Monday, 10 October 2016

The Immaterial World by Juleyn Hamilton

This past week I have been happily overwhelmed by the New Dance Festival that has invited me to be one of their guest writers.  There have been dancers from everywhere from Berlin to Barcelona here in St. John's.  This was the first post I wrote for them about Julyen Hamilton who has been dancing since the '70s and was originally based in London.

With a title like "The Immaterial World" it begs the question, "what is an immaterial world?"  When the audience streamed in Hamilton was already seated on stage on a stool in the shadows, back to the audience.  Soon we heard a series of familiar but indistinguishable vocalization from him.  Like voices overheard in a multitude of languages, the babble of the subconscious or the regurgitation of a dream.  Eventually, Hamilton fluidly turned round and greeted us in a friendly tone, "Welcome".  This word would be used almost as poetic punctuation through the performance along with phrases like "and I will hold you in my arms" or "help me".

We were no longer in the shadows and had arrived in the well-lit immaterial world where there were a surprising number of material props.  In addition to the stool were standing, shining pipes, vessels with water in them, cloths and perhaps most engaging–a red handled kitchen knife.  All of these objects were well chosen for their versatility and visibility from anywhere in the theatre. 

Hamilton would use these articles with dramatic skill and when creatively combined with his characteristic gestures and vocalization take us through a quick paced series of vignettes that were at turns humorous and tragic and even magical.  They alternated between the everyday and the ritual and pointed to a fascinating universal quality.  These were scenes drawn from human life as it has been played out around the globe for centuries.  When he skimmed the knife blade along the pipe it evoked the purposeful gesture of sharpening a knife.  But was it for sacrificing an animal or himself? Preparing for a meal with a lover or a fight to the death with an opponent?  It was a caress and it was music.  Water was for quenching a thirst, ritual washing or cleansing, rain and of course tears.

Julyen Hamilton is known for his prowess as an improvisational dancer and his ability to command a stage with as little as a stare.  With the freedom of improvisation Hamilton can create suspense and hold the audience in his hand.  With decades of experience, he can play out the variations of his body, his voice and his props.  He knows well what is possible, probable and can respond to what actually happens.  Whether a pipe fell over, lights buzzed or an audience member coughed, it was all skillfully employed.  Improvisation resided not in the random but in the insightful interplay of a series of well-known elements.

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