Gideon Obarzanek was a dancer with Sydney Dance Company from 1989 to 1992, before going on to found Chunky Move in 1995. He created L’Chaim! for Sydney Dance Company in 2014 and returns with Us 50 in November 2019. He reflects on his early years with the Company, working hard and playing harder.
“I began as a dancer with Sydney Dance Company very early in my career. The dancers were really idiosyncratic: they had very different personalities and backgrounds which they brought with them. There was quite a dynamic sense of an ensemble but we weren’t uniform at all.
More than half the year was touring, a lot of it international, so it was really exciting being a young dancer and being part of that. We worked hard and we played really hard, as I remember. We had really strong constitutions: the idea of partying ‘til the sun comes up and then turning up to rehearsals is unthinkable now.
Many of the friends I have now are still from those days, those tight relationships you form when you’re touring constantly to a very demanding schedule. I was developing as a young man when I was there, so the idea of Sydney Dance Company and becoming an adult are inextricable to me: it was a very formative time. The Company has certainly changed since then, and I have too. When I came back to choreograph, it was evident the ensemble had more technical experience than we did. They’re highly trained: people are living healthier lives, both emotionally and physically, and they’re really focussed on their work. And I was quite relieved, because they were really great to work with! That’s the thing about dance companies: the turnover is continuous so as the dancers change, they change too. It’s always fascinating watching them evolve.”
Gideon Obarzanek in rehearsals for ‘Us 50’
To mark Sydney Dance Company’s 50th anniversary in 2019, Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela commissioned Obarzanek to create Us 50, a large-scale work featuring 50 performers, including Sydney Dance Company dancers past and present. “The history of Sydney Dance Company is embedded in the dancers’ bodies and the memories of audiences,” says Obarzanek. “Obviously productions are videoed these days, but the real detail and nuance of dance works – the movement, the style – has always been passed from one dancer to another. Ten dancers from previous generations will be working with the current ensemble for Us 50 to explore this transmission, including how every dancer brings their own qualities to the work, so it’s never the same twice. Sydney Dance Company isn’t really a repertoire company: it’s a Company that’s always asking questions and exploring things, and Us 50 is a continuation of that.”
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