The most obvious thing about Chunky Move’s 2012 fusion of dance, theatre, light, sound and visuals Keep Everything is that it’s an immense technical achievement. It’s scrappy and frantic, exists in a world entirely of its own which will either mystify or captivate you. Or both. But no matter what you make of it as a whole, the skill that has gone into each element is extraordinary, from Antony Hamilton’s choreography and direction, to the three dancers’ performances to Robin Fox’s AV design.
Starting with a blank white stage with colourful bits and bobs and rubbish strewn across, the performance comes to life with pulsating electronic sounds and scratching that echoes from one side of the theatre to another. A pile of materials is lit by whirling, colourful light/projections from above, while theatrical smoke fills the entire space. After a lengthy interlude, dancer Benjamin Hancock emerges from the pile while Lauren Langlois and Alisdair Macindoe appear from the mist, moving and muttering in a kind of pre-language language that eventually warps into words and movements that are a little more recognisable.
The three performers are prodigious; performing breathless movement that often seems to have no structure, but with impossibly tight accuracy. Hamilton’s choreography is endlessly inventive and runs between brutal simplicity and long stretches of complex, intense movement. He uses his dancers’ every abilities and brings them together as a tight ensemble.
A lengthy sequence featuring just colourful light and sound is particularly thrilling, combining the technical skills of lighting designer Benjamin Cisterene, sound designers Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes, AV designer Fox and system designer and operator Nick Roux to startling effect.
The sound, by Hamilton and Moyes (better known as electro duo The Presets) is brilliant — a rich, unpredictable and absorbing soundscape. You don’t hear anything that’s all that Presets-adjacent until the final part of the piece, when the sound becomes more recognisably musical.
The work is, ostensibly, about human nature, evolution and a desire to connect, and those themes come through clearly. But the process of making the work has clearly seen it warp into something that’s much more abstract, visceral and captivating, working against its objectives in an intriguing struggle. The work seems to explore what it actually is to be human — with and without the trappings the define us as such. They’re enormous themes to grapple with, and, thankfully, the work doesn’t so much try to grapple as it does dive in and out and around them.
While Keep Everything has received almost nothing but rapturous reviews since it premiered two years ago, the audience response is a little less predictable. At this particular performance there were a few walk-outs, and it’s not all that surprising given how unpredictable the entire performance is — the title is Keep Everything, and Hamilton seems to have taken that advice in his creation of the work. The work asks you to simultaneously lean in and listen to find meaning, but sit back and accept that you can’t find it in every moment. If you can, it’s hugely rewarding.