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09 Nov 2017

Redshift Image

A glimpse into the unknown - by James Manton

James Batchelor, one of Australia’s rising stars of the contemporary dance scene, has undergone more challenges than most dancers would even consider in drawing inspiration for his new performance, REDSHIFT.

Last year Batchelor spent two months aboard a research ship bound for Heard and McDonald islands, two of the most isolated locations on the planet.

Located between Madagascar and Antarctica, the journey to the uninhabited “massive volcanoes floating in the middle of the ocean”, as he calls them, provided the opportunity for him to explore “how we as humans look at the unknown, both in science and in art”.

“It just comes from that simple curiosity that we have as humans,” James said. “But also the potential overlap of science and arts was quite interesting.”

Spending the majority of the journey aboard the ship, Batchelor had to adjust his dancing and space to suit the challenging conditions, which developed into a sense of “hyper self-awareness”.

“Two months of being contained separated from the rest of the world can be very difficult,” he said.

“Working alone as a dancer and not really having anyone else to bounce off, in terms of dance, at times could be very isolating. I could be very bored sometimes and really inspired other times, so it was quite a contrast emotionally.”

“I was understanding my body and the relation to weight and gravity because of the exaggerated motion I experienced.”

Alongside Batchelor on the ship were around 60 scientists, students, artists, the ship’s crew and Annalise Rees, the visual designer for REDSHIFT.

Through their shared experiences, Batchelor and Rees developed a rapport that has helped them to collaborate and create the visual and artistic designs for the performance, held at Chunky Move on Sturt St.

“It was a happy mistake for me and Annalise to be invited. There’s not really a formal process at the moment to be a part of these expeditions,” James said.

Through a good bit of luck, they were invited by the chief scientist of the expedition after he saw one of Batchelor’s shows and came to discover they had mutual interests, both in research and the arts.

In the show, Batchelor will be joined by three other dancers to explore the concept of the unknown, through a combined dance and visual spectacle.

It will involve a “delicate and simple” set designed by Rees, lighting that “[shifts] the colours of the space” by Matthew Adey and a live electronic sound set mixed by Morgan Hickinbotham that is sampled from “hundreds” of pieces of sound Batchelor captured during his expedition.

Batchelor is the recipient of Chunky Move’s Next Move commission that gives independent dance makers the opportunity to fund, produce, and create their shows which may otherwise be difficult to compile.

“I think it’s been extremely crucial, in terms of the dance landscape in Melbourne, because it’s really one of the only commissions to make work from scratch where everything is full funded and produced for you and you, as the choreographer, can really focus on creating,” he said. “I’ve seen artists grow a lot from this commission.”

Batchelor plans to move to Heidelberg in Germany next year to take up an assistant director position at a dance company there. However, his recent experiences have been profound in helping him develop as a choreographer and a human.

“The expedition was definitely the beginning of a new kind of phase if my career,” he said. “I feel like I really found my path in a way that’s unique to me.”

REDSHIFT will be held at Chunky Move Studios at 111 Sturt St from November 23 until December 2. For more information visit

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