Benjamin Hancock in The Dark Chorus at Melbourne Festival
Dancer Benjamin Hancock has been handpicked by the prestigious Lucy Guerin dance company to perform in her new work for the Melbourne Festival. Rachel Cook speaks with Hancock about The Dark Chorus.
Benjamin Hancock is a rising star in the world of contemporary dance. He has not only worked with some of the leading dance companies in Australia, he has also carved out his own niche and is known as one of the most exciting up and coming dancers in the country.
Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2008, Hancock has been prolific. His bio includes working with Chunky Move, Martin del Amo, Prue Lang, Opera Australia, Kirsha Kaechele (MONA Gallery), and leading choreographer Sue Healey, whose advice has stayed with Hancock since he first met her after leaving university.
Hancock says Healy cautioned him about relying too much on his extraordinary flexibility:
“Sue Healy saw me perform one of my first solos and she mentioned to me that’s it’s really important to work with the body you’ve got and consider how do you remove it from being a trick. Because when someone kicks their leg up and it goes beyond 90 degrees, everyone goes, ‘Oh, wow’, and so my whole goal over the past five years has been, how do I work with the body I have and treat it as an investigation, but not as a trick-based thing? How can it be part of my toolbox of movement qualities, but not be seen as a circus trick or over-flexible? It’s hard to do.”
Hancock’s versatility and preparedness to challenge himself as a performer is one of the reasons Lucy Guerin chose him to be part of her work The Dark Chorus which will premiere at the Melbourne Festival this month.
The work explores the binaries – ‘shadow and illumination, the individual and the mob, the fantastic and the all-too real’ – and for Hancock opposites are what has inspired much of his work.
“For my own personal practice it’s that question of masculinity and femininity and what is the scale of that? I’m male, but my body is possibly seen as a bit more feminine in how I move or how I show myself and how can I challenge that?
Hancock has also co-designed (with Harriet Oxley) the costumes for The Dark Chorus. Costumes are an integral part of Hancock’s work with audiences anticipating his designs as much as his performance.
“Lucy has seen me dressed up a lot in my solo practices so I think she thought with The Dark Chorus being this mixture of Greek and Victorian and modern tragedy, how can we wrap that up and make it into something new?
“The big thing is that you have to be able to move in it, and not get too hot in it!”
Dance started for Hancock out of his love of being physical and his aversion to competitiveness. As a child he practiced gymnastics, karate and tennis, but he found the aggressive elements of these sports were counter-productive.
“I also danced in high school and it was a way I could be creative and not feel like I was competing against anyone.
“I had a very good dance teacher in high school who was very good with creativity and teaching contemporary dance. They encouraged me to audition for VCA as well.
“I also did Rock Eisteddfod which made me interested in costume too.”
Hancock says everyone should feel safe to express their individuality and hopes that’s an aspect people take away from The Dark Chorus.
“It’s about finding that being an individual is okay and that expression of self should be encouraged. It’s also about asking questions like ‘does society actually encourage that?’ Especially now when we have something like the plebiscite and we’re asking ‘is everybody equal?’
“We need to question that because some people are feeling that is not the case.”
The Dark Chorus, October 6 – 12, Meat Market 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne, festival.melbourne
(Image - Benjamin Hancock in The Dark Chorus. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti)