Tucked away in a dark cavernous room of the National Gallery of Victoria hang 39 giant bronze bells in perfect rows, suspended mid-air like sentinels. A woman walks calmly through the silent grid, arriving at the only illuminated dome on the outer perimeter. She pulls it towards her, pauses, then carefully swings it into motion, the warm glow of its light circling through the darkness. Six more dancers enter and follow suit, plunging us into a gentle hypnosis.

Pendulum
Pendulum. Photos © Gregory Lorenzutti

This is Pendulum – a movement and sound installation from choreographer Lucy Guerin and percussive artist Matthias Schack-Arnott, premiering at Melbourne’s new festival Rising. Sitting somewhere between a dance piece and an electronic sound composition, the work offers a methodical dissection of the installation’s potential.

Of course, the bells are the centrepiece here. High-tech and synchronised, the domes double as speakers for the live-cued score and conduits for Bosco Shaw’s clever lighting design. Triggered by the manual manipulations of the dancers, the bells flicker and whir, pulsate and hum, spilling their light and sound along precisely aimed arcs.

The choreography follows a gradual layering of spatial patterns, allowing us to see, not just hear, the creation of the sound score. The dancers repeatedly swing the bells in symmetrical arcs, audibly and visually metering the time and space between each catch. Gravity, constant and inescapable, offers a subtle counterpoint to the dancers’ persistent efforts.

Guerin’s choreography is both functional and repetitive, much like the pendulum itself. Dressed in shimmery tracksuits (design Harriet Oxley), the performers occasionally appear like factory workers, shouting ‘go’ then dutifully shuttling between strict intervals of swinging bells.

Pendulum

At other times, with Schack-Arnott’s electronic sounds adopting more sinister tones, the dancers slither under low-hanging lights, embodying something more earthly and wicked. Later, in a short-lived moment of risk, the space transforms into an open gymnasium of big swinging weights where the dancers throw themselves to the floor to avoid collision.

Though we see hints of this imagery, Pendulum never fully embraces any of these metaphorical worlds, and the dancers’ relationship to the objects is resultingly unclear. Sometimes subordinates, sometimes masters, the work never really settles on a clear positioning of the body in relation to the object. There seems to be an overriding preoccupation with the need to ‘show off’ the installation, which sadly inhibits more poetic readings.

Pendulum is technically impressive, and the responsiveness of the 39 bronze bells is charming. But greater clarity and ambition in the work’s thematic intention would have pushed it beyond being merely demonstrative.

Pendulum is at RISING until 6 June

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