Chunky Move is connected — to its dancers, to the art world and, in its latest work, to a Reuben Margolin sculpture. The 2011 work, choreographed by founding Artistic Director Gideon Obarzanek, tethered its quintet of dancers to a large, graceful, moving apparatus. And by doing so, Obarzanek explored the link between people and their environment — and more perhaps more subtly, how people view, or don’t view, art.
The work, titled “Connected,” was shown by this Australian contemporary dance company at MASS MoCA, in conjunction with Jacob’s Pillow, this past weekend. As audiences entered the theater, the curtain was open, revealing this fascinating sculpture that took up a large portion of the stage. The bulk of it looked like a mass of window blind pulls, hanging down neatly and forming a perfect cube. It was suspended by more lines that were attached, in loom-like symmetry, to a large wheel.
The dancers came on stage, one-by-one. First came the fiery Gabrielle Nankivell. Dressed in black shorts and knitted tops, she tumbled and slid across the stage. As she hurled herself about, Ross McCormack quietly started to attach the hundreds of lines in the sculpture with flat clips. Working diligently and behind the sculpture, he was inconspicuous.
Then, like Nankivell, McCormack exploded out front. Then came the statuesque Stephanie Lake with Joseph Simons, all of them tossing turbulently, but never touching.
As the energy built on the floor, Marnie Palomares took over at the sculpture. The only one in white, Palomares stood out, but like McCormack, remained a dim figure in the background.
When she finally emerged in the silence, one touch of McCormack’s hand to her arm sent shivers. They were the first to touch, to make contact and it was like a revelation. The two wound themselves into a jerky, uncomfortable duet that, despite its twists, felt compelling. Then as they were joined by the others, Palomares hooked the four to the wheel. And here, with Palomares interacting with the work of art, was where the dance became mesmerizing.
As the other four pulled on its lines, like marionettes masters, Palomares approached and inhabited the space around and underneath the sculpture. It rose around her, as lissome as a butterfly. As if it were a soft blanket, the sculpture caressed Palomares. She and it looked magical.
It ended with her releasing the other dancers and embracing, this time with gentleness, McCormack.
Then “Connected” went off the rails. Lake entered, dressed as a security guard. She began a monologue about standing watch at an art gallery. The others came too with their tales — of boredom, reading body language or daydreaming. At that point, this lovely sculpture no longer played an active part in “Connected.” It became a static, curious object, like many works in an art museum.
But the gray guards, now all five performers, moved in punctual lines, just like the sculpture. They became the art while debating the worthiness of art. It was thought-provoking, but a disappointing ending to a visually exquisite creation.