Scene from 'Epic Theatre' Photo Pedro Greig

‘New Breed’ (2016). Sydney Dance Company

9 December 2016, Carriageworks, Eveleigh (Sydney)

The most ‘left-of-centre’ work on this year’s New Breed program was the final offering, Shian Law’s Epic Theatre. His premise, which he enunciated at the end of his work, was that theatre is basically one set of people looking at another set of people. And so he played with who was audience and who was performer, beginning as we entered the performing space for the start of his work. There was, however, a kind of ‘taster’ during the interval when we watched two dancers engaging in a powerful physical encounter outside the theatre space. (Carriageworks doesn’t really have a lobby as such).

Once inside, we were confronted by a line of people, a mix of dancers and audience, with arms linked tightly. The way to our seats was effectively blocked. Gradually we were given an opportunity to move to our seats and once everyone was in, there was some crazy dancing, especially from the tall and physically expressive Sam Young-Wright who, at one stage, stripped down to his underpants. There was also a lot of walking up, down, and around the performing space by dancers and some audiences members. But in the end, as entertaining as it all was, and that entertaining aspect extended to an electronic score played live by composer Marco Cher-Gibard, the idea was more interesting than the performance.

Coming in a close second in the left-of-centre stakes was Richard Cilli’s Hinterland. It began with a section in which a group of dancers ‘commented’ on the dancing of their colleagues with noises of various kinds—grunts, whoops and a range of silly sounds. Then followed a section when the dancers collapsed in a writhing heap while the triumphant strains of Liszt’s Chapelle de Guillaume Tell filled the air. The work finished with a section in which there was an ongoing discussion of which dancer was most like which character in the movie Titanic. (Bernhard Knauer was the iceberg!)

According to Cilli, Hinterland ‘explores the tension between outward appearances and the vast inner landscape.’ A little like Epic Theatre, the idea was a rather more interesting than the outcome. Having said that, some parts Hinterland were quite funny and Daniel Roberts was particularly expert at making his silly noises sound perfectly suited to the movements of his colleagues

I really enjoyed the opening work, Jesse Scales’ What you see, even though it might be regarded as the most conventional of the evening’s offerings—if indeed anything emerging from Sydney Dance can be thought of as conventional. Made for just three dancers, Cass Mortimer Eipper, Nelson Earl and Latsiha Sparks, and performed to music by Max Richter, it consisted basically of three solos, followed by a group section in which the silent screams of each of the dancers was a gripping element. Each solo focused on a different kind of gloom or torment, but the dancing was so good that the darkness of mood did not overpower the work. The whole was carefully composed with each solo following on smoothly from the other, and with the performers often moving down the diagonal with the kind of extreme movement that characterises much of Sydney Dance Company’s work. All three dancers performed exceptionally well and their facial expressions were a powerful means of highlighting the moods of What you see.

Scene from 'What you see'. Photo Pedro Greig

Scene from What you see, Sydney Dance Company. Photo: © Pedro Greig

For me the work of the night, however, was Rachel Arianne Ogle’s Of Dust, which explored connections between the stars, and other cosmic forces, and man’s journey from birth to death. It was a fast moving piece danced to a commissioned score by Ned Beckley. It began with a tightly knit group of dancers, five in all (Juliette Barton, Richard Cilli, Nelson Earl, Cass Mortimer Eipper, and Charmene Yap), pulling each other and the group into a series of constantly changing shapes. There was tension there, but also a feeling of unity. What followed teetered between order and disorder, connections and disconnections with some wonderful dancing from Juliette Barton and Charmene Yap in particular. Partnering was exceptional and the work moved swiftly and lyrically from beginning to end.

Unlike the situation with What you see, perhaps it would have been difficult to make the connection between Ogle’s work and her intentions without program notes, but Of Dust was a beautiful work to watch. It is the first piece I have seen from Ogle, who is based in Western Australia. I look forward to seeing more.

Scene from 'Of Dust'. Photo Pedro Greig

Scene from Of Dust, Sydney Dance Company. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Lighting for each of the four works was by Benjamin Cisterne and was most effective in Of Dust where Cisterne was able to use downlights, circles of light, changing colours, and other devices to add to the feeling that we were looking beyond the earth.

Michelle Potter, 14 December 2016

Featured image: Scene from Epic Theatre, Sydney Dance Company. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from 'Epic Theatre' Photo Pedro Greig

On another note, it is frustrating that Sydney Dance Company no longer provides names  of dancers in the captions attached to its media images. The dancers of Sydney Dance Company are all exceptional performers and deserve to be identified. I can guess but I’d rather be sure by having the company do the work of identification.

Jesse Scales and David Mack in 'Variation 10'. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Peter Grieg

‘Triptych’. Sydney Dance Company

10 October 2015 (matinee), Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney

Sydney Dance Company’s latest offering, Triptych, pays homage to English composer Benjamin Britten, whose compositions, Simple Symphony, Les Illuminations and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, are at the musical heart of the program. All three works have choreography by artistic director Rafael Bonachela, and the dancers are joined onstage by singer Katie Noonan in Les Illuminations, and throughout the program by musicians of ACO2, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s string ensemble.

Simple Symphony looks a lot different on the stage of the Roslyn Packer Theatre. In its earlier outing in 2013, at the Studio Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, it was performed on a T-shaped catwalk with the dancers using the whole of a fairly narrow, if long, T-space, and with players from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra providing the accompaniment from a position at the cross bar of the T. This time the musicians sat on a dais at the back of the stage, a ploy successfully used by Bonachela in his exceptional creation, also made in 2013, Project Rameau. In addition, the dancers had a relatively large, rectangular space in which to perform and, all in all, the work was easier to see and to my mind, therefore, more interesting choreographically.

In the 2013 production of Simple Symphony I noticed Bonachela’s use of lifts in particular. This time, although I was still taken by the lifts, I was entranced by the moves in which the female dancers were swept up into the arms of their partner and dipped and swirled melodiously around, and by the beautifully playful endings to the first two sections, which brought gentle laughter from the audience. Nevertheless, ‘Sentimental Sarabande’, the third section, remained my favourite. It was sensuously performed, a lovely duet.

Bernhard Knauer and Janessa Dufty in 'Simple Symphony', 2015. Photo: Peter Grieg
Bernhard Knauer and Janessa Dufty in Simple Symphony. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Peter Grieg

Simple Symphony is perhaps Bonachela’s most balletic looking piece, and is light and joyous. In contrast, Les Illuminations, with its background of 19th century French Symbolism via the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, has a more moody quality. Its opening scene shows the four cast members, two men and two women, standing in pools of dark light, looking like mysterious figures from a Symbolist painting. As with Simple Symphony, Les Illuminations was easier to enjoy in a more regular space and Katie Noonan’s rendition of Britten’s songs resonated beautifully throughout the theatre.

Cass Mortimer Eipper and Charmene Yap in 'Les Illuminations' . Sydney Dance Company 2015. Photo: Peter Grieg
Cass Mortimer Eipper and Charmene Yap in Les Illuminations. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Peter Grieg

The most exquisite of the duets that comprise the choreography for Les Illuminations was, for me, the final one, ‘Le départ’, between the two male cast members, Richard Cilli and Cass Mortimer Eipper. It was tender, sensual, and filled with moving moments such as those where palms touched and then arms were pushed upward. The final sculptural pose was an emotional ending.

Bonachela’s new creation for this season, Variation 10, was danced to Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. In particular it showed Bonachela’s skills in group work as opposed to the duet structure that characterised Simple Symphony and Les Illuminations. I especially enjoyed a quintet for five ladies and as usual was staggered at how beautifully they moved individually and as a group.

There is nothing like the passion for movement that Sydney Dance Company has, nor the choreographic passion that characterises Bonachela’s work.

Michelle Potter, 11 October 2015

Featured image: Jesse Scales and David Mack in Variation 10. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Peter Grieg

Jesse Scales and David Mack in 'Variation 10'. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Peter Grieg

Dance diary. July 2015

  • 2015 Helpmann Awards

Media commentary following the announcement of the winners of the 2015 Helpmann Awards has mostly focused on the fact that Les Miserables ‘scooped the pool’ with five awards. Well many congratulations to those involved, but where is the equivalent media commentary for Sydney Dance Company? Sydney Dance could also be said to have ‘scooped the pool’ after receiving all four awards in the dance section.

  • Best Ballet or Dance Work: Sydney Dance Company’s Frame of Mind
  • Best Choreography in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work: Rafael Bonachela, Frame of Mind
  • Best Male Dancer in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work: Cass Mortimer Eipper, Quintett
  • Best Female Dancer in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work: Chloe Leong, Quintett

Sydney Dance Company's Frame of Mind featuring Cass Mortimer Eipper, 2015. Photo: © Peter Greig

Sydney Dance Company’s Frame of Mind featuring Cass Mortimer Eipper, 2015. Photo: © Peter Greig

What a shame that there has been so little publicity by mainstream media for this exceptional feat by Sydney Dance Company.

  • Stephen Page at Parliament House

Early in July I had the pleasure of facilitating a conversation with Stephen Page, artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, as part of a program organised by Parliament House in conjunction with the Canberra Theatre Centre. The conversation took place in the Parliament House Theatre, which I did’t know existed until I was invited to be part of this session. The conversation preceded the arrival of Bangarra in Canberra with its latest show, lore. Page gave a highly entertaining talk about the origins of Bangarra, his nurturing of artists in the company, and some background on the works in lore. The talk was recorded and I understood that it was to be posted on the PH website. So far this has not happened but when/if it does I intend to post a link on this site.

  • David Sumray

I was contacted in July by a journalist from the Camden New Journal, who asked me about David Sumray. She told me that she had heard that an ‘avid ballet historian’ of that name had died suddenly and she wanted to write something about him. I have not been able to confirm this news so I hesitate to mention it here. However, since my attempts to contact David have been unsuccessful (and the journalist has not contacted me again despite a request), I will mention my admiration and respect for him anyway.

David has been a constant visitor to this website and has made many comments on articles and reviews posted here, which have always been illuminating. In addition, he was extraordinarily helpful and generous while I was writing Dame Maggie Scott. He volunteered to check a few facts for me, mostly relating to the life of Maggie’s father, John Scott, and his war record. In so doing he uncovered other interesting facts including material relating to John Scott’s schooling in England. I remember too, as we were discussing John Scott’s engagement to Maggie’s mother, Marjorie, in Birmingham in 1918, he sent me an Edwardian postcard image of the shop where the ring was bought. I have so enjoyed his interest in such details.

H. Greaves Ltd - Postcard of Corporation St.

H. Greaves Ltd, Birmingham

  • Press for July

‘Traditions explored through dance.’ Preview of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s lore. ‘Panorama’, The Canberra Times, 4 July 2015, pp. 6–7. Online version.

‘Gala celebrates troupe’s 50 years.’ Preview of Mirramu Dance Comany’s L. ‘Times 2’, The Canberra Times, 9 July 2015, pp. 6–7. Online version.

‘Some strong performances in a well staged show.’ Review of Circus under my bed, Flying Fruit Fly Circus. The Canberra Times, 18 July 2015, ARTS p. 18. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2015

‘Les illuminations’. Sydney Dance Company

3o August 2013, Studio Theatre, Sydney Opera House

With his latest program, Les Illuminations, Sydney Dance Company’s Rafael Bonachela has given audiences a new look at his spectacular dancers. This is an intimate program, made so by its venue, the Studio at the Sydney Opera House, and by its setting within that venue. The program, which consists of two short pieces both to music by Benjamin Britten, Simple Symphony and Les Illuminations, is danced on a T-shaped catwalk with the audience seated in the round. On the cross bar of the ‘T’ sits a string ensemble of musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. They are joined in the second part by singer Katie Noonan, who sings the soprano role in Les Illuminations. The dancers perform entirely on the long line of the T.

What struck me instantly as Simple Symphony began was that Bonachela was taking advantage of the restricted performance space and was using more high lifts than usual. ‘Boisterous Bourrée’, the opening duet danced by Janessa Dufty and Andrew Crawford, began with a kind of ‘presage’ lift and continued with some gorgeous partnering, including more lifts. These two dancers set up a lovely partnership not only by dancing so well but also through their emotional connection with each other. Touch, glances, head movements, all played a part in making this duet a wonderful opener. The third part, ‘Sentimental Sarabande’ also stood out for its strong and emotionally engaging dancing by Fiona Jopp and Bernhard Knauer. With Toni Maticevski’s close fitting, light coloured costumes, decorated with pale turquoise trimmings, and the often playful moments in the choreography, Simple Symphony reminded me of a pastoral romp.

 

'Les Illuminations'. Jessica Thompson and Charmene Yap. Photo: Ellis Parrinder, 2013
'Les Illuminations'. Thomas Bradley and Cass Mortimer Eipper. Photo: Ellis Parrinder, 2013

Studies for Les Illuminations. Left: Jessica Thompson and Charmene Yap; right: Thomas Bradley and Cass Mortimer. Photos: © Ellis Parrinder, 2013. Courtesy Sydney Dance Company

There was nothing pastoral about the second section of the program, Les Illuminations. This was a darker side of life and featured just four dancers once more—Juliette Barton, Charmene Yap, Thomas Bradley and Cass Mortimer Eipper. The title Les Illuminations relates to a poem written by the Frenchman Arthur Rimbaud and the choreography seemed to me to have many elements that characterise Symbolism, a movement in the arts that was ‘in the air’ at the time when Rimbaud and his lover Paul Verlaine were writing. Ideas were suggested as dancers prowled around their long, narrow space casting telling glances at each other. Nothing seemed obvious. Maticevski’s costumes, this time sleeveless bodysuits in black with the addition of a black feathered headdress worn by Barton and a black face mask worn by Bradley, suggested a kind of decadence to me, again part of the Symbolist mood.

This second part of the program was certainly striking and as ever beautifully danced but I’m just not sure that the ideas that Rimbaud was writing about can be well portrayed through the medium of dance. It did, however, set up an effective contrast with Simple Symphony.

Michelle Potter, 1 September 2013.

NOTE: A dance work to Simple Symphony was first seen in Australia in October 1947 during a tour by Ballet Rambert. That version was choreographed by Walter Gore. Gore’s Simple Symphony was filmed in Brisbane (outdoors, or at least partly outdoors, if I remember correctly from watching the film some years ago) in 1948. Here is the National Film and Sound Archive’s catalogue record. Although of course Bonachela’s Simple Symphony is quite, quite different, it makes a nice tie-in with the Gore production, given Bonachela’s connections with Rambert Dance.