Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Chunky Move’s “Mortal Engine” combines choreography with interactive system and laser technology, says Obarzanek
By Nancy T. Lu
Gideon Obarzanek, a would-be scientist years ago, made a sudden turnaround, becoming a dancer and then a choreographer. He now brings to Taipei for the first time the Australian dance company called Chunky Move to stage a production involving tracking systems and laser technology titled “Mortal Engine.”
Obarzanek promised a “sophisticated live performance on stage.” As he put it, “No two performances are ever quite the same because the light generated to create the performance is made from dancers’ movement. What dancers do shapes the changing figure around them.”
Many choreographers in the 20th century turned to the projection of images in dance. Obarzanek cited particularly Alwin Nikolais and his use of video and film projections to distort perceptions of human body. But the late choreographer encountered problems. Video and film materials must be prepared in advance. They ran on fixed time. Dancers must keep rehearsing to be at the right place at the right time.
Obarzanek himself experienced similar frustration in the projection of images. This was until he stepped into new ground involving collaboration with German computer engineer Frieder Weiss.
Weiss was an expert in creating quality control system for production line components. He developed a series of cameras which looked at components on production lines to track down defects and abnormalities.
In his spare time, Weiss experimented with the technology from Bosch Engineering by applying it on his partner who was a dancer. In short, what was intended for industrial use became tracking technology for artistic pursuit, said Obarzanek.
After meeting Weiss at a conference in Europe, Obarzanek invited him to work with him in 2005. They showed each other their works and then discussed the possibility of a collaboration.
A solo titled “Glow” became their first project together. This choreographic essay showed a change in the perception of the body, explained Obarzanek. A combination of movement, speed and images distorted the perception of the human body, which shifted to cause it to sometimes even acquire animal qualities. Such change affected the choreography.
The successful work, however, could only go into very specific exhibition spaces with spectators sitting around and looking down at the performers on the floor, according to Obarzanek.
In 2007, Obarzanek convinced interactive system designer Frieder Weiss to develop more tracking systems for a larger work, which could go into the more conventional theaters. As a result, the relationship between the video and the dancers in what was to become “Mortal Engine” got more complicated.
Obarzanek elaborated: “Video began taking dimension from dancers. Video used behavioral mathematical algorithms to acquire life (sometimes disturbing as seen in the black patches) of its own.”
At this point, Obarzanek also thought of exploring new space – particularly the void above the audience in a theater. Laser and sound artist Robin Fox through his works in Melbourne got the choreographer’s attention.
“And so Robin Fox took the contours of the dancers and then gave the information to the laser, shifting the movement in the choreography from the stage into space with the audience drawn into the work itself,” recalled Obarzanek.
“People felt the live-ness of the performance for they were put in a unique point in time and place,” stressed Obarzanek. “This was not just a live show.”
Obarzanek also brought music composer Ben Frost into the production.
“We imagined what we could do individually and we discovered in the studio what we never imagined,” Obarzanek said of the team behind “Mortal Engine.”
He added: “Collectively we were able to work out what we individually could not have.”
Choices had to be made along the way. There were no big clashes or conflicts among the involved artists. Obarzanek, however, claimed that he was the director.
Obarzanek was the guest speaker at the Boomerang Lunch hosted by the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei on November 3. In attendance were choreographers, dancers and representatives of the many prominent dance companies in Taiwan.
Chunky Move will present “Mortal Engine” at the National Theater in Taipei at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on November 6 as well as at 2:30 p.m. on November 7.