Review :: Sydney Festival – Assembly

January 14th 2012

My parents are no drum beating arts patrons. They bought a Melbourne Theatre Company subscription last year but they think of it like a bad gift (it’s the thought of the purchase that counts).

I lured them up from Melbourne to see the Sydney Festival show Assembly with a promise they were in for something spectacular. Gideon Obarzenek leading eight Chunky Move dancers, four soloists from the Victorian Opera, and Richard Gill conducting fifty Sydney Philharmonia Choir singers… with their powers combined I was almost hoping for a cameo by Captain Planet.

It was okay.

Some bits were more than okay. But overall it wasn’t the awe-inspiring, earth-shattering brilliance I had hoped it would be.

For most of the hour-long performance most of the ensemble was on stage breathing life into Gesualdo, Victoria, Purcell, a repertoire of Plainsong, and one contemporary love song. At other times the Chunky Move dancers took over the space with tightly choreographed sequences that included some Buzz Lightyear-inspired “falling with style.”

One of the more than okay bits was when the full ensemble of dancers and singers divided into opposing forces on either side of the roman-steps-like structure that was the stage. One side blue, the other flame red, the standoff erupted into an ecstasy of full-bodied rage: all chest-pounding and hissing, spitting and shrieking.

Another sequence that had me captivated was a beautifully simple antidote to the crazed standoff. Slowly at first then building into a panicked frenzy, the crush of bodies old and young, big and small, swirled about the space, expanding and contracting like a school of sardines where no fish wants to be on the outside and every fish jostles for the security of the centre. There wasn’t any voice accompaniment to this gesture which made the sound of feet shuffling all the more powerful. And it was probably an unintended effect but the watery shadow-play of light cast downstage was mesmerising.

People moving en masse is always powerful and, put simply, the politics of this is what this show is all about.

What: Dance, Assembly
Who: Chunky Move and Victorian Opera (Australia), presented by the Sydney Festival
Where: Angel Place Recital Hall
When: January 11-15
How much: $80 – $89



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