Rhythm, gravity and time: Lucy Guerin on the creation of 'Pendulum' for RISING Festival

'Pendulum,' as part of RISING Festival, image by Gregory Lorenzutti
Pendulum,' as part of RISING Festival, image by Gregory Lorenzutti

Lucy Guerin, artistic director of Lucy Guerin Inc, and Matthias Schack-Arnott began conversations about PENDULUM, part of the inaugural RISING festival, as a small-scale work based in rhythm, gravity and time. Incorporating 39 digitally interactive pendulums, the performance installation is positioned on the upper levels of the National Gallery of Victoria and boasts an artistic team of VCA Dance alum including Tra Mi Dinh, Alice Dixon and Lilian Steiner, as well as Honorary Fellow and esteemed colleague of VCA Dance Helen Herbertson, and dancers Deanne Butterworth, Stephanie Halyburton and Amber McCartney. Here, Sharon Grace Flynn talks to Lucy Guerin about the process for developing the hybrid dance installation.

PENDULUM, a commission for RISING, is the performance installation creation of percussive artist Matthias Schack-Arnott and acclaimed Australian choreographer and friend of the Faculty, Lucy Guerin.

"The process for creating PENDULUM has been one of growth. Right from the beginning, Matthias approached me with an idea for a work he wanted to make with a pendulum. He envisaged one or two. I think I saw it as more of an installation, so when the opportunity came to present to RISING for their commissions, and there was encouragement to think big, we did. It has been wonderful to take something to its potential."

"The first development we did we just had two working pendulums. The pendulums are brass temple bells, turned upside down and hanging from a long support. Inside 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. They are amazing and sophisticated pieces of technology."

Pendulum,' as part of RISING Festival, image by Gregory Lorenzutti

"First of all, we had a prototype with two bells, and we worked with two dancers, and we found an identity for the work early on. It is really about the momentum and the gravity of the pendulums, connected to the motion of the dancers, the rhythm and sound, and the way the bell swings through space. Because of the sensors the sound responds to that motion. The pendulums really encapsulate all of the elements of the work."

"Researching this work involved the investigation of gravity. We had to go into the physics of it. We had to figure out all the elements: does a big swing take more time than a small one. Does a bigger bell suspend for longer than a smaller bell. The work reflects that. A lot of the movement is quite functional, creating fields of motion that are activated by the dancers. The dancers are always the ones with the agency to move the bells. But, once the bells are moving, the dancers are compelled to respond. Momentum and gravity dictates what happens next."

Pendulum,' as part of RISING Festival, image by Gregory Lorenzutti

The spatiality is demanding, says Guerin, with 39 bells in operation. Time is given agency by the overwhelming physical presence and movement of the pendulums. It is so connected to the music, with motion and the feeling of a metronome.

"It really feels like everything has to respond to the physics and the imagery of these objects. One of the dancers described the experience of it as dancing with a partner that doesn't really care about you."

"The process of installing a large-scale performance installation at the NGV has been exciting," says Guerin. "It took quite a long time for us to identify a venue for the piece. The space is a black box gallery, almost like a void, and the work sits beautifully in there. The actual process of creating the pendulums, by designer Rob Larson, has been a process refinement. We needed to be in the space and respond to what is there."

Pendulum,' as part of RISING Festival, image by Gregory Lorenzutti

"The dancers' experience of working within the installation is complex," says Guerin. "There is a sense of risk. They are quite heavy and they are swinging through space so the dancers need to be alert and responsive. I think there has been a sense of seriousness to creating the work. It really requires a lot of focus to make sure we are safe and on time. It is not a particularly choreographic work in terms of movement vocabulary. It really is about moving and responding to the pendulums. It takes a lot of concentration."

Two VCA Dance students are on placement with the project, Honours student Erin O’Rourke and BFA Dance third-year student, Gamilaroi woman Amelia O’Leary. The partnership with Lucy Guerin Inc. and Studio WXYZ extends to workshop placements, studio residencies and placements with the company. In 2019, resident choreographer Alisdair MacIndoe was commissed by VCA Dance to make work with student dancers as part of the Graduating Season.

"For VCA Dance this relationship is significant as it provides students with a first hand experience of professional dance practice and access to the advanced choreographic thinking that Guerin’s work is renowned for," says Head of VCA Dance Carol Brown. "We are delighted to have students on placement for PENDULUM at the NGV and to continue this relationship through the intergenerational ties with performers in the work, Tra Mi Dinh, Lilian Steiner, Alice Dixon (who now teaches at VCA Dance) and our colleague Helen Herbertson."

The University of Melbourne is a proud Education Partner of RISING and Learning Partner of the National Gallery of Victoria's Winter Masterpieces Exhibition.

Lucy Guerin Inc (LGI) is an Australian contemporary dance company established in Melbourne in 2002 by Artistic Director Lucy Guerin to create and tour new dance works. Renowned for the skill of its creative team and the originality of its productions, LGI is dedicated to researching, challenging and extending the art of contemporary dance. LGI realises this in two ways. Firstly, through the creation of new dance works which regularly tour nationally and internationally. Secondly, by supporting the work of emerging and established artists through its wide-ranging studio programs, based at WXYZ Studios in North Melbourne.

Matthias Schack-Arnott is a Melbourne based percussive artist. His work has been presented by Melbourne Festival, La Comete (France), Spor Festival (Denmark), Arts House, Supersense – Festival of the Ecstatic (Arts Centre Melbourne), MPavilion, The Unconformity (Tasmania) & Next Wave (2012 & 2014). From 2010-2018 Matthias was the Artistic Associate of Australia’s leading percussive arts organisation, Speak Percussion.