The vast space of Chunky Move Studios is the surface of another planet on which we perch ourselves. The tiers ascend from its flat surface, and in the distance we see shapes and light, a red haze so indistinct that it is mesmerising, alluring. This mirage is inviting, but ever elusive in its form, refusing to reveal its secrets. Thus REDSHIFT begins, and this microcosm of the macrocosm comes to life. It is a work that is of time and with time, inviting the audience to set aside minutes and hours, and enter into a void where the principles of nature are privileged in dictating what happens and when.
Opening with a microscopic exploration of gravity and friction, energy transferring between bodies, we witness a test in control and isolation for performers Amber McCartney and Jacqueline Trapp, which they execute with masterful poise. In such stillness there is a magnetism about them, contact and direction constantly shifting and realigning between the two. In time they are joined by James Batchelor and Jack Riley, their bodies sequentially subsumed into the flow of forces. It is a physically demanding journey for the performers, with shapes and phrases requiring strength and trust between the four, their collective centre of gravity ceaselessly shifting and bending. They each have an impressive command of focus, and such concentration is riveting to watch. Their presence is meditative in a way that carries us with them, yet does not dictate how we should respond; the freedom of their movement extends to the freedom of our observation.
The decision to perform and direct appears to have not hampered Batchelor’s abilities in either role in the slightest. His direction and choreography is exceptionally mature, and a dedication to physical and conceptual development is evidenced in his style. The intersection of fluidity, focus and freeness in this work suggests an experience of desire, but not in the sexual sense. Rather it feels as if we are privy to the innate desire of atoms to move and bounce, of elements to react and energy to flow. Witnessing the performers’ bodies fuse and melt together is visually satisfying, and at times hypnotic, as if we are present while someone is lucid dreaming. It is true that this work is not interested in providing us with a night’s easy entertainment, but instead we are provided with something more challenging, more inquisitive. Instead we are offered the space to consider how human bodies can move as atoms around a nucleus, how we can rethink the centre and the periphery, and how science is performance.
Morgan Hickinbotham’s sound design and live performance enters into REDSHIFT as being both connected to the environment around it, and a tool to transport us into space. Magnetic and engulfing, the pulsing rhythms maintain a sublime intensity throughout the work. Even nature made a timely feature during the performance, thunder claps from the storm outside blending seamlessly with Hickinbotham’s arrangement, as if they were scheduled. Given the scale of the space, the minimalist visual design by Annalise Rees and lighting design by Mathew Adey had all the more impact in guiding the work through its phases. Powerful and plunging, the world of REDSHIFT transforms from one of shadows to a stark open plain and back again. It feels as if the electricity is literally interacting with the performers below, conducted and transmitted through their movement. In contrast to the rapid lighting shifts, the stage space is manipulated with a quiet subtlety, costumes becoming set pieces and stage doors becoming portals. As the lights fade to nothingness, we are left with an afterglow that entices us to come back and immerse ourselves in this world again.
The concept driving REDSHIFT is simple, but in its simplicity it is detailed and studious. It appears that this is an instalment within a wider trajectory exploring the relationship between movement and science, and as such we can be sure to see such delightfully creative practice divide and multiply in the future.