Melbourne Festival: An Act of Now, Weather, DESH ~ theatre notes

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Melbourne Festival: An Act of Now, Weather, DESH

Melbourne Festival Diary #6

Even off the plan, the strongest aspect of the 2012 Melbourne Festival was always the dance. It's a feeling borne out in the performances I've seen: William Forsythe's I Don't Believe in Outer Space was the first knockout, and these three works  - Chunky Move's An Act of Now, Akram Khan's DESH and Lucy Guerin Inc's Weather - further demonstrate the vitality, reach and power of contemporary dance.

An Act of Now, Chunky Move. Photo: Jeff Busby

I've been dithering for several days about how to write about them. Dance, and especially dance of this calibre, often has that effect: you can't hide behind words, even if words are present in the performance, because what matters is movement, gesture, living bodies in space, the performance itself. Critical response becomes, even more than usual, an impossible act of translation, an attempt to interpret the wordless body into written language. Maybe part of this stuttering is overload: when you think of the complexities - the sheer volumes of sensual and intellectual information, the emotional intensities - that attend a really interesting performance, it's ridiculous to think you can even begin to understand it in a few hours. Sometimes covering a festival feels like trying to process War & Peace five times a week. Which is to say, one is always face to face with one's own failure.

I'm no closer to a solution, perhaps because there isn't one: but reviews are beginning to bank up, whingeing is not to the purpose and I'd had better square my jaw, akimbo my elbows and get on with it. Either that, or stop going to festivals and begin a Slow Art movement. I don't know how you young people do it.


An Act of Now is Anouk van Dijk's first work as the new artistic director of Chunky Move, and she has certainly arrived with a flourish. I've only seen one other work of van Dijk's: an extraordinary collaboration with the contemporary German playwright Falk Richter, Trust, at the 2011 Perth Festival. At the time, I was struck by the strangely oneiric effect of her choreography: her rhythms and movement often seem counter-intuitive, gracefulness turning back on itself to create complex, often violent, forms of collapse and reformation. As I was watching Trust, something in the movement of the dancers seemed to creep deep into my subconscious and inhabit it, in unsettling ways that felt akin, if not quite the same as, an experience of lucid dreaming. The same thing happened in An Act of Now, a completely different kind of work, which made me think that it wasn't simply an accident of my subjectivity.

An Act of Now - performed at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl - shows an inventiveness and boldness that really merits the word "risk". The performance begins as the audience is led through the darkness to the Myer amphitheatre. We are given headphones, which create an immediate sense of intimacy and - even more oddly, as they are also alienating - a feeling of communal purpose. We stand, like an invading army, on the lip of the bowl, looking down into the auditorium. The whispered soundtrack consists of instructions and admonitions that generate a pervasive sense of anxiety, which is reinforced by the police tape that marks out where we are supposed to go, and by the figure that emerges out of the darkness and distance, as if it is guiding aircraft into land. Behind it is another figure, perhaps dressed in a hazard suit, illuminated by harsh flashes, from which streams plumes of smoke. On the stage of the Bowl, those same flashes (part of Niklas Pajanti's extraordinary lighting design) illuminate what seems to be a glass house.

We are led to the seats on the stage, which face outwards over the auditorium. Before us is the glasshouse, filled so thickly with smoke that it is opaque: inside we see silhouettes, people moving close to the glass and then back into the house, vanishing into the haze. They are dressed casually, a group of young, contemporary bodies, posed with a slightly heightened formality. The greenhouse is claustrophobic, suffocating, an image at once of climate change, of urban interiority, of entrapment. The smoke gradually clears, but the sense of entrapment remains.

What follows is a dance that demonstrates the range of van Dijk's choreographic vocabulary: it slides from dance to violent, agonistic movement, vivid, passionate and with a real sense of danger. (A sense reinforced, on the opening night, when the dance had to be interrupted briefly because Stephanie Lake broke her wrist). Dancers sling each other across the stage, hang from the rafters of the house, confront each other, hit each other, seduce each other. A feeling of erotic excitement is palpable, a sense of irresistible physical vitality and vulnerability. The dancers are at once individuals - one of the pleasures of this piece is to see a cast which reflects how various people are, with differing ethnicities and body types - and wound into chains of togetherness, collapsing in strange, intricate ring-a-rosies, moving together with a harmony that sometimes seems inexplicable.

Marcel Weirckx's sound design mixes urgent electronic music with live sound; voices, the panting of the dancers, the amplified percussion of feet on the stage. The emotional effect is one of gathering intensity, generated by sequences which continuously break and reform into new patterns. And then, gloriously, release: one by one, the dancers escape from the house. We see them weaving through the seats of the auditorium and further out, over the grass, running through shadow and light to the far horizon, led by a dancer in a silver jacket playing a viola. It's a dance which seems at once ancient and absolutely contemporary: you think of the frolicking of young people at a music festival, of Brueghel's Dance of Death, of the line of souls in the final scene of Bergman's The Seventh Seal, of sudden delight and freedom. For all its darknesses and conflict, this is a joyous and hopeful work, utterly moving as a portrait of humanity.


Weather: Lucy Guerin Inc

Lucy Guerin's Weather couldn't be more of a contrast, although in some ways it's deeply connected: like van Dijk, Guerin is fascinated and inspired by how people relate to their environment. No aspect of our environment is more pervasive and less easy to define than the weather, and here Guerin uses the complex sciences of meterology as an inspiration for her choreography. Weather represents a welcome return to pure dance: for several years Guerin has been interrogating dance performance through experiments that incorporate text,  instruction, improvisation, non-dancers and so on. Weather demonstrates how much she has learned from this: it's a work of startling elegance, which demonstrates Guerin's exquisite understanding of the stage as a dynamic space. Again and again I was floored by the relationships she and her dancers created. 

The six dancers, two men and four women, are dressed identically, in blue crocheted jumpers and black shorts by Shio Otani. They perform on an empty stage of edgeless blackness, which is defined by the single element of Robert Cousins's design: a roof of white, suspended plastic bags, that looks like a square cloud. Gradually, as the dance progresses, bags falls from the ceiling, until the floor is covered with them: they become random elements that eddy and float in the currents created by the dancers' motion, or waves lifting and falling as they are thrown up in surges of movement, or an image of suffocation as a dancer is cowled and enclosed in a bag, which then becomes the membrane of a womb, an image of rebirth. Or they are just litter on the floor, an emblem of the ways in which human beings are trashing the planet.

Weather is characterised by some astoundingly precise chorus work, as dancers line up like isometric bars and move across the floor, repeating angular movements, or link up into chains that wind and unwind, connecting and breaking in complex movements. One dancer, Harriet Ritchie, is pregnant, and becomes the focus of much of the chorus movement. Her visible belly is a fact, not a metaphor: a reminder of futurity, of the generations who will live in the weather we have made. As with all Guerin's work, there is an abiding passion that underlies its apparent restraint, which makes Weather cumulatively more intense, and with a powerful after-effect. Guerin's work has always been concerned with relationship, with how people encounter and affect each other. In Weather, this analysis of the conflicts and desires of intimacy widens into a meditation on human beings as a species.

The movement is less intricate than her earlier work, but somehow, in ways I can't quite define, more sophisticated: the emphasis is on space, the energies between the dancers. Weather has a perspective that seems at once distant and abstract, in the same way weather pattern maps are, and which at the same time foregrounds the fleshly presence of the human body, the breath of dancers, their always visible skin. It reflects the various ways we experience weather: it is personal, in how it intimately affects our bodies, and yet wholly impersonal, an aspect of the sublime. And at the centre of the dance, in both positive and negative ways, is the axis of human agency: our destructiveness, our capacity for tenderness.


DESH: Akram Khan

Akram Khan's DESH is a wholly enchanting solo work that exploits every kind of theatrical inventiveness to explore Khan's dislocations as a migrant from Bangladesh. It opens in silence, stunningly: a lone figure dressed in a long shirt and dhoti trousers wanders onto the darkened stage, carrying a lamp. He makes his way forestage and puts down the lamp: and then, lifting a huge mallet, brings it down, blam!, onto a metal plate. The sound is amplified so it shatters the auditorium. And then again. And again.

A simple act of unskilled labour, with a humble primitive tool: a sophisticated work of art, employing almost every device you can think of - projected animation, physical movement, sound, text, dazzling design. DESH brings these two things together in tension, showing how closely they are related. It's an autobiographical work, which explores Khan's dislocations from his Bangladeshi background as an urban Londoner: it shifts seamlessly between the alienated call-centre culture of the 21st century to ancient modes of story-telling, from past to present, from crocodile-infested mangroves to busy urban streets. Exploring generational inheritance, Khan enacts dialogues between himself and his father, himself and his daughter, sorting through the pain and delight of a family history that, like all family histories, opens out into the violence of the wider world.

It's extraordinarily, unashamedly beautiful, overwhelming you with the sensuality of Joeclyn Pook's music, which feels like a cross between the insistent arpeggios of Philip Glass and the levitating voices of traditional Asian chants, with Tony Yip's magical animation, with the constantly surprising visual shifts. There were times when the visual language on stage reminded me of the forlornly beautiful world of Shaun Tan, others when all illusion was suddenly stripped away, and you were left with the dancer alone on stage, bereft in the midst of his vanished enchantments.

Khan himself is an astonishing and charismatic dancer: a lone body attempting to negotiate the conflicting elements of his world, he skirts the traffic in a chaotic street, or transforms into the protagonist as he tells a story to his mischievous daughter or, in a particularly magical effect, actually animates himself, painting a face on the top of his bald head so he is transformed into a puppet. In the climactic scene, the entire stage is drowned in lengths of fabric, a mimesis of monsoon, and he is literally lifted by the elements, twisting and flying as a avatar of the weather, at once a god and a helpless human being caught in forces beyond his control. It finishes in doubt and sudden silence, as the power shorts and fails: whatever is discovered and annealed is only provisional and contingent, part of a process which is the process of being alive, of constant discovery and constant loss. I think I fell in love with Akram Khan while watching DESH. Me and everyone else.

An Act of Now, concept and choreography by Anouk van Dijk, Melbourne Festival and Chunky Move. Arts Centre Melbourne, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Until October 27.

Weather, directed by Lucy Guerin, choregraphy Lucy Guerin and company. Lucy Guerin Inc and Malthouse Theatre, Brisbane Festival and Place des Arts, Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until October 21.

DESH, direction, choreography and performance by Akram Khan, Melbourne Festival and Dumbo Feather, Sumner Theatre, until October 21.


Anonymous said...

Alison, I think you'll find that there were just two men in WEATHER... Perhaps you thought the third man was Kirstie McCracken, dressed the same as the two males?

Alison Croggon said...

Eeek - you're absolutely correct. And as I am a bit of a Kirstie McCracken fan, I know perfectly well she's a woman! I don't know why I made that mistake, perhaps imposing some kind of symmetry? Anyway, will correct at once!

Anonymous said...

Hey Alison -loved your review of Chunky Move's An Act of Now - beautifully written. Just a small technical point - Leif, the dancer in the silver jacket, is playing a viola not a violin :)

Alison Croggon said...

Clearly was suffering a bit of festival fatigue on Sunday. Thanks, Citizen Editor!

Tom said...

Hi Alison,

Totally excellent writing on the shows! But I'm not sure whether I agree with your positive spin on 'An Act of Now'. I saw the production last night, and though I initially felt ambivalent about it, a bit more thinking time has left me with some, ahem, questions. What I'm really interested is your reference to 'risk' and the work's 'darkness'. I understand the dystopian connotations of the set and lighting designs, but I don't know whether the choreography was predicated on a 'real' sense of risk or darkness at all. I laughed my way through much of the show, believe me, it wasn't because I needed to release a sense of tension. It was more that the images of absurdity were just hitting too thick and fast not to laugh. I think that this is because the movement which attempted to create those dark atmospheres was more akin to play than to actual danger. Certainly, the violence of van Dijk's spinning and cracking falls presented opportunities for damage (see: Stephanie Lake) but the fact that they didn't connect and create violent bursts of incoherence meant that the imperative of bureaucratised social cohesion the show seemed to be critiquing was never really breached. I appreciate the sojourns from the box, but the viola? really? It was an utterly sentimental and naive image and statement of spiritual freedom. If the social contract announced within the work is so endangering, so repressive, then why does the movement fail to represent this? I felt as though the work was really and exercise in performing revolution - it was Les Mis for dance, and the dance itself was more akin to a showing of physical expertise a la modern capoeira. Just as a barricade on Broadway is an impotent gesture to the bloodies of insurrection, so too was the playful and risk-less choreography of 'An Act of Now'. Perhaps I'm missing the point. I got a bit worked up writing this. It is a show after all. And let me say: kudos to the dancers for moving with such mastery - I wish I could do half of that stuff! But, something makes me think that given the massive social changes occurring very loudly, world over, right now, such a naive approach to the representation of social upheaval is a little bit offensive- there is perhaps something to be said for not 'dumbing down' the approach.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts. Thank you Alison for your blog and providing such a fantastic opportunity to talk in public about important things.


Alison Croggon said...

Hi Tom - thanks for your passionate response! You're the first person I've spoken to who wasn't blown away by An Act of Now, which seems to have had pretty much a consensus of wow around it, making your objections the more interesting.

Interesting what one means by peril, really: how does one represent violence on a stage? Can it ever be more than an enactment? For me the dance crucially represented an erotic energy at war with various anomies and, as you put it, the bureaucratised shaping of relationships and the self: but that erotic energy was itself charged with a violent ambivalence (power, dominance etc of the space, which at points came down to literal conflict - the slaps for instance - were you wanting the slaps to be real?) Which means that I was probably reading the whole thing as a physicalisation of urgent inner states of ambivalence and conflict, much more than as social critique. This for me was reinforced by that weird effect Dijk's counter technique has on me, that interrupted, counter intuitive fall to collapse, which sometimes makes me think of dervish movement, ecstatic states if you like, that are kind of broken and therefore oddly intensified. Which is to say, I guess, that it's impossible for me to separate my response to this dance from my deeply subjective response to that movement, which for me did enact powerful forces of internal conflict and desire.

I can't agree that the final images were "naive", or at least, that naive means simple-minded or sentimental - archetypal, sure, in the same way those Breughel dancers are, or the lovers in the bottom corner of his enormous painting The Triumph of Death. For me, that glimpse of possibility was deeply moving, and not only because of its clear contingency. Offensive? Maybe, if the dance is considered primarily an "approach to the representation of social upheaval": for me, I read it as an escape from the imprisoned, commodified self that perhaps might be a first step towards something else. I will say that that I loved that it was a piece about hopefulness; it didn't feel sentimentalised to me, but a state that emerged out of that conflict. In the face of current circumstances, hope might be the biggest risk of all; but I hope that it's not merely a delusion.

Tom said...

It's interesting, the power of the archetype to move us. And, archetype is much clearer than naïve, so thanks for that. Your invocation of Breughel is right on the money, too. That kind of image is so deeply effecting for what I can only call its universality. But maybe another word, related to but not the same as the idea of archetype, that gets closer to describing my sense of the work on the whole, is genre. The enormous spectacle of the work, its site location, and almost cinematic styling (it sometimes felt like I was in a Hollywood action film - the lighting, the smoke, the dramatic energy of the dancers in silhouetted repose) created a strong sense from the get-go that I really knew what to expect. For me, there was almost always the implicit knowledge of a happy ending, and I think that that meant I could laugh. The sense of genre as evoked by the set, the dance, the whole area, ultimately the predictability of the dramatic outcome, negated my ability to take the work seriously. But at the level of key elements, there were other things at play. The centrality of the glasshouse within that environment I think is a gesture to the notion of the archetype - it's symmetrical, it's classical, and it's an idealised space on which to project a kind of contemplation of social structures. The dancers stage an escape from the constraints of that environment. Running from the box, mapping the larger environment with their wild bodies, all over the seating bank, escaping from the bowl itself, is demonstrative of their escape from the "imprisoned, commodified self", or the shackles of a defined space, depending on your reading of the work writ large. This is all to say, that perhaps, the archetypal, or what I actually feel more and more comfortable calling in this instance genre, is performed at two levels within this work. It's performed as a representation of spiritual restraint in classical terms, role driven identities, but also, and I think that this is where I get most frustrated with the piece, it's actually performed at the level of generic escape. A number of elements of the work contribute to this. String instruments, especially the modern violin and viola, have deep cultural connotations as instruments of perversion (see: Paganini, and the film Red Violin), and the image of people running on green hills (fields of Elysium?) to escape is about as common as it gets, especially in cinema (Sound of Music?)... (more below)

Tom said...

...All of these things and more, for me, add up to create a sense that I've seen this all before. The viola and the hills are essentially stereotypes. And more importantly, they're stereotypes I've seen used to make a lot of money, in film, in genre-fiction, and in the sound scapes and lyrical content of pop music. And this isn't to say I don't believe the archetypal possesses the ability to move us. But what makes cultural mythology sustainably interesting, productive, is careful investigation, or deconstruction. I think that Chaucer, Milton &co. knew this implicitly. But in this post 60s world, where the best work in that vein was originally concerned with breaking down of cultural conservatism, the inarticulate fashionings of the human image and cultural myths by patriarchy, we have actually come to a place where counter-culture has been accounted for. Our expectations have been tuned to reward breaking out of the system, man. There are a lot of reasons for this, and they're probably economic. This leads me to say that the reason I feel disappointed by van Dijk's approach to the subject matter is that I feel as though it is contemporally conventional. It’s genre driven. Its boundaries have been asserted prior to the fact of its existence. Archetypes are in fact nowhere to be found here. Or if they're present, then it's in attenuated, fairly conventional forms, great shapes reduced to a homogenous mind-controlling deportment that carry a sense of what we, or some other insidious creation of the mind, think emancipation should look like this season. All yours, for just $9.99.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Tom - Thanks for this very interesting exchange. Not sure I'm up to answering, but let's see how we go! I see exactly what you mean, and how what you say relates to this particular work: but there's a large part of me that simply goes... and yet... what about that emotional potency? Was that simply a rush of Disney sentiment? I can cry at Toy Story with the next sentimentalist, and I know exactly what that kind of emotional release is, for me. I don't actually despise this release, when it occurs: it seems to me to be legitimate, because however cornily manipulated it accesses experiences that are real (eg, with Toy Story growing up and putting away childish things). But I actually don't believe that my response to An Act of Now was of that order, although it was certainly driven as an emotional response (and is therefore difficult to write about with any precision).

How do you distinguish between archetype, stereotype and genre? (Genuine question). Are these qualitative distinctions, successively moving outward from a sense of authenticity to something that is, as you seem to be suggesting here, merely commodified emotion? Every work of art has its formal limitations and shape, however conventional or unconventional they might be: that's the condition of its existence. What if the generic - because I think you are right in pointing out the generic conventions occurring here - actually manages to enter the form deeply enough to strike the archetype that exists behind or within the genre? (I think this is what really excellent genre writing does - say, Henry James in Turn of the Screw). You have something that exists in a particular form or tradition, but which subverts its expectations and resonates beyond it as well. For me that's a powerful combination, precisely because it does exploit those popular and recognisable forms, but bringing to them the complexity and wider potential for response that I associate with serious art. (But then, I would: it's what I am more and more seeking to do in my own work.) I think in this case those things happened for me: but I wasn't sitting there feeling it was absurd, or crassly manipulative. I certainly don't understand what you mean by "mind controlling". I felt no more controlled than I do when sitting in any audience, and the ending was hardly unambiguous. I guess the rest of the experience depends on the observer - I mean, I can't persuade you of the authenticity of what I experienced, any more than I can experience your frustration with it.

Tom said...

This is totally great - I'm inadvertently writing a thesis around this topic, so this is kind of research haha. Also, I just love talking about this stuff, so thanks for finding the energy.

I think that your question, "how do you distinguish between archetype, stereotype and genre?" is, well, to put it lightly, a biggie. I don't really know if I have the answers for that. But I think that the implicit connection between the words 'genre' and 'generic' is a way in to understand my use of the term in relation to the show. And let me just say now that by no means do I think that actively responding to genre is a frivolous occupation as, ironically, Henry James might have thought himself. Indeed, it would take a fine writer like Henry James to do what it is you say he does within Turn of the Screw. James "actually manages to enter the form deeply enough to strike at the archetype that exists behind of within the genre" (no question marks about it!). But it is when those generic conventions are not interrogated that things become problematic. Of course all works have history and influence to contend with. But the making of a piece is its insight to those established forms and frames. I cannot, and I have to conceded this, account for all the choreography within An Act of Now; I have just some memorable moments and the movement of the overall energetic arc, which as you said yourself "unambiguous"ly (haha, can't do that at uni) ended with the dancers' flight. But I'm getting ahead of myself. As for the archetypal, sheesh, I don't even know. Ask Joseph Conrad.

What I guess I'm arguing is that the thematic concerns of work, quite generic in and of themselves, were not interrogated to productive ends. Certain images, that were implied to be important to the development of the work on the whole, like, well, I dunno, most of the fast past movement that quite literally rolled into action after the smoke cleared and didn't stop till the angry group diatribe of "you leave, you leave!", didn't really investigate itself. This section especially, created a sense of manic gleeful energy sustained over a desperately long period of time. To what ends? To resolve in a group screaming match. And that's the point. What is the comment? Violence leads to more violence? I would have preferred a punch-on - at least they could have talked it out, and maybe explained why they were even rolling around on stage to begin with.

And then what about the stomping, screaming child who ran violently from the glasshouse, in a hyper-sulk, to damage 'public' property? It could only hope to be exactly what it was. A child. Violence begets isolation, begets a tantrum, begets a fax-reconciliation begets passive aggressiveness begets a slow-dance hanging from the roof. What is this, an episode of the Kardashians? I felt as though the creation and resolution of violence or anger within the work occurred with little complexity. Scene of tumult dissolved into scene of tumult. Potentially, our sense of these already heightened emotions was enhanced further by our headphones. We were placed very, very directly into the performance space, and through amplification forced to bear rather close witness to the sounds they made. But at any stage, did you take off your headphones? I did. And I heard people talking, one of whom in a coy, condescending tone accessible only by older ocker Australians, said as the child/man left on his tanty-run "and he's off!" only to follow "oh, and he's back again. how lovely". For me, that was the total effect of this work. Condescension to which you only reply with condescension...(more below)

Tom said...

(continuing on) But, I guess I can't account for the power of the sum total (or even individual snippets of material) to exert an emotional effect. I mean, I cried in Graham Murphy's rather paltry Romeo and Juliet and it definitely wasn't the dance to which I was responding, it was the narrative. Which is in a turn a great classic iteration of the romance genre blah blah blah begin the discussion again.

Ultimately, I didn't 'buy into' an Act of Now because the work failed to substantially interrogate and substantiate its material.

I haven't read your book Alison, but I think that as a writer of genre oriented fiction, but more importantly, as a very literary minded person (I read your poetry reviews too) you understand how you bring to popular forms "the complexity and potential for wider response that (you) associate with serious art".

But I think for me, the vitality of my criticisms hinges upon what I see as the work's reiteration of saleable notions of emancipation. Michel Foucault's work around socialised mechanisms of repression is particularly interesting in this regard (History of Sexuality, Vol 1). There's a way in which the work's adherence to generic notions of spiritual freedom goes only as far to discuss the systems of our capture (eg consumerism, neo-liberalism, institutionalised misogyny and homophobia) raising a model of their defeat, without actually asking after their true nature, thus trapping us within a sense we've actually achieved something. This is ‘mind control’ I was talking about, and the unambiguous ending I brought up before. I think that the conversation on your website around Schaubuhne is particularly invigorating because it demonstrates how that work makes headway to taking an actual position.

I mean, what are our reactions to An Act of Now? Every dance has a concern and a starting place. The early analytical works of Lucinda Childs, that appear oblique, four women walking in circles, definitely had a point. And a political point, too. But what is the point of An Act of Now? Lucy Guerin's work, Weather, is simply about humans and weather, but the metered choreography in some sections belies underlying philosophical beliefs about the hierarchy of body and environment. Perhaps it's not sustained, but it's interesting and bears its own concern with its subject matter.

Look, I hope I don't seem crotchety, but I think that this important. Especially when the work got a standing ovation - we're potentially applauding our own return to the fold.

Once again, thanks Alison for your time and the space.


Tom Gittings

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Tom - I think I'm getting what you're saying here, although I should say that I thought the ending was ambiguous, not unambiguous. The exhilaration of those dancers disappearing over the lip of the hill was for me shot through by doubt - perhaps because that image for me brought up allusions that were about death, so you could equally read this escape as a fatal removal from the struggle that characterises life itself. And yet also it takes us to a beginning, not to an end. Beginnings too are ambiguous. I know what you mean by its "potentially applauding our own return to the fold", but why mightn't that be part of its ambiguity? All this seemed to be in suspension when I watched it.

Is every work obliged to "discuss the systems of our capture"? I'm suddenly thinking about Trust, the other work I've seen of van Dijk's, which quite explicitly does discuss all of this - financial collapse, capitalist psychopathy, the alienated self, etc etc. It could do that because of Falk Richter's text, which explicitly addressed all these things. And maybe my memory of that, conflated with what I saw in An Act of Now, contributes to my thoughts here. It's as if all that is just taken as the ground of the work, implicit, but van Dijk wanted to explore something else. Maybe after those collaboration with Richter, which focused on all the things you criticise An Act of Now for not addressing, she simply wanted to do something else! How are we to picture freedom or hope, for example? Maybe it's just too easy to say that any image of freedom is delusory? Is that inability to imagine a possibility of hopefulness as much as anything an illustration of our own entrapment, a kind of absolute defeat, perhaps the most damning of all?

Maybe what we're dancing around here is the conviction of whether or not a work of art has to "take a position". Does it? Or is it simply obliged to follow its own logic? This is dance, after all: for me much of the dance was plugging into the experience of dance as ritual, as re-enactment of origin (Bonnefoy there). I don't know whether we feel we've "achieved" something witnessing the work (I certainly felt that the dancers had, though). But part of its power was glimpsing possibility. I don't believe the result was aneasthetising, which is what you're suggesting here ultimately: but there are many ways to open movement in the mind.