Exciting, in-demand, independent choreographer Antony Hamilton, who blew audiences away with his work Forever & Ever for Sydney Dance Company last October, is currently feeling his way into his new role as Artistic Director and joint CEO, with Kristy Ayre, of Chunky Move. But before he takes up the position full-time in April, he is staging a new work called Universal Estate for Melbourne’s Dance Massive.

Antony Hamilton. Photograph © Simon Obarzanek

Presented by Arts House, Universal Estate runs for four hours – though Hamilton expects that audiences will only stay for a part of that time then move on to make room for others. Described as “a world of light, sound, objects and movement; a living sculpture where retro-futurism meets contemporary nihilism”, Universal Estate features two dancers (Cody Laverty and Kyall Shanks) as two humans navigating an environment of strange technological objects with no known function. The piece explores our throw-away society’s obsession with the next thing, and “how we can find meaning in a world made up of the material things of past generations”. Antony Hamilton spoke to Limelight about his new role at Chunky Move and the world he has created for Universal Estate.

Congratulations on your Chunky Move appointment. I belive you are working there part-time until April when you will join the company full-time?

Yes, I’m working one day a week through February and March while me and Kristy, who is my co-CEO, complete the delivery of all our projects for Dance Massive. And then we will take the reins full-time to lead Chunky Move on an exciting journey in April.

You obviously know the company well having worked there before as a dancer and choreographer?

That’s right. I spent many years as a dancer with Chunky Move and the company also was a really strong base support for my career development as a maker of work as well as through a number of initiatives that the company runs, and so I have quite an affinity with the company and a love for the company. I’m thrilled to be going back after 10 years out in the independent sector developing a practice of my own.

What you are hoping to achieve there? Do you have specific goals?

We do have specific goals. I do. I keep saying ‘we’ because we applied for this job as a creative team even though I am the Artistic Director, but that does illustrate the ethos and approach that I am taking, which is one of collectivity. A company like that really requires a strong team. It’s not really about an individual vision but it’s about multiple voices, and understanding that there’s value at all levels of the company from the artists to the managerial staff to everyone involved. And so there are practicalities like that. But from an art form capacity, I’m super excited for the company to continue to support what I see as the grassroots area of the arts, the independent sector, where a lot of the exciting ideas are kind of formulated and growing and happening. The company has the capacity to have parts of its program strongly supporting independent artists through different activities while still maintaining a role as a company that presents larger works that I will be creating. So there are a lot of things that we need to nut out in terms of the practicality of making all that happen but really it is about diverse artistic voices and inclusion, and making sure that the audiences – who are really the central element in the performing arts – are really catered to and that the work is really exciting for them.

Do you plan to choreograph a lot of work there?

I do plan to, absolutely. I am a maker of work, that’s what I know best and what I love doing the most, but I guess when you come into these roles in an organisation you realise that there is a lot more going on other than just making work. I am particularly excited about that aspect of it. Despite its central role making work, [Chunky Move] has the capacity to promote the art form in other ways and develop partnerships with other organisations that give more visibility to the art form. There are a whole lot of other things that we are interested in doing that are not solely related to the work that I will make creatively.

Can you tell us a bit about Universal Estate?

I’ve had a fascination for quite a few years with how we perceive the difference between biology and technology, and how we separate ourselves as if we were outside that constructed environment. I’m fascinated also by the idea that we are born into a constructed world and we kind of take it for granted that it’s there, and we have these systems of activity that are somehow imposed from history and we just move with them and with the current of that activity. The thing that I find most frightening, I suppose, is that runaway manufacturing advancement and the idea that we’re building up masses and masses of material goods that are so quickly superseded. So these remaining objects become these archetypes of the past. They sit in op shops and at the tip but metaphorically we are dragging them forward with us in a sense. I am quite curious about where this technology sits within the mythology of our time; what meaning we give these objects. I’m really interested as well in screen-based technology being like a portal into another dimension and the idea that we are seduced by these bright screens, and when they are on we can’t seem to look away from them. We find it very difficult not to be drawn into them and it’s almost like looking into another dimension and it’s almost like another portal to speak to a god of some sort, the technology god. It’s like an unknowable force. There are only a handful of high priests of technology who understand the inner workings of the technology that we use and so we don’t really understand these objects. We don’t really know the inner workings of them. We don’t know the inner workings of the universe so it’s like looking into that idea.

You are using sound, lights, objects and choreography to explore this?

[The production] has been designed by myself and Alisdair Macindoe [who is the sound, video and synthesiser designer] who I’m working with. The objects themselves are really designed by me and I’ve had them fabricated by some set builders but then the objects have some video synthesisers that Alisdair has [created]. The objects are made from a combination of recycled technological materials and custom-made housing to keep them in, and so the choreography moves around the movement of these objects and the labour of shifting them and moving them and changing the configuration of them over the course of the performance.

Have you worked closely with the dancers to devise it?

Yes, we had a creative development late last year with the dancers. It’s always incredibly important in my work to almost devise a world that is inhabited first, so in that way it was really important that all these objects were designed and constructed to be the catalyst for whatever choreographic material came from them. My work is often very driven by that aesthetic world and designing something that the dancers respond to and can work with. So that was the process here, so we worked with the two dancers and the eight objects and with Alsadair in the room devising videos and sound for the work as we were making the choreography.

I believe the work runs for four hours? Are you expecting people to stay for all of it?

Audiences are welcome to stay for the duration of the entire work but I think it would probably be most unlikely for people to stick around for the whole four hours simply because in a way it’s designed to be viewed for shorter periods. I don’t want to encourage people to get bored [laughs] but there is a sense of monotony going on in the room and a kind of endless cycle of labour. The performers are manipulating these objects and there’s a process as they take them around the room so it could become a little tiresome for people. That’s not really the best way to sell the show is it? [laughs]. I expect people to stay for a while then leave. There may be some limits on the number of people in the room at any one time because the room is quite small, so we are still having to figure out how we cycle the audience through.

Universal Estate runs in one of the upstairs studios at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall from March 12 – 24. Tickets are free with no booking required