Review by Lily Stokes
I’ve always considered myself a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to theatre, so when I heard about Chunky Move’s new work Yung Lung, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Making its world premiere as part of the Sydney Festival, my expectations were admittedly quite so-so after having seen my fair share of poorly concocted, self-satirising experimental theatre. But, to my surprise and delight, Yung Lung left me absolutely gob-smacked. It is one of the most entertaining and provocative pieces of theatre I’ve seen in recent memory, and as I sit down to write this review, I worry I won’t do it justice- but I will certainly try.
Described as a rave on Mount Olympus, Yung Lung is a hybrid party/performance for the end of days. It’s your brain on the internet - the precipice of a k-hole, and a tantric assault on the senses. Director Antony Hamilton’s vision has manifested in a total work of art, where choreography (Hamilton), set (Callum Morton), soundscape (Chiara Kickdrum), lighting (Bosco Shaw), costume (P.A.M) and media (Kris Moyes) all interlock into a disturbing and calculated psychosis. It’s clear that the whole creative team is plugged into the same VR machine, so much so that I was convinced that one mega-mind was responsible for the whole production. Every element was seamless and interdependent in the machinery of Yung Lung, which could only be described as truly new, moving and unmissable theatre.
Walking into a dark, hazey and (almost) unrecognisable space, audiences were presented with a monolithic audio-visual podium which later would become a stage for a small troupe of dancers. Standing like a great rainbow rock, the centerpiece (Callum Morton) was sculpted into a tumor of fused faces - as if Mount Rushmore had collapsed, along with the ‘old world’ it represents, left abandoned and eroding before being repurposed for a new-age society. Being a highly immersive piece, the audience were encouraged to move around the sculpture, responsible for their own consumption and totally in control of their vantage-point. This freedom to see everything and anything at any one time was completely overwhelming, and was only complicated by a barrage of lawless media broadcast on a border of giant screens. The lighting (Bosco Shaw) was equally enveloping, with the set underlit by neon ropes and dancers branding fluorescent batons like swords. The soundscape was a computerised and neo-romantic (Chiara Kickdrum), married to the light with cross-rhythms and counter melodies syncronised perfectly with strobing and colour changes.
Although the production value soars in Yung Lung, it was the performances by live dancers (Madeleine Bowman, Rachel Coulson, Marni Green, Samuel Harnett-Welk, Cody Lavery, Summer Penny, Ren) that elevated the work into extraordinary territory. The choreography was a test of endurance - a trance-like collection of meticulously crafted movements from between two worlds. Sections of intuitive, flowing and emotive slow motion were contrasted with Meyerholdian biomechanics and cyborg-esque fugue, creating an unsettling and paradoxical duality.
This conceptual contradiction was the gold thread in the performance. In the video media, nonsensical images were strung together by loose dichotomies of real versus unreal, organic versus man-made, molecular versus macro. The choreography (Hamilton) was highly emotive yet mechanical, reducing the human condition to an algorithm of movement. Hyper-futuristic, dystopian aesthetics captured in the costume design (P.A.M), set (Callum Morton) and lighting (Bosco Shaw) were contrasted with fleeting references to the past. Back-lit tableaus stirred images of Renaissance oil paintings and Grecian marble statues, and the sunset motif not only set a timer on the work, but harked back to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and all its rich mythologies.
Dualities were embedded throughout the piece - silence provided respite from sound, darkness was a refuge from blinding lights, and salient images were relieving after an overwhelming influx of content. Cacophonous episodes were divided by stark moments of sound and lighting, like the cut-through of an orange laser across the space like a concentrated sunset. The integrity and interdependence of every element of Yung Lung not only made it incredibly entertaining, but had me reeling for hours post-show about how Hamilton could have governed such a meticulously curated expression of the human condition. I have no doubt there is a robust method to the madness.
Ultimately, Yung Lung is a techno treatise and party prophecy where history is buried under feet that stomp beyond the information age. It’s a future accelerated by an ever-cumulative history, it’s a neon new-age inspired by art and mythology, and it’s a paradoxical embodiment of everything and nothing, fleeting yet transcendent, and gaining momentum at a dangerous rate. If you’re in the market for breath-taking, revolutionary theatre, I’d implore you to see Yung Lung before it leaves Sydney for Melbourne on 23rd January.
Image Credit Yaya Stempler and Jackie Manning