We're Only Mortal, After All
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, 11217.
December 9 – 12th, 7:30 pm, Tickets $20/30/40.
More information: www.bam.org
By Georgia Clark.
"MORTAL ENGINE" -- Light drenches, becoming a dancer itself in "Mortal Engine." Photo by Andrew Curtis.
Contemporary Australian dance company Chunky Move returns to New York this December with a new show, "Mortal Engine." The performance uses movement-and-sound-responsive visual projections to portray an ever-shifting, shimmering world. We chatted with director and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek about the process of creating this compelling new work.
Q. Chunky Move has been to New York City so many times! How does a New York audience react differently to the rest of the world?
A. From my experience New York audiences are not that different to others we have performed to all around the world. Maybe a subtle distinction is their low tolerance for cloyingly sentimental work. That suits me just fine!
Q. The new integration of multimedia – 'virtual choreography' - into dance sounds intriguing. What inspired the cross-pollination?
A. I am interested in revealing aspects about ourselves and the environment we inhabit that we cannot see. I try to give tangible form to things that are not. Originally I wanted to use video projection as a lighting source to illuminate dancers on stage rather than a way of displaying images. I had been thinking of using pre rendered video until I met Frieder Weiss who had been working on generating real time video using the information from the dancers’ movements. The original idea of using video image just as a source of light quickly grew into a more sophisticated and interesting relationship with the dancers as we also worked together on revealing a kinetic relationship rather than just aesthetic.
"MORTAL ENGINE" -- Photo by Andrew Curtis.
Q. The computerized element of this show is unpredictable, thus producing a different show every night. Did this organic aspect of the computer engineering mean you came view this element as a dancer/ performer as well?
A. Yes, projections and sound in this work are not set design or music accompaniment. In fact there are two substantial scenes in the work where there are no dancers on stage, just sound and light. While the dancers’ movements largely influence projections in this work, they are also informed by noise in the system as well as sound. Elements of the music are also created from information of the dancers’ movements and so action and response happens both ways with dancers, light and sound.
Q. Can you talk us through your process when it comes to creating new work?
A. Often I start with just fragments for an idea, bits of ideas around a particular theme. Some are in writing, some in images, sound or human movement. With a team of performers and various other people we want to work with such as designers, computer engineers, composers or artists, we will usually work intensely for four to six weeks in a very collaborative fashion exploring and extending ideas after which we document everything. Depending on performing and touring pre existing works, often we don’t get back together for many months. With fresh eyes and a more objective perspective after time away, we go through all the documentation of all the previous development trying to identify what really worked. We then take these few elements and work for another six to eight weeks creating the final work. My works exist as films, high tech performances, low tech dance and scripted and improvised works for actors and dancers.
"MORTAL ENGINE" -- Photo by Andrew Curtis.
Q. What kind of impact has the popularity of television shows such as "So You Think You Can Dance" had on the profile on contemporary dance?
A. The practice and performance of contemporary dance is very different to these types of television shows that use dance as a forum for competition and where personal struggle is manipulated and enhanced for dramatic effect. Having said that, I could probably describe much of my work like that!
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