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Lucy Guerin's “Pendulum.” Photograph by Sarah Walker

Dances with Gravity

Lucy Guerin's “Pendulum”

Performance
“Pendulum” by Lucy Guerin Inc and Matthias Schack-Arnott
Place
Shed 21, Docklands, Victoria, October 6, 2022
Words
Gracia Haby

In physics, the motion of a pendulum can be described as: θ(t) = θocos (ωt). In choreography and composition, the motion of a pendulum can also be described as Lucy Guerin and Matthias Schack-Arnott’s “Pendulum: a mesmerising dance with gravity.” In both, the data of time, length, and gravity come together in simple harmonic solution.

“Pendulum” has moved location since its brief-spark world premiere in May, and its premiere season in July, 2021. Commissioned by Rising, both runs at NGV International were cut short due to Melbourne lockdowns. More than a year later, “Pendulum” is currently outside, in and of the elements, in Shed 21, Docklands. For its Melbourne Fringe season, it comes with a recommendation to rug up, and add a layer; it’s cold and windy by the river.

Having missed “Pendulum” in its intended gallery setting, for me, “Pendulum” outside in the elements, exposed to the fundamental forces of nature, feels a perfect fit. As the sky grows darker and the clouds on the horizon look as though the forecast thunderstorm will bear down, the stage is set. Beneath the Bolte Bridge, the memory of a working quay. Where once steel was unloaded, now thirty-nine brass pendulums await activation.

The audience arrange themselves around all four sides of the installation of pendulums whose shine is both in contrast and harmony with the industrial setting. Arranged in a grid made up of four rows of six, interspersed by three rows of five, for seven dancers to negotiate, the installation hums in “third time’s a charm” anticipation. Sound that once reverberated off gallery walls is presently in conversation with Fishermans Bend and Silver gulls. I find there is something especially exhilarating about dance in different spaces. Perhaps it is the potential to observe more of my surroundings, and to add this to my reading. Perhaps it is my own awareness of my body as I stand. The Bolte Bridge lights up bright green, a vertical illumination, and I pull my hood up to shield my ears from the wind.

Lucy Guerin’s “Pendulum.” Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

At the conclusion of the golden hour, Helen Herbertson sets the first pendulum in oscillation, before she is joined by Deanne Butterworth, Tra Mi Dinh, Alice Dixon, Stephanie Halyburton, Amber McCartney, and Caitlin Mewett. In gold costumes designed by Harriet Oxley, the dancers set swing the pendulums, measure by measure. Overhead, a wrinkle of gold clouds in the nautical twilight makes the stage before me expansive. This is a beautiful exploration of physics and meaning, in the hands of co-creators Guerin and Schack-Arnott, movement and sound, together with lighting design by Bosco Shaw, and system design by Nick Roux.

Each weighty pendulum is an upturned temple bell hanging from a long support. And inside each, as Guerin explains, “there is a speaker, a light source and a programmable trigger that mechanically rings the bell. They are fitted with touch sensors that respond to the dancers with sound and light.”1 It is this responsiveness to each dancer’s touch that traces a meditative pattern. But what I experience visually on the sidelines is perhaps not how it feels to dance with such a pendulum, designed by Rob Larson. As Guerin continues, “one of the dancers described the experience of it as dancing with a partner that doesn’t really care about you.” As the dancers move in response to the pendulums, to momentum and gravity, time is of the essence. Time is running out. The sky grows darker still.

Lucy Guerin’s “Pendulum.” Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

Whether standing in a diagonal formation or lying on the ground, as the dancers set their pendulums in motion, the illuminated ring of lights beneath each bell scans them as it makes its known trajectory back and forth. See physics in action, poetry in motion, the time we have left, the process of transcendence. See echolocation in play as the pendulum reads the dancer as an animal uses sound waves to read his or her environment. Animating the pendulums so, they are my focus. They become a vibration in the throat, like that of a Nocturnal oilbird. The sonar beam of a whale. A clicking of wings. A tiger moth avoiding detection.

I leave dockside all the happier for the fleeting encounter, and everything is anything but still.

  1. Lucy Guerin in interview, ‘Rhythm, gravity and time: Lucy Guerin on the creation of “Pendulum” for Rising Festival’, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, The University of Melbourne, https://finearts-music.unimelb.edu.au/about-us/news/pendulum-at-rising-festival, published May 20, 2021, accessed October 7, 2022.