Massive Chats: Natalie Abbott’s Physical Fractals


First presented at Next Wave 2012, Physical Fractals is a brave and uncompromising dance work that invites the audience to be hypnotically taken and shaken… We asked co-creator Natalie Abbott a few questions about Physical Fractals.

What was the inspiration for Physical Fractals? What did you want to explore in the work?
I wanted to create a visceral experience for the audience – to ask them to engage actively in the watching of dance/performance. I initially worked with the idea of hypnosis: using simple repetitive moves and actions to lull an audience into a hypnotic state.

This idea then morphed to introduce sound and lighting as equal parts in the work. By doing this, Physical Fractals has taken audiences on a visceral journey, igniting and combining all senses in ways we might not normally experience them.

What can the audience expect to experience when they come to the show?
The audience will see movements from all angles, they will be exposed to both very bright and very dull lighting states. The sound will swarm around them in a loud loop, and then dissipate to something quite sparse. The feeling you get from this kind of experience is quite overwhelming.

The work invites the audience to open their perspective and let go of their notion of what a dance performance looks and feels like, in order to surrender to this new experience.

You’ve said in an interview that you love the notion of bodies dancing in ‘unison’. Why do you love ‘unison’?
I love the general misconception [we] have that our bodies should be symmetrical: I was always so annoyed at myself when I was studying full-time dance that I couldn’t do the splits as deep on my left side…then I realised my bones are actually probably just different shapes on my left and right. For this reason, I find so much beauty and inspiration in the flaws that exist in human movement. By putting two very similar bodies next to each other in a space, performing the same movements, we can see minor discrepancies in major ways.

My unison is therefore not about being exactly the same and exactly in time, although these are the parameters of the work. It is more about highlighting the disparities and similarities between two bodies in space, and also about asking the audience to think and look closely at the way in which they themselves view performance, and therefore have preferences of movement styles and aesthetics.

Can you tell us a bit about the sound for Physical Fractals?
We have used microphones to amplify the sounds of the movement and loop these back on themselves to create a dense aural encounter… I wanted the work to consider: How do I feel when I see performance and how am I affected by choice of sound and light?

What arose from this was the importance of really considering all of these elements – sound, lights, movement – because in this context they are not separate entities. They are merging to form a whole, to induce an experience for the audience. For this reason, the sound is so important. It shifts and changes every night, as does the movement. The work is a dynamic expression of performance, with the performers responding to and solving the problems of the work inside the live performance of it.

How do you find the process of choreographing AND performing in the work? What do you think is different for you about being ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the performance?
Being inside the work has a lot of advantages, as it allows me to really experience the making and really be connected with the process of the choreography. I work with video a lot in my creative process. I film everything. I generally then edit all of the filmed material and try and re-learn the unnatural compositions I have created in this process.

I have been lucky enough to work with the amazing Matthew Day as my dramaturge and outside eye. Matthew helped my process by asking the right questions at the right times and letting me find solutions within the process of practising the performance. I think the process of being inside the work has given me more insight into the conceptual development of the work. It has helped me connect with the ideas and develop from the inside out.

Could you tell us a bit about Rebecca Jensen and your collaboration?
Rebecca is an incredible person. She is a dancer and general all-round creative originally from New Zealand. Rebecca studied at the VCA and has had a successful career as a dancer and more recently has been developing her own work.

[Rebecca and I] would rock up to the studio and warm up together and then set off on finding movement in really simple tasks. We watched a lot of YouTube videos, learnt a contortion duo, a dressage routine and a bodybuilding routine. Some of these movements or variations of them found their way into the work. The process of working with Rebecca was quite organic, and evolved so naturally that making the work was more like playing than working. I am so fortunate to have a collaborator of such high calibre with such an incredible energy and work ethic. I am excited to see what the future holds for Rebecca and I as a creative team.