The Chunky Move artistic director shares how the power of perception has defined her new work, ‘Lucid’.

The title of choreographer Anouk van Dijk’s latest piece for her company, Melbourne-based contemporary dance troupe Chunky Move, could hardly be more apt. Lucid is a work about thought, specifically the way our minds warp our manners. In a modern society where the way we’re perceived can be carefully quantified and adjusted, moulded by Instagram filters and Facebook likes, van Dijk is holding up a mirror to the way the internal influences the external. She tells Limelight’s online editor, Maxim Boon, about this train of thought.

Before we talk about the how and the what, I’d like to know the why – for you as a choreographer, what qualities interest you?

First and foremost I love dance and physicality. During my training, I did everything, from tap dance to Spanish dance, to jazz dance, hip hop, pointe shoes, all forms of contemporary dance, forms of improvisation. You name it; I studied it, and I learnt so much from doing that because I didn’t shy away from populist styles like jazz or tap to concentrate solely on hardcore post-modernist approaches. Because I have that variety in my background, I’m attracted to dancers who have a unique or impressive way of communicating with their bodies. Something that goes beyond the narrative level to a deeper layer of humanity, because not all dancers can do that.

Communication is really at the core of my approach, in lots of different guises. Some works explore the communication between performers and the complexities of sizes and herds, and other pieces are more about communication between the art form and the audience, and their perception of that movement. My choreography tends to hover from one to the other, so some works naturally become more theatrical and story-driven whereas others focus on the physical and virtuosic.

You’ve pioneered a way of exploring the human form called counter-technique. Tell me what this method cultivates in your dancers?

A lot of contemporary dance philosophies explore the way in which movement is articulated in performance, but counter-technique lies before that process starts. It’s really about understanding how the body works and how kinetic forces, like velocity and direction, influence movement. It works through control of the body, not through the means of specified steps, but through directing a part of your body and then counter-directing, creating an oppositional impetus somewhere else. This principle operates on really minuscule places on the body. It could work in the bones, in the muscles, or energetically in tissues, and it really helps coordination. Essentially it’s a very refined way of learning to observe and work with the body in a holistic way.

It also operates on a dancer’s physical understanding: the psychological implications of the mind affecting the body and vice-versa. It helps define many things outside of performance, like how we speak or sing, or what language we use to discuss movement.

But counter-technique is not a form of choreography. It is a physical practice, which we call “the skeleton”. We call it that because it has to have the meat and juice and substance of choreography on it to actually operate.

The dancers of Chunky Move all have very unique physicalities. What qualities do you look for in a dancer and what attracts you to a particular body?

An incredible curiosity in wanting to move is always the first thing I look for; a dancer who has the instinct to communicate through movement. I always want to be surprised by a dancer, so someone who doesn’t do what I expect them to do will catch my eye. They also have to be willing to enter a dialogue. I need someone to collaborate, to respond, and offer something uniquely of themselves. These are more than just dancers, they’re people, so their individuality and personality are just as important as their skills as a performer.

Your latest piece, Lucid, is a combination of dance and theatre. Can you tell me more about developing storytelling in this piece?

I think that situations create a trigger for an audience, whether it’s a trigger for their hearts, a shift of perspective, to feel a bit of relief, to feel empathy, to find a release from aggression, so I use a sort of spectrum of passions in this piece. They might be day-to-day feelings, or something you might only experience once a year or once in a lifetime: I’m trying to highlight different points in that range of emotions. We’re on a journey together, to find something that reflects who are as a society but also who we are as individuals. So Lucid is really a piece about people.

This work developed out of a very organic process. It’s not that I set out to make a work about a specific topic, but it doesn’t stop me from finding a narrative anchor if it appears during a piece’s creation. Lucid  has become about the idea of the individual; how we are perceived by ourselves and by others.

For example, there’s an actor who has an important role in the piece. He is very skilled at creating extreme emotions like aggression, and he also has a very strong interest in creating for himself, so I’ve tried to build on that. We also have a dancer who is physically very feminine and fragile. She’s a beautiful, beautiful dancer, but within her, she’s just like this boxer, like a bulldog. She’s also very funny, so she has this clown inside her as well, so there’s an interesting disconnect between our expectations of her and the reality. We’ve also explored the way we’re influenced by our heroes and icons; how we change our behaviours to fit our aspirations. Lucid has become about celebrating the malleable qualities we have in transforming and changing who we are, and at the same time acknowledging that we can be many different things simultaneously.

Chunky Move presents Lucid  at Chunky Move Studios, Melbourne until June 12.