Out of control

23 January 2018

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Dance is uncontrollable, says Israeli choreographer Omer Backley-Astrachan, and that’s what he loves about the art form. He’ll be performing in his dance work TOHU alongside co-creator and wife, Sharon Backley-Astrachan at Fringe World and he took some time to tell Seesaw more about his practice and work.

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
Omer Backley-Astrachan: I can’t recall a specific moment when I decided to become an artist. I was always exploring and making things as a child. When I discovered dance, it was like I found my perfect form of creativity. During the early years of my career I worked in a number of dance companies in Israel but still felt unsatisfied. It was only when I began to work as a freelancer with independent artists that I realised it was collaboration and creativity that drive me more than just performing. I think this transition paved the way for me to later on become a choreographer.

S: Tell us about your training
OBS: I started dancing at a very young age but was only doing Israeli folklore dance. My ballet and contemporary training came a bit later when I was about 20 (during my mandatory army service). I was a helicopter technician in the airforce. Some evenings I would sneak out and walk about four kilometres in the desert to take ballet with little girls in the nearby kibbutz (I even encountered an echidna one time on the way back which nearly gave me a heart attack). Then at the age of 21 I joined a full-time dance training course for professional dancers at Bat-Dor Dance School in Be’er Sheva, Israel. Two years later I got my first contract in a company and the rest is history.

S: Describe your artistic practice…
OBS: All I would say is that although I am extremely driven by movement, I am not interested in choreography per se. Dance interests me when I can see and feel what the dancer experiences. Choreography can be a great tool to capture these moments but I always try to keep it as a loose frame. I strive to feel something even from the most abstract moment.

S: Career highlight so far?
OBS: Just spending time in the studio with my dancers. Being creative, seeing my thoughts and the thoughts of the dancers coming to life.

S: And lowlight?
OBS: Well… When I get in a creative zone I sometimes lose my English (being my second language). Not long ago I wanted to tell a 17-year-old student to “amuse me with one idea”, but instead I asked her to “pleasure me with one thing”. I would say this is definitely a lowlight, possibly for both of us.

Omer and Sharon Backley-Astrachan ask questions about human behaviour in their work ‘TOHU’.

S: What do you love most about what you do?
OBS: I love how dance is uncontrollable. That once I start making a work, it dictates what it needs and not me.

S: Tell us about your 2018 Fringe show!
OBS: TOHU (chaos in Hebrew) was created together with my wife Sharon Backley-Astrachan. This work started when we moved to Australia. It was a huge culture shock for us (Sharon lived in Israel from the age of 21). Through TOHU we asked questions about human behaviour and sought-after answers in philosophy, cosmology and history. After living my whole life in Israel, it was very easy for me to identify differences in Israeli and Australian behaviour, but the universal things are never changing. In TOHU we try to understand where they come from, suggesting that perhaps they are embedded in us because of the way the universe works. So, we created a mini universe of our own where we both try to embody some universal behaviours as a driving force of life, relationship, order and chaos.

TOHU plays the State Theatre Centre of WA 2-10 February, as part of Fringe World.

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