Lumpy, square, short and broad -- not very flattering terms for describing a style of movement. For choreographer Gideon Obarzanek's unique approach, however, they fit so well that they coalesced into a name for his dance troupe: Chunky Move. The Melbourne-based company helps wrap up The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's month-long Australia Festival with five performances of two of its works Nov. 15-17 at the Byham Theater.
Founded by Obarzanek in 2005, Chunky Move has performed its genre-defying repertory all over the globe. The troupe's works are as unconventional as their titles: "Wanted: ballet for a contemporary democracy," for example, and the award-winning "Tense Dave."
First up for Byham audiences is the U.S. premiere of "Glow," a stand-alone, 30-minute solo conceived and choreographed by Obarzanek. In the work, a dancer lies within a 10' by 15' rectangular floor-grid, orchestrating a spectacle of light, computer-generated imagery and sound.
A projector hooked to sophisticated real-time motion-tracking software (developed by German software engineer Frieder Weiss) reacts to the dancer's movements by emitting a series of images on the spot. The projections include everything from familiar computer-generated grids, lines and geometric shapes to what appear to be inky, foreboding clouds.
For a performer, "Glow" is rigorous, and dancers Kristy Ayre and Sara Black will take turns at its four showings. Lying predominantly on her back and stomach and surrounded by audience members -- in this case, 150 patrons seated on the Byham stage, looking down at them -- each dancer will contort her body and shake her limbs in choreography that Obarzanek says reflects the evolution of a being.
Meanwhile, the work's atmospheric soundscape -- with original music and sound design by Australian composer Luke Smiles -- has been likened to that of a horror film. It too is controlled by computer and triggered by the dancer's movements.
In contrast to such technological wizardry, Chunky Move's "I Want to Dance Better at Parties" might be described as "docudance." The full-length work explores the idiosyncrasies of men and dance through the real-life experiences of five Australian men. The idea was first conceived as a treatment for a television documentary. But after interviewing a number of men about their feelings toward and relationships with dance, Obarzanek was inspired to make a performance work instead.
"What stuck me in listening back to these interviews is that they began as a discussion about these men's experiences with dance, but quickly evolved into a discussion about their private lives," says Obarzanek, speaking by phone from Melbourne.
It is that connection to the subject's personal lives that gives "I Want to Dance Better at Parties" mass appeal: It is perhaps Chunky Move's most popular work to date.
In Obarzanek's contemporary choreography, the docudance employs video footage and voiceovers from the interviews alongside recorded music and an onstage dancer (not necessarily male) representing each of the men. It all comes together to create portraits of these average men's lives. Like the widower Phillip, who was enjoying himself dancing at a party when a woman came up and suggested he take dance lessons to loosen himself up. Or Jack, the telecommunications engineer who invented his own dance code to help him remember steps.
"I think collectively, 'I Want to Dance Better at Parties' stories are an interesting composite of contemporary Australian males," says Obarzanek. "They don't follow the mythology propagated in the media of the rugged, pioneering bloke. In reality men are more than just macho; they have emotional concerns as well."
Chunky Move performs "Glow" (7 and 9 p.m. daily Thu., Nov. 15, and Fri., Nov. 16; $20; 150 seats per performance) and I Want to Dance Better at Parties (8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 17; $19-40). Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org