On November 3rd , two of Australia’s leading choreographers and dance companies, Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarazenk from Dancenorth joined forces with Indonesian music duo Senyawa to bring “Attractor” to UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA).
Upon entering the venue, my eyes were immediately drawn to a vertical mast of equipment
cables on stage, which extended up high as though drawing on an energetic source beyond our
perceptible senses. The musicians Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi sat at the base. Dressed in
black, they were encircled by plain-clothed dancers on chairs who resembled nomads or hippies
gathered for a drum circle, or some kind of primordial gathering – with sound at the center of
Senyawa’s sound was unlike anything I have ever heard, it was both primal and elevated,
rhythmic and chaotic, foreign and familiar. The Javanese duo comprises Suryadi’s electrified,
self-made string instruments punctuated by Shabara’s guttural singing. Together they meld
traditional Indonesian folk influences with bold experimental tactics to create high-velocity
Shabara’s homemade bamboo instrument is unusual given that it serves multiple functions: as
a percussive element it sets a rhythm and beat; when its strings are plucked and layered, the
amplified melody is similar to that of a distorted guitar. Senyawa also draws on heavy-metal
influences from their youth: bands such as Black Sabbath, Metallica and Iron Maiden. The
sound is at once neo-tribal and avant-garde.
On stage, there was a true interplay of music and dance, a symbiotic relationship. In certain
pieces, the music would begin and lead the movement, with the dancers animating at the
periphery and radiating out. At other moments, the musicians were literally transported and
carried away by the dancers themselves—sound trailed after and followed dance. According to
the program notes, the choreographer, Lucy Guerin, wanted to create a piece that moved
beyond narrative representation, and to play with an evolution of forms. This was visible when
the troupe oscillated between moving as one large holistic organism, and then broke into
One of the most riveting solos was Samantha Hine’s piece, which began like a street style robot
dance, but morphed into a haunting demonic possession no "Exorcist" film could possibly top.
She moved as though controlled by an outside force, and Shabara’s voice accentuated her
convulsions and broken joints. Sound manifested itself physically - when he growled, gurgled
and thrashed around on stage his body eerily mirrored her movements. The verisimilitude was
uncanny, and the audience responded with laughter, which made me wonder if it was a result
of horror tropes in the popular consciousness. Or maybe laughter masked the unease? Either
way, loud applause at the end highlighted this as a favorite.
In another scene, the dancers picked up the two musicians whilst they were playing and began
to carry them around the stage, like jesters – they tried with all their might to distract them,
rolling them on the ground, pressing their hands into their chests as if they could distort or affect the sound. One of the musicians was even dragged around by his feet – which at first
seemed comical, but then morphed into a fierce act of independence. The music played on
steadily, as the musicians crawled away on the floor, in a last ditch refusal or protest to express
their art. The piece ended when new percussive instruments suddenly joined in from the
middle of the audience, as though the sound moved beyond its physical boundaries and spread.
The climactic scene of the evening involved the entire troupe, shaking in unison in a trance-like,
ritualistic state. At one point twenty or so participants of all ages emerged from the audience,
also clothed in similar neutral hues and street-wear, joining the dancers on stage. The division
between professional and amateur became blurred once the mob moved in a mass, and
became something larger than life - more than the sum of its parts.
Shafts of blue light pierced through the smoky air, and the dancers moved in a frenetic manner,
reminiscent of a nightclub. They eventually formed two lines, and bodies ran from one side to
the next, as through entrapped in a diminishing space, with the moving walls closing in. Once
the gap diminished, there was nothing more than a pile of writhing bodies left on the floor.
In the program notes, choreographer Gideon Obarzenek mentions his kibbutz experience in
Israel as an inspiration for the show, where communal participation is privileged over
performance. With “Attractor” he wanted to create a ritual for non-believers, to create a space
where people could experience an ecstatic and transcendental state.
My mind could not help but think of the recent concert shooting in Las Vegas, and then recall
Orlando, and the Bataclan attack in Paris. With images of bodies mobilized at their fullest
extent in joy, ecstasy and union one moment only to have the life taken away from them in the
next. I could not help but wonder if an innocent communal gathering in a public setting was
becoming increasingly put into question and less possible without an inch of paranoia.
In a powerful last image of the night, the dancers’ bodies froze motionless on stage, but the
singer’s voice continued to scream on in pain, as lights flashed on and off in a strobe-like
manner, exorcising the spirits of the deceased. In order to fully achieve an ecstatic state, must
we not first collectively grieve and release the pain?