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Sydney Dance Companies' latest celebrates 90 years of performance, which appears to be an improbably long time. Deborah Jones, in her review, cites 50 years, but 90 years was projected onto the stage curtain last night. Whatever, the program shows SDC to be in rude health. It consisted of three works: Bonacela's Cinco, Nankivell's Neon Aether and Lane's Woof. Lane's Woof is an unforgettable creation, for me the first two thirds of which brought the Elgin marbles strongly to mind. Not in terms of the shapes created by individual dancers, but by the way that groups of dancers defined the space around them: triangles, squares, rectangles. Much of the dancing in the last third was on demi-point and dancers gradually moved from the geometric shapes created by groups to pairings and single dancers, although the group as a whole remained on stage. Nankivell's Neon Aether, to a clanking, banging score that at times included the human voice, evokes our relationship with space, outer space. As with Woof, the group predominates, but a red-clad Ariella Casu strikes an individual and often lonely figure, especially as the piece closes with her dancing alone on a mist-shrouded stage. Bonacela's Cinco, featuring, not unexpectedly, five dancers to Alberto Ginastera's Second String Concerto, is a completely abstract work devoted to exploring the relationship between movement and music, and between the dancers and the shapes they make. Overall, a memorable evening, and one which promises a rich and fulfilling 50 (or 90!) years to come.
I was on my way to see the Sydney Dance Companies' latest program when I realised that it was Dussehra, a Hindu festival celebrating the victory of good over evil, and sacred to Saraswati, the godess art, music and learning, among others. 'Now that's a good omen', I thought. Then I passed a well-known outdoor sculpture, a very large rock dropped from a great height on a very small car (a vw?), so I was left wondering which omen I should pay attention to. Both, as it turned out. The program offered Raphael Bonachela's Frame of Mind, followed by Antony Hamilton's For Ever and Ever. I really liked Frame of Mind. Frenetic, yes, but engrossing. The stage is stark, and dominated by a great tall window through which light streams. The panes, however, are dirty, and it is impossible to see outside. Interesting, that. The work starts with a woman staring out the window. She is joined by more and more dancers, each of whom dances individually. A pair emerges out of the throng, which melts away, leaving the two to dance a tentative pdd, at first very cautious and gradually become more intimate. This pattern is repeated twice more, the second pdd being a much more violent affair, while in the third, the two dancers are close, accepting and intimate from the beginning. Angles throughout are generally turned in. Bonachela says of the work, that it 'engages with the aspiration that we all have, to engage and be understood without the need for words: to be held, supported, confronted, lifted and guided by those we hold dear'. Indeed. Music was provided by the Australian String Quartet, on stage, or a least on a projection at the same level as the stage, and playing works by Bryce Dessner, brief blocks of sound that added up to more than the sum of the parts. Overall a satisfying if at times confronting work. I wish I could say the same of Forever and Ever. The music was techno, I am informed, meaning that a single five note drum beat dominated for 35 minutes. The composer, Julian Hamilton, is Antony Hamilton's brother. According to Julian, his brother often suggested that he 'do less ... less parts ... make it more repetitive and less complex'. He succeeded. (But then I'm a geriatric with no understanding of contemporary music 😊). There were some potentially interesting ideas. A single dancer (Jesse Scales) dances in darkness (or semi-darkness) on stage as the audience is returning from interval. The normal hum of chatter is abruptly cut off as the stage lights suddenly come up (and, of course, the theatre lights abruptly doused). Her solo is contained, contorted until she is joined on stage by a tightly packed line of dancers who are completely shrouded in black (8 dancers) or white (6 dancers), even their faces hidden behind cotton masks. Given the enveloping nature of their clothing, it is not surprising that the dancing was initially uninspiring. The dancers gradually shed both their shrouds and some of the layers of clothing underneath them, though the dancing remains contorted and constricted. At times however, two or three dancers to the rear of the throng employ much more rounded and lyrical movements, making an interesting contrast. Lighting was interesting. At first some of the dancers carried large square toroches which they turned on briefly at intervals as the stage was drenched in cold white strobe light. At other times the stage was briefly lit in primary colours; red, blue, yellow, green. Overall, I couldn't discern any narrative, though my companion, a non-dance goer, felt it was about institutionalisation and the loss of identity that this entails. Perhaps. Overall, my appeciation of Bonachell's work was affirmed; less so my appeciation, or indeed my understanding, of Hamilton's work.
Ab [intra] is the first full length work made by Raphael Bonachela, choreographer and artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, in 6 years. In the program notes, he says he wanted to capture the movement from his internal creative process to the externality of performance. That may well be so, but I did not experience it in that way. It is a wonderful work, deeply human and engaging, but that narrative, if narrative it is, escaped me. The dancers start scattered across an unadorned stage before individually exploding into action; all sharp, often turned inward angles, staccato and sudden. In pairs and more commonly threesomes they interact and twine together, but do not trully engage, breaking apart and walking off without a backward glance. Against this are two gloriously soft and sensual pdd, the dancers twined round each other in ways impossible to describe, angles rounded and gentle, the dancers completely engrossed in one another. Between these two pdd an anguished and contorted male solo that was swept away by all 14 other dancers dancing mostly individually but at times coordinated. The motionlessness of the dancers before, as I said, they exploded into action made me think about the difference between stillness and motionlessness in dance. Last year, as half of another wonderful program, SDC presented Full Moon, by Cheng Tsung-lung, Artistic Director of Taiwan's Cloud Gate 2. (In the interest of transparency, I should confess that for me Cloud Gate is one of the great dance companies of the world, and Cloud Gate 2 is not far behind.) Anyway, the stillness of Cheng Trung-lung's dancers was utter stillness, radical, complete in itself, with no reference to the possibility of movement. Those dancers who were still were dynamic in their stillness, drawing the eye like exclamation points. Dancers in ab [intra] generally started motionless, but this was a stillness that carried within it the suggestion, or promise of motion. I don't mean to suggest that one is better than the other, but the comparison leapt to the eye, given that it was the same company, the same theatre and even the same time of year.☺. Sorry if all that was way too obscure. The take home is that ab [intra] represents another triumph for SDC. They travel a great deal. If they are dancing near you, drop everything!