The Power of Absence

Gideon Obarzanek in "Faker." Photo: Heidrun Löhr

Absence is a commanding creative device. This was the shared thread in two dissimilar dance-theater works from abroad I saw at the end of this week: Faker, Gideon Obarzanek’s solo at Joyce SoHo (playing through May 6) and CITY, by the BLOOM! Dance Collective at Abrons Arts Center(closed).

Best known as the founder and (soon to be outgoing) artistic director of Australia’s Chunky Move, Gideon Obarzanek is an eloquent performer with a deft comic touch, and his solo piece Faker is a meditation on the creative process. Faker is framed by an utterly scathing exit email Obarzanek received from a young dancer for whom he had started creating a solo piece, and while we never glean much information about the mysterious ‘she,’ her presence and critiques loom large. Obarzanek reads verbatim from this note, and reenacts bits of the movement tasks she was presumably given—singing, responding to random instructions scribbled on pieces of paper—as he chronicles the failure of this project. It’s charmingly self-deprecating, but I would be hard-pressed to describe Faker as more than a polished confessional penance on the themes of choreographic struggle and being a gun for hire.

BLOOM! Dance Collective, Photo: Puskel Zsolt

Less polished, and disarming in a different way was CITY, BLOOM! Dance Collective’s thoughtful, and surprisingly humorous exploration of group dynamics and authority. The London-based group of five is a true collective (C-bot did an interview here on their creative process>), so presumably they won’t be facing the same situation as Obarzanek, plus they’re young, and haven’t been churning out new work for 20+ years.

Like Faker, CITY is framed by an absent presence that looms large: throughout the work, a robotic, disembodied voice barks commands and insults over the loudspeaker, along with a few, grudgingly approving remarks. The scenes, anchored by a dance line of sorts, where clothing comes on and off with exuberant abandon, play with groupings: whether it’s unison, four against one, or three versus two, everyone is always observing one another, judging, and seeking cues.

You can read CITY as a commentary on the human tendency towards conformity, the acceptance of arbitrary authority, or as more closely aligned to the creative world, with a dictatorial director/choreographer and obedient performers. But to shelve it into one of these categories would be reductive, as CITY constructs a multi-faceted commentary that is highly personal, yet broader in its social political implications.

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