic power-plays become part of the unyielding and unfolding dance-scape.
Paul Jackson's lighting augmented the body shaping and physical poise created by Chunky Move's virtuosic contemporary dancers. Pic: Pia Johnson
Common Ground is a landmark in dance artistry and industry vision. Collectively, this creative team has won Australian Dance Awards (Tara Jade Samaya), Helpmann Awards (Richard Cilli) and are the recipients of Churchill and Australia Council Fellowships (Paul Jackson), Green Room Awards (Jethro Woodward) and Golden Swan (Van Dijk). It is rare for a production to draw together the cream of creative talents, and Melburnians are urged to see this production before it embarks on a tour. Common Ground is contemporary dance excellence, as it tests technical boundaries and gives dance-poetry an authentic and augmented voice. Chunky Move's Common Ground is a complete artistic achievement.
Common Ground dramatizes dance history though music selection and innovative arrangements. Composer Jethro Woodward has created a score that spans Baroque to 'Indy Electronic'.