Gideon Obarzanek talks about his tryst with dance and choreography

Clad in a moss green T-shirt, a backpack slung over one shoulder, he strides towards me with a supple, easy gait that belies his 40 odd years. “I’m so sorry I’m late” he says with an apologetic smile. “I was in a rehearsal.”

Gideon Obarzanek—one of Australia’s best known dancers and choreographers — is indeed a busy man. Though no longer the director of Chunky Move, the company he founded 16 years ago, he continues to mentor upcoming performers. “It is a pleasure to be part of their journey.” he says.

He is in town as part of a three-week tour of India. “This is my last Chunky Move gig. I am lucky to have performed all over the world but I want to take a break from professional dance.”

Gideon started dancing in his late teens. “Pretty late for a professional dancer, really. I enjoyed social dancing so my mother told me to take some dance lessons. I resisted at first but soon began formal training. I then got accepted at the Australian Ballet School and deferred my science degree at university to study ballet.”

He has also worked with the Sydney Dance Company and on several independent projects in dance as well as in choreography. He went on to establish Chunky Move in 1995, a company that specializes in contemporary dance performance. “We push our dancers to have a relationship with other art forms and current issues. We stress not just on dance but its relevance with culture.”

Talking about Australian culture and how it translates into a dance form, Gideon says: “Well as the country is made up of so many diverse immigrant groups, it is very difficult to identify a distinct Australian style of dance. I suppose it is mostly contemporary because it is such a young country.”

Though he has broken away from the classical fold, Gideon admits that it is his foundation in ballet that has stood in his stead through all his experiments in dance. “Knowledge of the classics is essential to reinvent art.” he says. “Naïve artists rarely produce good work.”

On future plans, he says: “Story-telling has always interested me so I probably want to experiment with theatre and film. This is a new and exciting time for me though it does feel crazy to have walked away from something you have spent you whole life creating.”

Will he miss it? But of course he will, he says. “In an increasingly mediated world, the percentage of people who have access to live performances has diminished considerably. Yet I like to believe that it is still important. The stage is the complete world in a dance show and if you are able to define it—it becomes a very powerful instrument.”