Chunky Move Makes Australian Contemporary Dance Cool

Contemporary Dance. Back in the mid 1900s, the contemporary dance scene in Melbourne, Australia wasn’t much of anything. In America, Paul Taylor was taking the country by storm, choreographing and performing some of the most cutting edge pieces of art that anybody had ever seen. Before him, Martha Graham had paved the way for a new kind of dance in America. However, in Australia, most people were attracted to the ballet and contemporary dance was relatively unknown in the region. That is, until Gideon Obarzanek formed a small dance company in 1995, Chunky Move.

For the first three years, their reception in Melbourne was icy. Jeff Kennett, the Premiere of Victoria was unhappy with the companies opening and thought that they were slow to get started. The critics were not kind and Chunky Move decided to head off the beaten path completely. They brought themselves to the audience instead of having the audience come to them. The company started dancing in nightclubs on revolving stages, attracting a following and performing bizarre and edgy pieces breaking the mold and often bringing the audience to hysterics. They blended pop culture references and real dancing together, creating characters and storylines much like a stage production.

Since then, the company has evolved into a more mature form of movement. Some of their most incredible pieces dig into what it is to be connected, to act as a group and what human nature is. In 2006 Gideon started a new collaboration, between technology and dance. At a conference a few years earlier, he had started a conversation with Frieder Weiss, a german interactive video systems maker. They started working together and created the piece Glow. A half hour dance with one person that takes place completely on the floor. A camera on the ceiling tracked the dancer’s movements and projected contrasting images onto the floor. This collaboration led to one of the companies most notable pieces, Mortal Engine. Again, a collaboration with technology and dance, using movement, sound and images in unison. 

In 2010 and 2011, the company embarked on two ambitious projects, one with a large group and the second, a very personal solo. Connected, was a piece designed around a kinetic sculpture of paper and metal. It was created by Reuben Margolin, a sculptor from California. The dancers were physically attached to it by tiny strings and as they moved, the sculpture moved in answer. When Alisdair Macindoe, a dancer with the company, was first linked to it, he said that it felt like a great wind moving behind him. Reuben and Gideon had created a special relationship between geometry and dance. They had created a sculpture that almost felt intentionally intrusive and perfectly fused with the dancers.

The more personal project was a solo by Gideon Obarzanek himself. It was an exposing piece, where he sits facing the audience and reading a cruel email, from a former student. It’s as though he’s looking the audience straight in the eye and daring them to see him for what he really is…

He really is a human, with flaws and imperfections. He scrunches up his face, he curls into a ball and he runs around singing off key, to music on his iPod. He is completely himself, while a room full of people sits and watches. It is, in my opinion, a truly brave portrayal of a human in a world where it is desirable to be perfect.

2011 also marked Gideon’s last year as creative director of Chunky Move. He handed the reins over to Anouk van Dijk, an Amsterdam based dancer and choreographer, who is most well known for her creation of the dance movement, Countertechnique.

Chunky Move seems to be a dance company that is fearless. They have taken a style of dance that not everybody appreciates, that some people find laughable or silly and they have brought it to the forefront of Australian culture. In a time and a place when “twerking” is considered dancing, they took the messiest, the most venerable and I think, the most courageous form of self-expression and they have made it sought after. They have created crowds of people begging to buy tickets and they have made contemporary dance cool.


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