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Traces of life: Chunky Move’s Glow.

Light Moves

By Lynn Hasselbarth

Chunky Move

EMPAC Studio 1, Dec. 4

Chunky Move’s latest piece, Glow, is a multimedia experience that leaves one feeling deeply altered. Based on the collaboration of Australian choreographer Gideon Obarzanek and software creator Frieder Weiss, a subconscious world—a technological universe—is revealed, where a single human battles forces within her.

As the lights dim within the small black-box theater, the silhouette of a solo dancer creeps into the performance space, resting in a primitive squatting stance at the edge of the stage. The figure begins to transport herself smoothly across the space, propelling her weight forward in a tightly bound army crawl. As she traces the length and width of the stage, defining her environment, her extremities remain lit, as if she is carrying her own light source.

As she moves, the light tracks her, responding to and containing her every gesture. The light becomes her interpreter, without which she is an unframed anonymous form. What occurs is an ongoing process of movement informing light, which then alters the movement itself.

The interactive system at play involves an infrared light source and an adjacent camera hung above the performance space. The camera picks up the outlines of the moving figure and traces the information back to an offstage computer. The information is then manipulated through Weiss’ original software and projected onto the floor beneath the dancer, continually responding to her every move.

The audience is gradually introduced to a range of visual effects. First is the simple outline of the dancer, then a moving grid that extends from the outer points of her body. Later, the dancer is enveloped in a box of light, with darkened lines underneath, as if resting on top of a virtual stack of cards. As she unfolds each leg and arm, the cards appear to splay out in the wake of her motion.

At first, these tricks seem harmless and quirky, revealing the creative possibilities of combining dance and technology in a neutral setting. However, about halfway into the 30 minute piece, the sense of safe experimentation is replaced with a deeply disturbing struggle.

At one point, the dancer lays on her back, arms at her side, with a thick outline of light, not unlike the chalk outline of a crime victim. The dancer then heaves her body to various corners of the stage, lying still long enough to leave behind a darkened and lifeless imprint of her body.

The music track departs from its mystical techno humming and adopts an apocalyptic drone. As the vibration intensifies, the dancer’s remains seem to take on a life of their own. The forms become hauntingly mobile and approach the dancer from behind, ultimately re-inhabiting her body as she stares blankly into the audience.

The dancer has a voice within that is struggling to free itself, to escape from the programmed technological world that contains her. At times she lays with her chest jacked upward and her head and eyes hung back, as if possessed. At other moments, she lets out high-pitched, yet muffled, screams as she thrashes about on the floor.

The dancer appears to be in the throes of an exorcism. However, there is a suggestion of universality in her experience.

“It is the process of stepping outside of irreconcilable aspects of oneself,” noted Obarzanek in the program. “She is constantly evolving, shifting between one set of values and another, trying to find what’s human.”

While certain elements of Glow are nightmarish and disturbing, there are moments when the dancer lays peaceful and stoic, seemingly lit from within, much like the final image of the piece. Having exhausted all possibilities of movement, the dancer lies still as a beam of light narrows and focuses itself to a palm-sized field on her torso.

There is little distinction between her still body and the lifeless floor beneath her. However, as the light searches for movement to react to, it senses a subtle trepidation, which is the dancer’s own heartbeat. The light responds and trembles upon the surface of her abdomen, as if to proclaim that life and purpose have been preserved in the aftermath of intense self-exploration.


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