Aeon Lz Dunn's meditative work for Dance Massive takes audiences on a primeval journey in the heart of the city

Photo: Timothy Meinbert, via Unsplash

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I have to preface this review by outlining what I will and won’t cover. Part of Aeon‘s specialness is the unexpected, the unsaid and the unpredictable, so I can’t describe the structure of the work too much, lest I spoil the delight and surprise for future audiences. So aside from the small number of  details I can share, I’ll focus on how this work made me feel, the powerfully understated sense of freedom and innocence.

Premiering as part of Dance Massive, the multi-location dance and movement festival, Aeon is the work of Melbourne artist Lz Dunn. Building on Dunn’s Flyway, a previous work described as “a sonic walking meditation on migratory birds and urban cohabitation,” Aeon continues the thematic exploration of movement — especially the particular and peculiar dynamics of flocking — and ecology, the interaction of life in environment. The program notes for Aeon explain that “[using] computer modelling, scientists identify three simple rules that enable the synchronised movement of bird flocks: separation, alignment and cohesion.” And it is these principles, applied to ourselves that are the foundation of Aeon‘s magic.

The piece is site-specific, taking full advantage of the curious seclusion of Royal Park, both adjacent to the city, but also shielded from the noise and traffic. On the day of the performance, you are texted your specific starting location, at one of several points around Royal Park. Met by venue staff from Arts House, audience are checked off, and directed just into the park, where they’re met by a member of the piece. We are given a handheld speaker and more information, offered water (as this is a walking piece, and it is a lusciously hot late afternoon in Autumn), and given limited instructions, importantly be safe and don’t speak.

From this point, I won’t go into more detail, as a) that would spoil the unfolding and meditative nature of this work, and b) I’m not sure there is that much to describe from here in terms of simply ‘what happens.’ But the next hour is a gentle, surprising, thoughtful and quietly moving piece, somehow giving the sense of travelling through space and time to a point of human history where we walked together as packs and tribes, no grand plans as we brush through long grass in hot sun.

And this was the abiding sense that I took away from this performance: a feeling as if I’d experienced a sensory metaphor that had mystically conjured a vision of the arc of human history. The hour I spent with the performers and fellow audience members of Aeon left me feeling as though I had been able to watch humanity’s journey from a primordial and pre-verbal age, of animalistic survival and nomadism, through to an abstracted sense of evolution, to modernity, and finally to the climactic anthropocene, as we lay in the dark with roaring bass vibrations crackling through our spines. And the final moments? A return to quiet, emptiness, and a sense of what will follow us after humanity’s (un/timely) departure.

Walking through dry grass awash in golden hour sunlight, accompanied by Lawrence English’s deftly crafted soundscape, the experience was often cinematic. By turns playful, restful, unsettling and energising, the process of walking together as an unorganised collection of individuals drawn together by unspoken rules, was perfectly timed; squinting in the hot afternoon sun at first, stepping under the shade of trees as we walk through small spaces, and finally reaching our finale in the cooling tones of dusk. Aeon is a quintessentially experiential work; it’s difficult (if not impossible) to convey the meaning or nature of the work without seeing it for yourself. Those considering seeing Aeon should know that it is unconventional dance; while Dunn, choreographer Shian Law and the performers have developed a physical vocabulary that suits the show, the nature of the work is that as an immersive and site-specific piece (presumably devised with the performers) there is no standard view or experience for the audience. Every audience member will see, feel and hear the work differently.

In Aeon, Dunn, the creatives and performers have managed to craft a special moment, something that feels revelatory, expansive and mystic. It’s a reminder of the unique power and transformative possibilities of dance and performance.

Aeon premiered in March as part of Dance Massive, and has now closed.

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