In terms of possibilities, the title One Infinity appears limitless. And in truth, this enigmatic, meditative work is both particular and – well – eternal.
The Merlyn at Melbourne’s Malthouse seems transformed. It’s become a vast cathedral lit by massive shafts of light, cutting at the highest points through the darkness – then dissolving into soft, shadowy pools of reflection.
The audience is split in two, reflecting each other across the divide – a raised dais with a mirrored surface on which are set various instruments – Chinese flutes, recorders, gugins.
Everything is done with great deliberation. The musicians and the dancers are effectively robed. Their demeanour is that of acolytes, members of some forgotten – or emerging – order.
The mirroring evident in the flooring of the dais is repeated everywhere, in the positioning of the musicians – for some episodes Genevieve Lacey (recorder virtuoso and collaborator par excellence) mirrors Xiao Gang (one third of the Jun Tian Fang Music Ensemble, playing Chinese Flutes), in others, master Wang Peng. Zhang Lu and Zhuo Ran (the two younger members of the Jun Tian Fang Music Ensemble) also duet on guqins. And if you’re wondering, no, I had no idea what that particular stringed instrument was called before consulting the program – but it’s a beautiful thing, a sounding of soft subtle harmonics that soothe and transport.
The score is a thing of wonder, perhaps the most fully realised element of the piece. And while the overarching musical mind behind it belongs to English composer Max de Wardener, the expertise of co-composers Wang Peng and Genevieve Lacey is evident with the score which utilises pieces from classic repertoire, moving through almost trance-like states to rippling liquid passages of sheer delight. Jim Atkins’ sound design shifts the music, effortlessly, through the space.
The piece includes some audience participation.
Everybody just breathe and calm down.
It’s mainly arms. And, I can personally attest, nothing an unfit, uncoordinated, middle-aged woman can’t manage, and constitutes perhaps a legitimate addition to ones CV viz ‘One Infinity (Choreog. Gideon Obarzanek), Dancer 2018’).
However the scars of past encounters with massed movements, so to speak, should not be underestimated and on this occasion the invitation to dance, as it were, was not met with unmixed delight by all. The gentleman next to me (you know who you are Peter) was not happy, though he gave it his best shot. In deference to such as he, I’d suggest a gentle: ‘Your performance is an important element in this piece, but if you really really really can’t bring yourself to help us, well that’s up to you.…’ in the introduction to the evening.
Because the massed arms of the opening night audience were really something, the images we/they (on the other side) made, remarkably moving. The downside – after the initial sense of wonder that you’re a vital part of this amazing whole (!) – is that one part of your attention is fixed on the opposite audience bank waiting for your ‘cue’ to move. It’s a distraction, paradoxically, from ‘entering’ the piece.
From within the audience banks, the (actual) dancers from Beijing Dance Theatre and Dancenorth Australia) form and reform, balancing, complementing, reflecting. On the dais, they duet.
There’s a measured quality to this melding of east and west ‘styles’, as if the dancers are considering before absorbing the offerings of their counterparts. It’s (beautifully) difficult at times, to know where one body ends and another begins. But that sinewy, supple blending of bodies, of histories, feels like a gift.
This kind of unique, illuminating, international collaboration of artists is an important part of the festival. Perhaps the most important part. It certainly does more for international understanding than anything our block-headed politicians seem to manage.
At it’s best, this is a work of great spirituality; free – blessedly – from dogma, from blame. And that’s a bit of a miracle, when you think about it.
Until October 21 at the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
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