New contemporary dance at Meany should come with a snooze button

Chunky Move, a Melbourne-based dance company, falls flat, blinding the audience with scenery that outshines its own dancers.

Crosscut archive image.

Chunky Move's Connected, on stage this weekend at UW's Meany Hall.

Chunky Move, a Melbourne-based dance company, falls flat, blinding the audience with scenery that outshines its own dancers.

The concept for Chunky Move’s full length Connected is intriguing. Five dancers build and then interact with a kinetic sculpture, a hanging lattice-like structure, in a series of abstract vignettes. Sometimes the dancers’ bodies move the sculpture, sometimes it appears to undulate on its own. Sometimes the dancers are engulfed by the netting and sometimes they dance on a completely different part of the stage, seemingly unaware of the shimmering form suspended above them.

The sculpture was created by California artist Reuben Margolin, who worked with Chunky Move’s director and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek to create Connected. Margolin’s dynamic structure, which is driven by a camshaft and wheels, resembles a loom with strings and pulleys; a grid with hundreds of fine strings descends from a square frame and with Benjamin Cisterne’s atmospheric lighting, the sculpture dominates the stage. This is both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is that the sculpture is so beautiful it’s impossible to watch anything else on stage when it is lowered; the curse is that Obarzanek’s repetitive movement is no match for Margolin’s living construction.

Connected opens on a jarring note. From the silence of the darkened theater, a shocking, clanging sound erupts, the beginning of a score that is an almost nonstop assault on the ears. Gradually the dancers appear one by one and begin flailing, twitching, and rolling around on the floor. If there is any connection with the sculpture at this point, it is not obvious.

What is obvious is that Obarzanek is recycling steps that we have seen hundreds of times before. Eventually, as Connected continues, he provides a few innovative movements, but they are few and far between.

There are some appealing moments in this first half of the work. One of the women stands underneath the netting as its undulating form is lowered onto her shoulders with space for her head. She appears caught in a spider’s web, turning this way and that until the web rises once again above her.

At another point she pushes on various parts of a male dancer’s body so that the tethers connecting him to the sculpture cause it to rise, fall, and rotate.

About halfway through the 60-minute Connected, the mood and movement shift dramatically. The sculpture is raised almost to the ceiling and attention focuses exclusively on what is now a shockingly bright stage. We’re in an art museum and the kinetic sculpture is part of the collection. As the dancers enter, now dressed as security staff, we hear voiceover comments by real museum guards bemoaning their boredom and complaining about the dead-end nature of their job.

“I read the labels on the paintings and find spelling mistakes,” intones one. “You can tell by body language that someone is going to be trouble,” declares another. “You’re always hoping something interesting will come,” states a third.

Like Connected's guard, I was also hoping something interesting would come, but the tedious droning just went on and on.

Only at the very end, when the guards — now stripped down to undershorts and shirts — positioned themselves in a series of geometric shapes, did the live performers match the sculpture for visual interest.

By that time, however, I had been lulled into such a state of torpor that it really didn’t matter.

If you go: Chunky Move, Meany Hall, University of Washington, April 12-14. Tickets cost $39, $36 Subscribers, $37 UW faculty/staff/alumni, $20 students at the UW Arts box office, 3901 University Way NE, by phone at 206-543-4880 (toll free 800-859-5342), or online at


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