Chunky Move: Glow by Gideon Obarzanek
Also Lublin, Poland, at 10 Międzynarodowe Spotkania Teatrów Tańca w Lublinie, November 12, 2006.
Studio, Sydney Opera House, March 21 to 25. Noorderzen Festival, Groningen, The Netherlands, August 21 & 22, 2007. Chaoyang Cultural Centre, Beijing, November 1 to 4. Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, November 8 to 11. Byham Theatre, Pittsburg, November 15 & 16. PICA, Perth, November 19 to 21. Festspielhaus Hellerau, Dresden, November 23, 2007
Kristy Ayre in Glow (photo: Rom Anthonis, click to enlarge)
I was a little surprised to see Chunky Move artistic director Gideon Obarzanek, Glow’s choreographer, sitting in on its 20th performance. A few minutes in, I decided that I’d probably want to see every one of its thirty performances -- three shows per day -- if I had the chance.
Two dancers were lined up to take turns performing the half-hour solo in its two week season. The senior of the two, Kristy Ayre, was given the first and third show, and Sara Black -- who I have only seen in student shows -- allocated the middle performance.
As it happens, the evening I attended, Ayre was injured. Black took Ayre’s performances and the show where I saw Obarzanek was a performance by understudy Lina Limosani. As so often happens in opera -- the whole big-break “star is born” scenario -- understudy performances can be crushingly disappointing (where one is cheated of seeing a star) or, like this one, utterly thrilling. I can’t imagine Glow better performed than it was by Limosani. I certainly couldn’t imagine any dancer committing to doing two performances as intense as hers in one evening!
Glow is a marvelous companion piece to Chunky Move’s last creation, Singularity. It’s a concentrated and complex work, yet has immediate visual and visceral appeal. Choreographically, theatrically and technically, this is a refined piece. The lighting and visual effects are so sophisticated that Glow would be perfectly at home as an installation in an art gallery.
Glow is a collaboration between Obarzanek and interactive system designer Frieder Weiß. Put simply, the lighting in this piece responds in real time to the movement of the dancer. Obarzanek writes:
“In Glow, light and moving graphics are not prerendered video playback but rather images constantly generated by various algorithms responding to movement. In most conventional works employing projection lighting, the dancer’s position and timing have to be completely fixed to the space and timeline of the video playback. Their role is reduced to the difficult chore of making every performance an exact facsimile of the original. In Glow, the machine sees the performer and responds to their actions, unlocking them from a relationship of restriction and tedium.”
While the applications of Weiß’s technology are, apparently, limited only by the imagination, Obarzanek concentrates here on enveloping the dancer. Capturing her in a noose of light. It’s solarised at the edges, then like a star-filter effect, then like a Kirlian photograph. We see, literally, the dancer’s aura.
Most of the dance -- at least to begin with -- is horizontal; swirls around a plain, rectangular, white mat. Stars and knots and figure fours. Splitty kicks and slides. Each move leaves a trace behind, projected from above: lazy loops, shell shaped patterns, decaying edges, pin-stripes, drizzling interference lines, puppet strings, wire-frames and bar-code trails.
If there is a lighting motif, it is the cross-hair. We’re constantly aware that the dancer is being found and scanned. Targetted. Bands of light -- like the swipe of a photocopier -- repeatedly locate the dancer in space. X-axis and Y-axis. Sometimes there are two bands in each axis and she’s caught in a cross-hatch.
A few times, I was reminded of early works by Alwin Nikolais. Nikolais would have smiled his famous smile to see the imaginary elastics that Limosani pushed at and stretched like something out of Tensile Involvement (1953) or the imaginary shroud, as in Water Studies (1964).
Yet this is not -- or not simply -- a pretty work. There’s Obarzanek’s trade-mark grotesquerie of old. The tortured yelping and grasping, the quivering, is almost Butoh-esque.
In another section, the dancer’s rolling leaves shadows behind, like one of those roll-on-the-canvas nudes by Yves Klein. These shadows, like the black oil in an episode of The X-Files, re-group, follow and re-infect the dancer like dybbuks. Doppelgangers. Later, dappled, dark clouds pass back-and-forward overhead.
Described like this, the lighting sounds like a series of stunning, but inessential effects. Incidental effects. But, no. Like all of Obarzanek’s recent theatre works, Glow continually aims higher than it has to. While I am uncertain what the dramatic agenda of Glow is -- it might be about depression, grief or some other kind of anguish -- I have no doubt that there are great conceptual depths here. Likewise, I feel sure that the choreography would stand up to the scrutiny of plain white light.
The bandage-fabric costume (by Paula Levis) didn’t add much to the dramatic equation, but it certainly didn’t get in the way. It allowed us to appreciate the weight -- the muscularity -- of the movement. High-key -- almost invisible -- music and sound effects by Luke Smiles were far more effective and essential.
OTHER CHUNKY MOVE REVIEWS:
Singularity (May 2006)