Connecting to the Ecstatic Power of Dance and Music in Attractor – A curatorial statement by Joyce Rosario
January 08, 2019
Framed as a “powerful, secular, present-day ritual,” Attractor is inspired by the Javanese tradition of entering trance through dance and music. Works that ignite meaningful experiences and important discussions about the world around us is what inspires me most in performance, and Attractor is exactly that kind of work—a reminder that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.
The concept of entering different states of being through dance and music is not lost on anyone who comes from a culture that still maintains this practice—nor, for example, to anyone whose youth was shaped by the global rave scene of the ‘90s or the ever-mutating heavy metal scene.
Attractor was born out of intrigue after director Gideon Obarzanek travelled to a village in Eastern Java to observe a traditional dance ceremony. Wondering why he, and other seemingly non-religious people, were drawn to the ceremonial performance, Obarzanek concluded that participants become part of something bigger than themselves in transcendent states. In an interview from January 2018, he elaborates further on his trip, “I went there on behalf of Arts Centre Melbourne, because they were putting on a music festival called ‘SUPERSENSE.’ One of the producers was very interested in traditional Javanese dancers going into trance with music and dance.”
I’ve spoken a lot about this year’s programming as being characterized by changing whose perspectives are centred in the work. In Attractor, Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi of Indonesian experimental band, Senyawa, are quite literally at centre stage. For Obarzanek, meeting Senyawa was revelatory, “Senyawa took me on this journey and we spoke about our interest in ritual dance and music and the possibility of creating a secular contemporary show based on some of these ideas.” The band’s unusual sound borrows as much from the ritual and folk idioms from their Indonesian background as from the metal bands they listened to as teenagers—Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Iron Maiden.
Obarzanek alludes further to what we have to gain by understanding dance from a non-Western lens, “Aesthetics and composition drive much of what we see in Western contemporary dance. When you’re watching it, dancers are not necessarily performing out to you, you are looking into it. The dynamic is different in Attractor. Senyawa takes centre stage and the dancers perform around them, tightening the connection between music and dance, sound and music.”
It’s ironic, and perhaps reveals a fundamental tension in modern society, that it’s through the secular space of an arts festival that we connect to the ecstatic power of dance and music. If seeing this show can remind us of that, then so be it.*
Last year in Portland, I had the opportunity to be one of the audience participants in Attractor.** The experience was nothing short of transformative—an adrenaline rush that I had never experienced before (or perhaps not since my days of club dancing and warehouse raves). I left knowing that I had been a part of something special that I would continue carry in my body for a long time to come.
* As an aside, there are also many other ways that dance is powerful. I read this inspiring article recently, and was reminded that dance is also political.
** Don’t panic! Audience participants are pre-selected. No one will be pulled on stage without previous consent!
Want to read more about the artists involved in Attractor? Check out these links:
Gideon Obarzanek is the founder of Chunky Move. The company’s work was previously in Vancouver at PuSh in 2008 with Glow as well as Dancing on the Edge Festival in 2007 with I Want to Dance Better at Parties.
Coincidentally, Antony Hamilton (who was at PuSh last year with MEETING) was just recently appointed as part of Chunky Move’s leadership team.
Lucy Guerin is one of Australia’s most celebrated choreographers. Aside from her collaborative work in Attractor, her work has not been featured at PuSh… yet (hint, hint!).
Guerin is interested in the idea of rituals where the participants are driven into a trance state, or inhabited by the spirits of the dead, not through any belief system, and become “kind of invisible creatures”. “Dance and music,” she says, “can heighten our senses and transform us through their own power.”
Kyle Page is an Australian director, choreographer and performer. His early career at 17 was spent as a professional dancer with Dancenorth Australia. After performing internationally with renowned choreographers (including Guerin and Oberzanek, amongst others) he returned in 2014 to assume the role of Artistic Director of the company. Since then, Dancenorth Australia has become an award-winning, international touring entity.
For Page, Attractor is about “succumbing to the inherent power of music and dance, and how they can propel each other into heightened states of energy, tone, rhythm and form while engaging the audience.”