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DANCING ON A PIXEL

The artistic director of Chunky Move explains his thinking after flooring the audience at Australia's biggest arts festival

Published on October 29, 2007



 Although the highlights of this year's Melbourne International Arts Festival 2007 include globally renowned performances by such artists as Laurie Anderson, Peter Brook, Merce Cunningham and Robert Wilson, one of the organiser's main missions is to promote home-grown works.A prime example comes in the shape of Melbourne's leading contemporary-dance company Chunky Move, whose "Glow" is a ground-breaking fusion of technology and human movement. Premiered in Melbourne last year and now touring the world - with stops in Shanghai, Beijing, Pittsburgh and Dresden next month - "Glow's" concept is described as follows:

"Beneath the glow of a sophisticated video tracking system, a lone organic being mutates in and out of human form into unfamiliar, sensual and grotesque creature states. A digital landscape is generated in real time in response to the dancer's movement, with the body's gestures extended by and in turn manipulating the surrounding video world. Light and moving graphics are not pre-rendered by video playback, but rather images constantly generated by various algorithms responding to movement, meaning no two performances of 'Glow' are exactly the same.

"In most conventional works employing projection lighting, the dancer's position and timing have to be completely fixed to the space and timeline of the video playback. Their role is reduced to the difficult chore of making every performance an exact facsimile of the original. In 'Glow', the machine sees the performer and responds to their actions, unlocking them from a relationship of restriction and tedium."

The Nation recently sat down with Melbourne-born Gideon Orbazanek, the artistic director of Chunky Move and the choreographer of "Glow". Here's what he had to say:

"[In contrast to classical works], the pieces I'm interested in are those where you really don't know what you're going to get. Despite my primary training in classical ballet - at the Australian Ballet School - I find that my interest lies in opening up questions rather than knowing answers.

"When I was much younger, I witnessed rehearsals by the Netherlands Dans Theatre (NDT). They were quite revolutionary for me, showing me what dance could be. Although I worked as a classical ballet dancer for three years after school, I always found that I was better at, and more engaged in, contemporary works.

"I began choreographing as soon as I started my dance training. It's kind of like an exercise for self-esteem for people who started dancing at a later age [like myself]. Even though you couldn't do some things as well as others, you could make things your own.

"Dance can be a highly emotive medium, but it's also a very difficult medium to work in and go beyond the normal clichés.

"I've been working with projection images in various works where the video images had to be pre-recorded, the timeline had to be fixed, and the dancer had to be at the right place at the right time."

In 2004 in Monaco, Orbazanek attended a software presentation by Frieder Weiss, a German specialist in real-time computers and interactive computer systems for performance art.

"When I saw that, I realised he was the missing piece in my puzzle, as his software can analyse the dancer's movements through space. I've been watching a lot of dance works that use new media, but I want the work to be more than just a demonstration of technology. So, [in the development process of 'Glow' that has spanned two years] Frieder and I have worked in a lot of different environments and aesthetics."

One unique characteristic of "Glow" - an outcome of this interdisciplinary collaboration - is that the screen on which the dancer moves is laid flat on the studio's floor, and is watched by an audience sitting on raised and raked stands on all four sides.

"I work on my computer and watch television, and with the vertical screen, the dancer would have to be at the bottom of the screen all the time, and never really be part of it. Putting it on the floor gives the audience a new perspective for a dance performance."

This reviewer's experience of "Glow" at Chunky Move's Studio 1 was a memorable 25 minutes, one among many during my five-day visit to Melbourne. But at times I found myself in an artistic dilemma - should I concentrate on the energetic movements of Sarah Black, watch the digital images that the skilful dancer in a white body suit was creating, or simply let myself be enthralled by the compelling soundscape created by Luke Smile and Ben Frost - a feeling I've never before experienced during a dance performance.

Yet this exceptional marriage of human creativity and technological wizardry, sparking scintillating spontaneity in the performance, opened up my imagination and perspectives and took me on an emotional journey to various states not previously visited. Even now, "Glow" still flows in my memory.

My audience companion, Prapon "Joe" Kumjim, a lecturer of New Media at Chulalongkorn University's Visual Arts Department, made an interesting note.

"This show is very condensed, and its length [just under half an hour] is just perfect. [Although it is digitised], you wouldn't be able to capture all the performance on DVD. You have to watch it live."

Thanks to Miranda Brown Publicity for their assistance in arranging this interview. For more on the dance company, visit Chunkymove.com.au.

The writer can be contacted at Pawit.M@chula.ac.th.

Pawit Mahasarinand

 The Nation


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