animal/god – the great square

 “Animality is an exercise.” (M. Foucault, Le Courage de la vérité, March 14 1984)
“We love nature the less humanly it behaves, and art when it is the artist’s escape from man, or the artist’s mockery of man, or the artist’s mockery of himself” (F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, pg. 379)

‘Animal/God is a new work with two dancers (Yap, O'Conner) a live musician (Lewis) and an interactive lighting designer (Gorman). This contemporary dance work investigates psychophysical trance through an Asian-inspired modus operandi that draws from traditional & classical trance dance & philosophy.

This proposed development is distinct in the way choreography and music is abstracted through trance, which is influenced by two traditional Javanese trance dances – ‘Bantengan’ and ‘Bedoyo’. Over 6 years the trio have inquired into the psycho-sonic and the physical, which is idiosyncratic to this stem of trance. It has featured recently in the highly impactful rendition of ‘Shadow’s Light’ and in an international artistic ensemble at Testing Ground funded by the City of Melbourne. This process is a mastering of this trance aesthetics, propelling it to gain a new level.

This development of choreography & musical score uses themes inspired by the philosophical notion of ‘becoming animal, becoming god’. Here dance, sonic and visual lighting experiment animality and concepts of transcendence. This process is a mastering of trance aesthetics within a mixed artistic disciplin, propelling Tony's PhD research into a creative realisation.

The potential to be a part of Dance Massive 2021 provides ‘Animal/God’ a platform to be showcased to international tastemakers. It will expand Tony's position as a senior artist/leader and as an authority in concepts born of Asian traditions. This work is likely to be performed in Indonesia and Malaysia in the future, showcasing Melbourne’s sophistication in contemporary dance aesthetics. The inclusion of a producer will help propel ‘Animal/God’ beyond our usual audience.  

Background to the idea

  • Becoming Animal, in Gilles Deleuze’s thesis, The Body, the Meat and the Spirit: Becoming Animal means to extrapolate the body as the figure, not just a structure of materials but a spirit: “… a spirit which is body, corporeal and vital breath, an animal spirit; it is the animal spirit of man…” In his thesis, Deleuze identifies a zone that is undefinable and undecided between what it is to be a human and what it is to be an animal. This performance is an evocation of such an animal energy within a certain trance zone, where the central anatomy of ‘trance’ also revels in exactly this animal/humanness, where  the question of the ‘dead body’ or, the ‘meat,’ becomes inevitable. Deleuze wrote:

“We believe in the existence of very special becomings-animal traversing human beings and sweeping them away, affecting the animal no less than the human.”
This presentation of The Great Square: animal directs both the performers’ and the spectators’ focus to the specific stages and modes of trance with an attention to ‘becoming animal.’ It provides a platform for emancipation into a portal between human and animal. The Great Square is the perfect setting for such an event, since it is neutral in its frame, just as chapter 41 of the Dao De Jing “has no corners;” The Great Square is a space for the indiscernible and the undecidable, for the convergence of human and animal.
The Great Square: animal/god adopts specific inductions into deep-trance which are traversed from three Asian traditions employing deep-trance: the Daoist shamanistic temple practices from Melaka, Malaysia; the Bantengan bull trance rituals in Batu, East Java; and the royal court dance of Bedoyo of Yogyakarta, Central Java in Indonesia. The performance is the final phase of my practice-based Ph.D. The title suggests the core of my development in addressing the space between polarities (human and animal) in a performance, and aligns with the concept of how one can make visible the invisible through Dao, the Chinese word signifying ‘the way.’ Here we explore some of the ways in which the term "emptiness" is understood in Daoism: specifically as a zone of spatial consideration for trance forms: “The great square has no corners”.



n this bewildered new century it is timely to be exploring spirituality and personal response to a range of externals; and also important to be reminding us all of the ritual origins of theatre. ... this is a remarkable achievement as it is always artistically controlled by Tony's refined aesthetic, yet it is also at once genuine impulse work. To see the freedom he finds within these structures is the closest I have come in Australia to seeing a Noh Master at work.”
- Aubrey Mellor, Senior Fellow, LaSalles, Singapore

"Dionysus Molecule is an enactive, immersive, ritual work. While aesthetically informed by Tony Yap’s distinctive mixture of Malay shamanism and Butoh, its rituals also hail from contemporary performance. Yap’s early experience with theatre maker Renato Cuocolo locates his aesthetic firmly in the camp of those who want performance to be striking or powerful, rather than representational or conceptual. The figure of Artaud oversees this Dionysian realm. ... Yap articulates the power of shamanism for a Western theatrical audience largely ignorant of its traditions and distant from its cultural origins. Yet, we are very close to its invocation.  The collaborators of Dionysus Molecule are all skilled in their own right. The world they have created transforms the everyday into a theatre of the night, a sensorium of time passing. The challenge (and risk) of the work lies in its intertwining of distinct traditions and styles. The mark of its success could be measured through the impact of its impulses and intensities. Would Dionysus have been pleased? I like to think so."

– Dionysus Molecule, Philippa Rothfield, Real Time 129"




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Tony Yap – Creative director /choreographer /dancer

Reuben Lewis – Musician/composer

Brendan O’Connor – Dancer

Cy Gorman – Interactive Lighting Designer

Reuben Lewis is a trumpeter, composer, improviser and a driving new force in the Australian Jazz and Experimental music community. He has collaborated with many local and international artists, performing often at known venues around Australia, Asia and Europe. Since basing himself in Melbourne, his unrelenting and diverse musical activity has earned him recognition within the local and greater global community. He has released two albums comprising of his original compositions, Samadhi (2009), and Fractured Spring (2011) as well as produced many others such as Dangerous Flowers (2015) and Breath Interrupted (2016) with The Inflorescence Ensemble.

Brendan O’Connor, Ireland born, received his accreditation as a professional performer in The Netherlands, and has since settled in Melbourne. He graduated in dance at the College of Dance, Monkstown, was excepted to the Laban Centre London and the Fontys Dance Academy in the Netherlands. A trip to Ghana found his interest in strong and psycho-physical direction in his consequent connection his work in the slums of New Delhi. Brendan works closely with Tony Yap in ongoing laboratory investigating ‘internal’ choreography informed by Asian Trance practices. The most recent work is the acclaimed Dionysus Molecule premiered in Melbourne in August 2015.

Cy Gorman is an installation artist, audiovisual and interaction designer, film director and producer from Melbourne, Australia. As the founder of Nurobodi Wellbeing Design, Cy’s work bridges technology, design and holistic health using light and sound to entrain the brain towards states of limbic system regulation. Cy's work as a researcher extends to the neurobiology of aesthetic and anti-aesthetic experience with a focus in multisensory perception and biofeedback. His research is realized through theory, creative practice and real-world problem-solving through design. He is a course designer and lecturer at RMIT Melbourne in immersive audiovisual installation and 360 audiovisual design for Virtual Reality. Cy is also signed to the boutique Melbourne music label

Takashi Takiguchi -
Tony Yap -



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