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Is It Dance or Sculpture? Or Both?

Date: Oct 31, 2011


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There's a massive paper net hanging over the floor. It's suspended in the air by dozens of strings, and when they move, the net springs to life, undulating like a wave or swinging like a pendulum.

And then there are dancers. They move beneath the sculpture and beside it, creating elegant shapes with their paper partner. It's an eerie, beautiful effect, and it makes Connected, the latest show from the Australian dance company Chunky Move, a striking part of the Joyce Theater's fall season.

"[The sculpture] is mesmeric and organic," says Gideon Obarzanek, the company's founder and artistic director. "When it first moves, the audience gasps, giggling in awe. It's very gratifying."

This unpredictable creation is Chunky Move's trademark, and their pieces often integrate "non-dance" elements like theatre, installation art, and technology. That's fitting, since Obarzanek is not only a ballet-trained choreographer and director, but also a multimedia artist. "The ideas always come first," he says. "The company is project-based, so we change around what we're developing. In this way, no one work is like the one before or after, which is exciting for audiences hoping to see something different. But it's also challenging because each new piece sets up expectations that the next may not fulfill in style or concept. Audiences looking for something they've seen before can be disappointed."

Since founding the company in 1995, Obarzanek has collaborated with a vast array of artists, usually through a long-term process of meeting and separating, fleshing out ideas and trying different options. He met sculptor Reuben Margolin, who created the Connected  installation, in 2009. "I commented to Reuben that sculptures remind me of dance in a visceral way because you can see the concrete form, but they also transcend form into movement," he recalls. "Often, when I watch dance I feel the dancers are people [who] then transform into bodies of energy. They flux between human and being part of the music and space. So mixing dancers and sculpture is so interesting. It's evolved into something I never could have imagined."

It's not uncommon for a work to surpass Obarzanek's original vision. He says, "In all of my work, I have a broad idea of what I want to achieve, but rarely have any idea how it will manifest. It evolves and is born out of the process of making it. It's quite a journey, but that's the whole point of creating art."

As he continues his own journey, this will Obarzanek's last season with Chunky Move. With a laugh, he says he is handing over the reins so he can "spend more time creating in the studio and less time in the office." He's currently commissioned to choreograph for The Australian Ballet and direct and write for the Sydney Theatre Company.

He's certain, though, that Chunky Move will keep pushing boundaries. "I think we've been successful in redefining what dance and performance can be," he says. "Any type of contemporary work must take on this challenge, and I'm confident Chunky Move will continue to explore and grow."


Chunky Move will perform at the Joyce from November 2-6

Lauren Kay is a writer and dancer based in New York City