Momenta. Sydney Dance Company

21 June 2024. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

Below is a slightly enlarged version of my review of momenta, originally published online by Dance Australia on 24 June 2024. A link to the Dance Australia version is at this link.

The word momenta is the plural form of momentum, a word that means ‘the product of the mass and velocity of an object’. Momenta is also the title of the latest work from Rafael Bonachela, current artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, and there have been several explanations of why Bonachela titled the work as he did. Some are quite complex and don’t help much with understanding what Bonachela was considering as he created the work. But no matter how we might discuss the word, Bonachela’s work momenta was certainly filled with mass and velocity with the ‘objects’ being the extraordinary dancers who make up the current composition of Sydney Dance Company.

The work began with some remarkable unison dancing and this is an aspect of Bonachela’s choreography that I have admired over several decades. He has a gift for grouping dancers in constantly changing arrangements, and for giving those dancers such a varied selection of movement, poses and uses of space within a unison component. The opening section of momenta often had the dancers working on the floor and using their lifted legs as a focus, which initially seemed somewhat unusual as a component of Bonachela’s approach to unison work. But no matter how or where the dancers were positioned, they responded with an input that took the breath away.

Those opening moments set the scene for what followed and as momenta progressed the large groupings broke down into solos, duets, trios and other arrangements of performers until we reached the end sections when the unison work began again. Momenta was very much an abstract work for me, but it was compositionally varied within that overall abstraction and as such the choreography never lost its engrossing quality.

An absolute highlight was a duet between Naiara de Matos and Piran Scott, while the work of Emily Seymour also stood out. But it is quite astonishing to watch the flexibility, the fluidity, the energy and the absolute attention to the tiniest choreographic detail from every single dancer in the current company, many of whom are relatively new performers of Bonachela’s work.

Naiara de Matos and Piran Scott in a duet from momenta. Sydney Dance Company, 2024. Photo: © Pedro Greig

In terms of collaborative input, the highlight was the lighting from Damien Cooper. It was mostly relatively dark, although the colour of that darkness was not always the black we might have expected. As the work progressed, there were hints of dark green, sudden flashes of red, a burst of white cloud, at times a sudden brightness, and at others a mysterious hazy quality (especially, although not exclusively, when that white cloud began to dissipate). The lighting design was enhanced by the constant presence of a circular rig of 19 spotlights that moved up, down and around in the performing space and limited, at times, where the dancers could gather. The movement of the rig was beautifully controlled so that it appeared to be an essential part of the choreography.

The soundscape came from Nick Wales whose original, commissioned composition incorporated Distant Light by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks. Costumes and set were by Elizabeth Gadsby with assistance from Emma White. The costumes were varied (a little) in style and colour but there was a minimalist quality to them in keeping with the overall abstract quality of the work. Their simplicity gave the dancers every opportunity to show that the focus of momenta was the body in motion.

The cast of momenta. Sydney Dance Company, 2024. Photo: © Pedro Greig

The work closed with showers of small pieces of sparkling cellophane falling onto the stage and out into the auditorium. I’m not sure why this happened and it was perhaps the one aspect of momenta that seemed entirely unnecessary. But momenta was such an absorbing production that this odd addition could just be pushed aside and basically forgotten.

The work is a huge credit to the underlying approach to contemporary dance that we have come to expect from Bonachela in his leadership of Sydney Dance Company.

Michelle Potter, 25 June 2024

Featured image: A solo section from momenta. Sydney Dance Company, 2024. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Postscript: There were some great production shots from momenta but they were not captioned with the names of dancers. Why? As a result I have limited myself to just three shots, one of which I was able to caption (hopefully correctly).

3 thoughts on “Momenta. Sydney Dance Company

  1. I was advised that a comment had been made about the costumes for momenta on Dance Australia‘s Facebook page. The comment asked why the dancers of Sydney Dance Company ‘dance in underwear’!

    I don’t use Facebook so am making my comment about that remark here. The dancers of Sydney Dance Company do often wear costumes that seem to be little more than underwear (see image above) and to me that reflects Bonachela’s approach to choreography where the major focus is the body in motion. Underwear-style costumes do not detract from that idea.

    But the underwear comment is an interesting one and worth considering.

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