A hunger to control, consume, and devastate – exploitation in every imaginable form. This is the grotesque world of our own creation, a toxic landscape of molten lead and the blackest lava. Humans are machines and it seems the end of life is near.
Black Marrow is the latest production from Chunky Move. Devised and choreographed by two acclaimed International artists, Erna Omarsdottir and Damien Jalet, it sees its world premiere at this year's Melbourne Festival. The work itself is a nauseating reflection of our society but one that suggests that life can survive amidst the harshest of conditions.
Set designer Alexandra Mein, in collaboration with lighting designer Niklas Pajanti, has created a blackened, volcanic earth that bulges and oozes. It does so for a considerable period of time before the dancers finally escape from beneath the blanket of darkness.
Black Marrow is Chunky Move’s greatest demonstration of the sheer physical power of the human body, and a great deal of the choreography is based around the dancers fighting their surroundings. Visually, the dancers – Sara Black, Paulo Castro, Julian Crotti, Alisdair Macindoe, Carlee Mellow and James Shannon – are undoubtedly human. Mein has dressed them minimally in flesh coloured fabric so that in many moments they appear naked, their muscles there for all to see. But Omarsdottir and Jalet have choreographed for their dancers a series of exhausting movements based on rhythm and repetition, the dancers’ energy and stamina belying that of humans, and instead resembling that of machines. For the majority of this piece the dancers’ backs are to the audience, and their heads covered by limbs and torsos. They are faceless. This is a society where people are no longer recognisable as individuals, but rather part of a mass of actions that form a functioning beast.
The dancers throw themselves across the floor and move with such great force that it seems as though they, and even the Universe they inhabit, could combust at any time. Shannon and Macindoe particularly, display great fitness as they fling themselves from the floor, into the air, and then back, over and over again. Amidst it all, technique is never forgotten.
As with Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine, performed on the very same stage early this year, Black Marrow is a work with arresting music and sound. Ben Frost’s music, featuring Oren Ambarchi, throbs and pulsates through the space until it finally subsides to be replaced with the choreographed gasping, grunting and finally crying of the dancers. The sounds are relentless and as are the dancers’ movements, they become increasingly confronting.
A change of pace comes when the dancers, commanded by a ringleader type character, played by Castro, begin to parade themselves in a rather bazaar scene that appears to be a mixture of a circus and a fetish party. In style this is at odds with the rest of the production and yet it is just another instance where this ringleader character will exploit his fellow characters. Throughout the work, perhaps mirroring society and their own mistreatment of their environment and each other, it is he who pushes those around him to the brink of exhaustion, all the time feeding off their goodness and creation.
Black Marrow is a remarkable work where a plot cannot be mapped, nor a time, nor place distinguished, but from within this land, this black hole, it seems new life can come. The nature and quality of this life however remains to be seen.
Chunky Move and Melbourne International Arts Festival presents
By Erna Omarsdottir and Damien Jalet