Scene from 'Ocho'. Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

‘ORB.’ Sydney Dance Company

An expanded version of my Canberra Times review of ORB is below. The shorter review is as yet unpublished. [Update: The review appeared in print on 2 June 2017. Here is a link to the online version]

Canberra Theatre, 25 May 2017

Full Moon, choreography Cheng Tsung-Lung, music Lim Giong, costume design Fan Huai-Chih, lighting design Damien Cooper. Ocho, choreography Rafael Bonachela, music Nick Wales featuring vocals by Rrawun Maymuru, costume and set design David Fleischer, lighting design Damien Cooper.

The dancers of Sydney Dance Company have once again stunned audiences with their extraordinary physical skills in a double bill program with the over-arching title of ORB. Explosive, athletic, swirling, superbly controlled, fast-paced, and many other expressions come to mind. Can their techniques get any better? I ask this question of myself every season and every season I ponder how they can continue to perform with such passion and power. ORB can give huge pleasure from thinking purely of the physical execution of the choreography.

But the program becomes totally fascinating if one delves a little further. Take Full Moon, which opens the program, for example. Each of the eight dancers in this work is dressed differently, and spectacularly so by Taiwanese fashion designer Fan Huai-Chih. And it turns out that each represents a different character associated in some way with the moon.

Latisha Sparks in 'Full Moon'. Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Latisha Sparks in Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Latisha Sparks, dressed in a bright red, tiered and flounced dress (red being the colour of luck and happiness), represented a female warrior, with a nod to the Hindu deity Shiva who often is portrayed with a crescent moon on  his forehead. Shiva is also said to have ‘matted hair’ and Sparks’ hair certainly looked rather tousled on the night I saw the show. Was she wearing a wig, I asked myself? Then, choreographically, Sparks’ continuous whirling arm and hand movements recalled the multiple arms of some representations of Shiva, and her writhing and rolling movements across the stage suggested engagement as a warrior in battle.

Jesse Scales was also fabulously dressed in a silvery-white dress of clean-cut but off-centre lines. She was the rabbit in the moon from Chinese mythology. Her movements were often tiny, darting and filled with small jumps.

Jesse Scales in Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

There was very little contact between each of the characters and, as they performed their individual dances, there was often stillness or just a hint of slow, controlled movement from the other characters. Bernhard Knauer in fact spent much of the time frozen in a meditative position.

Latisha Sparks and Bernhard Knauer in 'Full Moon', Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Latisha Sparks and Bernhard Knauer in Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

The whole work was ablaze with references to deities and mythological creatures, and was filled with juxtapositions of movement and stillness.

Ocho, on the other hand, did not focus on stillness, even though there were times when several of the dancers were enclosed inside David Fleischer’s industrial-looking concrete and glass box that comprised the set: they mostly watched other dancers performing outside the box. Bonachela made Ocho (eight in Spanish) in his eighth year as artistic director of Sydney Dance Company and has used eight dancers in the work. But, like most of Bonachela’s works, there is nothing particularly significant in a narrative sense about the title. Ocho, the work, is contemporary dance in which we are left to have an opinion of our own, which may or may not be the same as anyone else’s.

I found the work, with its grinding score by Nick Wales, and its often-gloomy lighting by Damien Cooper, unsettling and harsh. This feeling was perhaps accentuated because, while watching it, it was impossible not to be thinking of the capriciousness of Full Moon. As well, Ocho‘s down-to-earth costuming (by David Fleischer) couldn’t have been more different from that of Full Moon. But then Ocho was meant to have an industrial feel to it and it succeeded in doing just that.

Scene from 'Ocho', Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from Ocho, Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

What was interesting was the fact that Bonachela used his dancers in this work more as soloists than as members of an ensemble—Charmene Yap had the standout solo for me. Nevertheless, there were some sections in which unison movement shone and these sections seemed to fit the music better, or at least made it seem less harsh. Another notable feature, this time of the score, was Wales’ incorporation of vocals from indigenous singer Rrawun Maymuru. I was expecting the score to change pace somewhat at this stage, but the change was to my mind only minimal. The volume and pounding quality continued.

Sydney Dance Company continues to push the boundaries of contemporary dance and for that Bonachela deserves admiration. We, as audience members, need to be pushed into new dance experiences, and Sydney Dance Company certainly does that.

Michelle Potter 31 May, 2017

Featured image: Scene from Ocho. Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from 'Ocho'. Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

 

 

Scene from 'Anima', Sydney Dance Company, 2016. Photo: ©Pedro Greig

‘Untamed’. Sydney Dance Company

My review of Sydney Dance Company’s Untamed, a double bill consisting of Gabrielle Nankivell’s Wildebeest and Rafael Bonachela’s Anima, is now available on DanceTabs at this link.

Those who were lucky enough to see this show on opening night were, I feel sure, taken by the colourful T-shirt worn by Bonachela as he took a curtain call with his collaborators. The message on it read: Say ‘I do’ Down Under.

Michelle Potter, 23 October 2016

Featured image: Scene from Anima, Sydney Dance Company, 2016. Photo: © Pedro Greig

 Scene from 'Anima', Sydney Dance Company, 2016. Photo: Pedro Greig

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

Sydney Dance Company's 'Frame of Mind' featuring Richard Cilli and Jesse Scales. Photo: Peter Greig

‘Frame of Mind’. Sydney Dance Company

My review of Sydney Dance Company’s new program, Frame of Mind, encompassing William Forsythe’s Quintett and Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind, is now available on DanceTabs at this link. This program was ecstatically received on opening night, 9 March 2015 at Sydney Theatre, and deservedly so. It tours to Canberra in April–May and Melbourne in May.

Sydney Dance Company's 'Quintett' featuring Chloe Yeong and Sam Young-Wright. Photo: Peter Greig

Chloe Leong and Sam Young-Wright in William Forsythe’s Quintett, Sydney Dance Company.  Photo: © Peter Greig

The Forsythe piece, danced to Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ blood never failed me yet, reminded me of an event that occurred several years ago now, at a time when people used to go into shops to buy their music. My husband went into a then very well-known music store in Canberra (since closed down) to try to buy a copy of the Gavin Bryars’ work. ‘Oh,’ said the gentleman behind the counter, ‘we have been trying to move this CD for some time. Here, have this copy with our compliments.’

Well, Forsythe’s use of the homeless man’s chant in Quintett was absolutely fascinating. The diversity of the emotions expressed in the choreography was a perfect foil for the repetition of the words and by the end, as the score grew louder and the music became a dominant feature, the optimism of the homeless man soared. It was quite stunning.

Michelle Potter, 11 March 2015

Featured image: Richard Cilli and Jesse Scales in Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind, Sydney Dance Company. Photo: © Peter Greig

Sydney Dance Company's 'Frame of Mind' featuring Richard Cilli and Jesse Scales. Photo: Peter Greig

'Inside There Falls', Sydney Festival. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2015

‘Inside There Falls’. Mira Calix and Sydney Dance Company

17 January 2015, Carriageworks, Eveleigh (Sydney). Sydney Festival 2015

My review of the Sydney Festival production of Inside There Falls, a collaboration between London-based artist and musician, Mira Calix, and Sydney Dance Company, has been posted on DanceTabs at this link.

In addition to the photographs published with the article, most of which were kindly supplied by the Sydney Festival, below are some I took during my visit to the installation — and yes, for once photography was allowed! They show the two dancers I saw, Sam Young-Wright and Laura Wood.

Sam Young-Wright in Inside There Falls. Photo Michelle Potter 2015
Sam Young-Wright and Laura Wood in 'Inside There Falls'. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2015

Michelle Potter, 19 January 2015

Featured image: Scene from Inside there falls, Sydney Festival 2015. Photo: Michelle Potter

'Inside There Falls', Sydney Festival. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2015

Dance diary. September 2014

  • Devdas the musical

In August The Canberra Times published my review of Devdas the musical, a show billed as a Bollywood-style event. One dancer stood out for me. She was young but her potential was obvious. There were no programs available for the Canberra showing—someone told me they had been left behind in Sydney—so I was unable to name this dancer in my review. Since then I have discovered that her name is Divya Saxena and I am pleased to be able to post a photo of her in her role as the young Chandramukhi in Devdas the musical.

Divya Saxena as the young

Divya Saxena (centre) as the young Chandramukhi in Devdas the musical

I think her presence as a performer is clearly evident in this photo and her dancing had a similar power. I look forward to following her progress over the next few years.

The Canberra Times review is at this link.

  • Liz Lea

Liz Lea is reworking her show from 2013 about South African anti-apartheid activist and former political prisoner, Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada. The new production will feature a reworked version of her solo from 2013—reworked into three shorter solos—along with appearances by tabla player Bobby Singh; GOLD, Canberra’s mature age dance group; Kathak dancer Shruti Ghosh; and African dance and drumming group, Troupe Olabisi.

Liz Lea in her solo from 'Kathrada 50/25', 2013

Liz Lea in her solo from Kathrada 50/25, 2013. Photo: Lorna Sim

Sadly for dance in Canberra, Lea has not been successful recently in obtaining artsACT funding for her work, so for this new show she has turned to crowd funding to assist with expenses. An online plea (now closed) for funding via Pozible is at this link. It shows excerpts from the 2013 show, including parts of Lea’s solo, and gives a clear picture of the theatrical breadth of the show.

Kathrada 50/25 (the title is explained in the Pozible footage) in its new guise is at Gorman House Arts Centre, Canberra, on 1 and 2 November 2014 (not 18 and 19 October as originally planned).
Kathrada poster 2014

  • Rafael Bonachela in the Art Gallery of NSW

I continue to be surprised at the activities of Rafael Bonachela, artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, who has embraced his Australian role with unabashed enthusiasm. He and composer Nick Wales are being interviewed tomorrow (1 October) by Tom Tilley of Triple J on the inspiration they draw from poetry in the creation of their work, specifically Bonachela’s piece Louder than Words. It is part of the celebrity event series at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

  • Press for September

An American dream. Program article for the Australian tour by American Ballet Theatre.

‘Dance feast on the cards with two tours next year.’ Preview of 2015 Canberra seasons by the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company, The Canberra Times, 20 September 2014, ARTS p. 21. Online

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2014

Paul Knobloch joins Sydney Dance Company

Good news from Canberra dancer Paul Knobloch who will be joining Sydney Dance Company for its upcoming 45th anniversary tour to Western Australia, Queensland and regional New South Wales. The company will be taking their multi award winning work, 2 One Another, on this tour which will take in small and large cities from Perth to Mackay to Dubbo. Earlier this year Bonachela explained his interest in regional touring:

‘The regional touring is something very close to my heart because I come from a very small town myself. I believe that we can change people’s lives through dance. We need to benchmark ourselves against leading companies overseas but we need to be seen across Australia as well’.

Knobloch has been teaching in Canberra just recently at the Canberra Dance Development Centre and it is good to see him returning to his performing career once more. The tour begins in Perth on 18 June and runs through until August finishing up in the New South Wales central western city of Orange.

P

For more about Paul Knobloch’s career see the posts at this link.

Michelle Potter, 9 May 2014

 

Rafael Bonachela and ‘Interplay’

In January I talked to Rafael Bonachela, largely about his new triple bill program, Interplay, which will open in Sydney in March and then travel to Canberra in April and onwards from there. Interplay features brand new works from Bonachela and Gideon Obarzanek and a return to Australia of Jacopo Godani’s Raw Models.

Rafael Bonachela at Walsh Bay. Photo Peter Grieg

Rafael Bonachela at Walsh Bay. Photo: Peter Grieg

It is hard to think of anyone who has such enthusiasm and passion for dance, or anyone who loves talking so generously about what he is doing. The story has just been posted on DanceTabs. Here is the link.

INTERPLAY
Choreography by Rafael Bonachela, Gideon Obarzanek and Jacopo Godani

SYDNEY:  15 March – 5 April, Sydney Theatre
CANBERRA: 10–12 April, Canberra Theatre Centre
MELBOURNE: 30 April – 10 May, Southbank Theatre

See sydneydancecompany.com for more details

Michelle Potter, 4 February 2014

Dance diary. January 2014

  • Graduation Ball

In January I received a query via the contact box on this site about some YouTube footage of Graduation Ball. I had never come across this footage before and sadly the vision is of very poor quality. The material has obviously been transferred from format to format on more than one occasion. As for the query, it concerned the date of the footage and eventually I suggested the date of 1947–1949 from the late period of de Basil’s company in the United States. What made me initially feel that it was late 1940s was that I thought I saw, for a flash, Valrene Tweedie as one of the ‘fouetté girls’. In one of the interviews I did with Tweedie I asked her about the roles she had danced in Graduation Ball and she mentioned that she had been one of the ‘fouetté girls’ for de Basil towards the end of her career with him. Watching the footage, I thought I caught a glimpse of a familiar facial expression. Peering hard at the opening credits, I noticed the name Paul Grinwis, and further investigation confirmed that Grinwis had been with de Basil in the late 1940s, which confirmed my initial dating.

Below are links to the two segments of footage. Any further information would be most welcome

Part one Part two

  • Bodenwieser news

Further information about some of the images in the National Library’s Bodenwieser collection has recently come to light. Those close to Bodenwwieser recently identified the ‘unknown dancers’ in some of the Library’s digitised images. The most interesting comments concern a photograph of dancers on what has been regarded as a 1950s New Zealand tour. Well this is probably not the case.

Dancers of the Bodenwieser Ballet, ca. 1948

Bodenwieser dancers. Papers of Gertrud Bodenwieser, MS 9263. National Library of Australia

The dancers in the image above have been identified as L—R back row: Jean Raymond, Madame Bodenwieser, Pamela Mossman, Dory Stern; L—R front row: Elaine Vallance, Coralie Hinkley, Mardi Watchorn, Eileen Cramer, Denise Searlie. Those who appeared with Bodenwieser around this time say that neither Pamela Mossman nor Denise Searlie performed in New Zealand and that their time with the company was earlier than the date of 1950 given on the record. They believe that the photograph was taken around June 1948 (the weather is cool as suggested by their clothing) and at that time the Bodenwieser Ballet performed in Brisbane and on the north coast of NSW. They suspect the photograph was shot at Brisbane Railway Station. The National Library catalogue record should reflect this new information shortly.

  • Coming soon

My recent interview with Rafael Bonachela is due to be posted soon on the DanceTabs website. I spoke to Bonachela in mid-January and, as ever, was overwhelmed by the passion and generosity of Sydney Dance Company’s current artistic director. A link to the post is forthcoming.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2014

 

‘Project Rameau’. Sydney Dance Company & Australian Chamber Orchestra

12 September 2013, Canberra Theatre

As the curtain went up on Project Rameau in Canberra, with the Australian Chamber Orchestra seated on a platform at the back of the stage space and the dancers of Sydney Dance Company lined up in front of the platform, I wondered whether this collaboration would in fact work. One or two companies have been critical of the Canberra Theatre space because of its relatively small performing area (compared with some stages in Sydney and Melbourne), and there before my eyes were two companies sharing the stage. Well I need not have worried. Project Rameau was one of those made-in-heaven collaborations and the size of the stage seemed of little consequence and, after all, exceptional artists are always adaptable.

Musically Project Rameau consisted of nineteen selections of music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, two by Antonio Vivaldi and a single piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. Sydney Dance Company’s director, Rafael Bonachela, responded choreographically to this musical selection with a varied series of dances ranging from duets and trios to pieces for larger groups, at times for his entire ensemble of dancers. Occasionally within these group pieces, we saw short, mesmerising solos.

Scene from 'Project Rameau'. Photo: Justine WalpoleCharmene Yap and Bernhard Knauer in a duet from Project Rameau. Sydney Dance Company, 2013. Photo: © Justine Walpole

Several pieces stood out. I especially admired the dance made to the presto movement from ‘Summer’’ in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This trio for one female and two male dancers overflowed with energy as Janessa Dufty was tossed through the air between her two partners. In contrast was a slow, intimate duet for two men danced to a section from Rameau’s Castor and Pollux.

But the true colours of Sydney Dance Company shone in the dances made for the full company. Here Bonachela created a sense of hierarchy and formality looking back to the courtly nature of Baroque dance, with the odd wiggle of the backside thrown in. And the precision of those dancers as they moved together was absolutely stunning. Dance director Amy Hollingsworth take a bow for magnificent skills in the rehearsal room. Moving in unison creates perfection in patterns and that was what we got.

I never tire of watching Chen Wen. I admire the sense of shape and space in his every movement, not to mention his athleticism and his beautifully stretched extensions. The other individual dancer who stood out for me in Project Rameau was Andrew Crawford, dancing with exceptional fluidity. He makes a great partner too for Juliette Barton. But it is with reservation that I single out any one dancer. They are such a wonderful ensemble of movers and it is an absolute joy to watch them.

Ben Cisterne’s lighting added a very contemporary element to the show but also realised ingeniously that sense of perspective that marked Baroque stages.

Project Rameau was nothing short of an enthralling collaboration with a thrilling final sequence to a contra danse from Rameau’s Les Boréades that turned into a choreographed curtain call.

Michelle Potter, 14 September 2013

Read my preview story on Project Rameau published in The Canberra Times, 31 August 2013, at this link.