Assembly – Melbourne Festival

 A collaboration between Gideon Obarzanek, of Chunky Move, and Richard Gill, Musical Director of Victorian Opera, Assembly is a meditation on the enigma of the crowd.

 Presented by: Melbourne Festival, Sydney Festival, Brisbane Festival, Chunky Move and Victorian OperaVenue: Melbourne Recital Centre Thursday, 6 October 2011  AssemblyA collaboration between Gideon Obarzanek, of Chunky Move, and Richard Gill, Musical Director of Victorian Opera, Assembly is a meditation on the enigma of the crowd. A cast of eight dancers, six professional solo singers and a chorus of performers drawn from the VO’s youth program combine in this piece that while admirable in its attempt to create a new cross-discipline art, rarely rises above the sum of its individual components. The first ten minutes are the most promising. As the crowd of performers enter the stark, timber staircase there is silence, then the babble of a crowd morphing into swirling sound scapes, humming creating a kaleidoscope of harmonics, the noise of unison breathing, then rhythmic stamping on the bare boards – all evocative in their own way and imaginative explorations of the potential of group sound. As the ensemble split into their components, the metaphors become more literal. Dancers play out a game of inclusion/exclusion, and a yelling barracking crowd splits in to warring factions based on colour of costume – the haka at this stage looked like a lot of fun for singers used to much more refined sounds. What follows is an overly long reiteration of the theme. Repetitive choreography, often expressing the angst of the individual or casual malevolence is disturbing, but mostly because of the sound of the punishing falls of the dancers on the hard boards. This is juxtaposed with glorious singing that generally upstages the physical action. Apparently without the aid of a conductor the singers, in a remarkable demonstration of ensemble, use breath to gauge their entrances and meter. A tuning fork, integrated into the action, is wielded by various principal singers, who lead the choir in unaccompanied choral music ranging from plainchant to the late renaissance. In the superb acoustic of the recital centre the pure voices of the young singers are so enchanting, the accompanying physical contortions of the dancers are reduced to annoying distractions. It is only in the last few movements that the piece regains cohesion. The male chorus, singing a plainchant, interact meaningfully with the dancers, making interesting geometric physical formations; and the abstract is transcended in a final plainchant, movingly sung by Matthew Thomas. Here at last is some emotion – the anguish of the solo figure is held and assuaged by the dancers forming beautiful mandala-like shapes around him, as they are joined by the rest of the performers. The piece should end here, but just in case we don’t get the message, guest singer Paul Capsis arrives to sing “My World Is Empty Without You”, a modern love song that is entirely incongruous in style to the rest of the piece. Capsis is a great singer and performer, but this song is an unfortunate post-script to a piece that had finally stumbled on profundity. Photo: Lucio Beltrami   

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