Chunky Move works such as Mortal Engine – and more recently Connected that premiered last week as part of Dance Massive – are visually, aurally, and conceptually arresting. Though it is acknowledged and explored all too infrequently, they are the result of a lengthy and often difficult developmental process. Before that, they stem from a choreographer’s concept or vision and in these works they come from the wonderful Gideon Obarzanek.
Obarzanek founded Chunky Move in 1995 and has been its Artistic Director to date. It was in 2009 that he took a six-month break from the Company in order to “re-connect” with those things that interested him about dance but that he wasn’t doing himself; namely dancing and performing.
It was during this period that he was approached by a young, female University graduate. She boldly asked him to choreograph a solo work for her and he agreed. For a variety of reasons, this collaboration did not go to plan and the work never eventuated. What did come out of it however was Faker. The work, which is based on this experience, is quite astonishingly the first solo Obarzanek has ever choreographed for himself and his first performance on stage in fifteen years.
Obarzanek is dressed casually and practically in track pants, t-shirt, and runners. He starts seated at a desk at the rear of a room that resembles both a school gym and a classroom. The familiar setting is in stark contrast to the environments created with lighting and video-imagery, even sculptures, that we have become accustomed to in many of Chunky Move’s works.
At the core of Faker is an email, sent from the young dancer to Obarzanek, and he reads this aloud in a rather monotone voice. The email is a confession of her feelings about their time working together, and her thoughts of him as a choreographer and person. The confessions are amusing in their frankness and though exaggerated, they touch on what all students, at least at one point in their lives, have wanted to say to one of their teachers, but couldn’t, or more likely wouldn’t.
From this email comes an exploration, though not overly detailed, of the differences between this dancer and choreographer. In particular, their varying visions and expectations – of the working process, what the final product should be, and of themselves and each other as artists and people – and that these, whether they like it or not, will unavoidably be formed within the parameters of their differing sexes, ages, experiences and motivations.
Throughout the work, Obarzanek interrupts the reading of the email to open his desk drawer. Each time he casually opens the drawer he takes from it a single object that in turn prompts a demonstration of the activities he might have given the dancer whilst workshopping her solo. It might be an i-pod, to which he sings along to a fragmented Gnarls Barkley’s On and On, or an envelope holding pieces of paper, each apparently with varying instructions or notions that he then physically, and rather exaggeratedly, conveys. Though it is a simple act, with each opening of the drawer, the revealing of the object to come from it, and the actions it then prompts in Obarzanek, comes a surprising level of expectation within the audience.
Indeed the email and its confessions must in part be a projection of Obarzanek’s own thoughts, self doubts and feelings of disappointment, particularly given that he is coming to the end of his time as Artistic Director of Chunky Move, but both the content and style of this work suggest that he is not taking any of it too seriously. The workshop activities he re-creates would certainly be an important element in his creative process, but out of context and especially in this exaggerated form, they seem rather ridiculous. Obarzanek is also more than happy to take the audience out of the piece itself by shouting out various instructions to the production’s technicians as he goes along. Again, whilst it is a crucial element of workshopping, in this context it is a humorous demonstration of a performer’s feeling of self-importance, made all the more amusing given that his presentation and appearance is considerably at the mercy of these technicians.
When Obarzanek consults the final piece of paper to come out of his envelope, he strips to his Jockey trunks. His body is slender and fit and whilst there is perhaps a little less tone in some areas than there would have been twenty odd years ago, it is still a dancer’s body. Then, to evocative choral music, Obarzanek dances. Unlike the movements he has presented previously, these are undeniably his. They are grounded, twisted, and fluid and all are executed with control, flexibility and sensuality. This dance comes without costume or pretence; there is certainly nothing fake about it, and whilst fleeting, it is one of the more enthralling dances to be presented throughout Dance Massive.
Interestingly it is the very construction of this work that perhaps gives an insight into the curious and precarious relationship between a dancer and a choreographer, or indeed between any student and teacher, even between people generally. Whilst Obarzanek is privy to the text on the screen before him, the music that is coming through his headphones, and the concepts, prompts, and instructions that are written on the paper from within his envelope, the audience is to a certain extent kept in the dark. If the audience, somewhat like a student, chooses to participate, they must observe and trust the path on which Obarzanek takes them, hopefully learning from it along the way. For Faker’s audience, the opportunity to do so is a privileged one indeed.
Malthouse Theatre & Chunky Move Present
Created & Performed by Gideon Obarzanek
Venue: Beckett Theatre @ the CUB Malthouse
Dates: 23 March – 2 April 2011
Bookings: malthousetheatre.com.au | 03 9685 5111