Review: Universal Estate

6 June 2019

After my chat with Antony Hamilton, I was extremely excited to witness the premiere of his latest piece, Universal Estate. I made my way to Arts House and was escorted through large double doors and into a bright, clinical room. It felt as though I had walked into an episode of Black Mirror. It was a four-hour long dance piece,  and audiences were allowed to walk in and out as they pleased. They could also choose to sit or stand anywhere within the space, on the designated benches or the floor.

Two dancers (Cody Lavery and Kyall Shanks) navigate the space, looking to find meaning behind the machines they have been presented. Dressed in shades of green and browns, they rampage through the space in an ape-like manner suggestive of how our ancestors would have reacted to fire. They stack the screens, play with them, create homes and seek shelter in them – focused, but aimless. They seem to be controlled by an other-worldly being that neither the audience or performers can comprehend. They react in fury and confusion, a series of angry grunts and labored breaths as they interact with the technology. On occasion, they seem to lack agency regarding their actions, moving the screens around because they have to, rather than want to. Others times, they have a playful kinship with the screens, treating it like a DIY jungle gym.

Hamilton’s choreography is precise – everything, right down to the minute facial expressions and breaths of the dancers were carefully thought through. The dancer’s movements are mechanical and draining. They are breathless and tired, but forced to carry on their search for meaning. The sound design borders on white noise – consistent beeping intertwined with a deep, pulsating bass while the screens flash various configurations of static. It is a language incomprehensible to everyone but the performers, who are hypnotized by it. It reminded me of my interview with Hamilton, where he likened electricity to God –  it seems to be all powerful and full of secrets that regular people can’t comprehend. “Electricity and technology have a kind of mysteriousness about it… screens [tend to have] a god-like power over people,” he said.

Universal Estate asks who is in power? Do we control technology, mold it to fit our needs and wants, or does it control us? There is a sense of apathy as I watch Lavery and Shanks huff their way around the machines, searching for meaning in a meaningless existence. I sit in silence as I allow the static noise to drown out my thoughts. Who wins this battle between man and machine? Only time will tell.

Universal Estate played at Arts House from 12-24 May as part of the Dance Massive 2019.

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