***.5 stars

By Cedar Brown

 Metal is a collaboration between Melbourne-based internationally acclaimed dance company Lucy Guerin Inc, and compositional Metal band Ensemble Tikoro from Bandung, Indonesia. Choreographer and director Lucy Guerin states in the program note that it was the ‘profound contradiction’ between her delicate choreography and the metal group that drew her to work with them. This work thus centres on establishing and then unpacking binaries in form and tone. While this reveals interesting tensions, in also raises questions regarding the broader context of the piece.

The work begins with a single dancer moving in an eerie landscape of sound, ghostlike smoke trailing from their body, obscuring their head. Here we are introduced to a kind of embodied hazy unknowing and, without realising, to the masterful vocal work of Ensemble Tikoro.

The following section of the work establishes a binary between the five dancers and seven metal performers. The dancers, dressed in bridesmaid-style “mix and match” jumpsuits, elegantly traverse the space, presented in stark contrast to the aggressive presence of the metal group. The assured synchronicity of their motion, the formal nature of the choreography and the similarity of their costumes presents them as even, controlled, and masterful. By contrast, Ensemble Tikoro are portrayed as a daunting unknown presence on the Arts Centre stage, with their ‘metalhead’ costumes, fierce stances, and the antagonistic intensity of their movements and sounds.

This binary is gradually disrupted by the overlapping and merging of the groups. They begin to perform in conversation: the vocalisations of Ensemble Tikoro translated through the dancers’ bodied and vice versa. Sound and movement connect with and control each other, with each section experimenting in a new way with pacing, positioning and rhythm. Costume, designed by Andrew Treloar, layers and transforms, dissolving another stylistic disconnect between the performers. Composer Robi Rusdiana notes in the program that ‘there are many things in this world that we don’t recognise or don’t realise, so we can miss them, yet they are present in our own bodies’. This sense of discovering or recognising the unknowable in the embodied is articulated through the exploration on stage.

Ensemble Tikoro showcase an incredibly versatile vocal repertoire. Established by Rusdiana as part of a Masters project, they use throat singing, gangsa and extended vocals, drawing on a range of vocal techniques from different metal genres and utilising classical notation and scoring. The sonic universe explored in the piece is haunted and terrifying. As I am not familiar with either western metal music nor Wayang vocal sounds, I was astounded at the diversity of sound qualities, pitches and rhythms the ensemble produced: sometimes a roar or scream, at others a layering of tone and rhythm, at others a classical soprano melody.

However, while this piece explicitly explores the conflict between metal and contemporary dance, the ‘profound contradiction’ set up for the audience in this piece is one in which the Australian company, performing in the Arts Centre (a traditionally white institution catering to white middle aged and elderly patrons) is presented as the image of refinement in comparison to their Indonesian counterpart. This piece raises questions around how cross-genre, cross-cultural collaboration can be approached without playing into harmful stereotypes, especially when the genre and form of one group are already Other to the space and audience. With the complexities of structural power inherent in globalisation, it is apt that Guerin introduces this piece as ‘represent[ing] the challenges and progress of globalisation in a live way’.

Performance 4.5, Direction 3.5, Costume and set 3.5, Lighting 3.5, Sound 4.5

Images: Gregory Lorenzutti