My review of the premiere of Ascent, the latest triple bill program from Sydney Dance Company, has been posted on Dance Australia. See this link.
Two of the three items in the program were world premieres. The third, Antony Hamilton’s Forever & Ever, was first staged by Sydney Dance Company in 2018. One of the most interesting features of Ascent was in fact seeing Forever & Ever once more. When I reviewed it earlier on this website—see this link—it was the extraordinary costuming that stood out for me. Seeing the work again I was prepared for the costumes, and the way they changed and changed over the course of the work. So this time there were other things to look into, in particular the pounding score by Julian Hamilton, and the remarkable choreography, especially that for the closing scene and how well it reflected that score (and vice versa).
Below are images from Rafael Bonachela’s I Am-ness, which opened the program, and from Marina Mascarell’s The Shell, a Ghost, the Host and a Lyrebird, which was the middle work. They complement the images available on the Dance Australia page.
2023 marks Rafael Bonachela’s fifteenth year as artistic director of Sydney Dance Company and he has announced that he will continue in the role for another five years. The 2023 season will open with a triple bill called Ascent co-commissioned by the Canberra Theatre Centre. As such it will have its opening performances in Canberra followed by a season at the Sydney Opera House as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the House.
Ascent will feature a brand-new work by Bonachela, the return of Forever and Ever by Antony Hamilton, first shown in 2018, and a world premiere by Spanish choreographer Marina Mascarell. Of the program Bonachela says, ‘After the challenges of the past few years, I am so pleased to again be commissioning an international artist whose works have garnered critical acclaim around the world, alongside showcasing the work of a brilliant Australian choreographer.’
And I am so pleased that Canberra will be the city hosting the premiere of Ascent. Sydney Dance Company has been touring to Canberra pretty much annually (last year, 2021, is the only exception that stands out in my mind) since the 1970s. It is great to see this initiative, for which we must acknowledge the Canberra Theatre Trust for its co-commission.
Further information on the 2023 season is available on the Sydney Dance Company website. It includes information on the company’s regional tour, and its season of Up Close, a new venture to bring the company and audiences closer together and which will include a new work from Bonachela called Somos (meaning ‘we are’ in Spanish).
Launch of Glimpses of Graeme
Hobart, more specifically the Battery Point Community Hall, was the site for the launch of my latest book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy. The event was beautifully hosted by the Hobart Bookshop and it was a full house for the conversation between Graeme and me, which was moderated by Lucinda Sharp. Also featured were two short excerpts from works created for MADE by Murphy and danced by Sue Pickard and Laura Della-Pasqua, the official launch by Shirley Gibson from MADE, and a book signing.
In the image below, taken at the end of the event, see (l-r) Lucinda Sharp, dancer Susan Pickard, Michelle Potter, Graeme Murphy, Bronwyn Chalke (owner of Hobart Bookshop), dancer Laura Della-Pasqua (at rear), Shirley Gibson from MADE who did the official launch, and Janet Vernon.
Copies of Glimpses of Graeme are available from FortySouth online book store at this link.
Eileen Kramer turns 108
Early in November Eileen Kramer, once a dancer with Gertrud Bodenwieser, celebrated her 108th birthday. These days she works closely with film maker Sue Healey and a group of close friends in Sydney, where she currently lives.
See this tag for posts about Kramer on this site. My favourite is a link to a film made by Healey in 2017, which won an Australian Dance Award. Happy returns to Eileen Kramer.
News from James Batchelor
James Batchelor’s Shortcuts to familiar places premiered in Berlin in October and was toured to Bangkok in November. Batchelor has recently shared two comments on the work, including one from Australian dance artist Alice Heyward. Heyward’s essay is beautifully and thoughtfully written and constructed and so worth reading. Here is the link.
On a double bill program it would be hard to find two dance works as diametrically opposed, or so it seemed on the surface, as Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind and Antony Hamilton’s Forever & Ever. Together they made up Sydney Dance Company’s newest season, which goes under the umbrella name of Forever & Ever.
Frame of Mind is not new, having had its inaugural season in Sydney in 2015. Then I was especially taken with the way the work was structured. I wrote on DanceTabs:
I loved how this work was structured choreographically. More and more Bonachela makes use of the full company in segments where unison dancing dominates. Against this he gives us powerful solos—solos by David Mack and Cass Mortimer Eipper were especially strong—or fluidly moving quartets, trios and duets. Richard Cilli and Jesse Scales had an especially smooth duet filled with swirling, circular movements. The work was also nicely paced, with Cisterne’s lighting providing moments of half-light as visual contrast.
Although there have been several cast changes since then, the structure of Frame of Mind remains as beautifully organised as ever. But this time I was sitting in the front row of the Roslyn Packer Theatre and I had a very different view of the performance. I could not help but be astonished at the incredible dancing of every single performer. Their attention to even the tiniest detail of Bonachela’s choreography was masterful, and Bonachela’s choreography is certainly filled with detail, and with all kinds of unexpected moves on unexpected parts of the body. I was struck too by the extreme physicality of the dancers, their finely honed musculature, their at times unbelievable flexibility, and their unwavering commitment to perfection. All these features have always been obvious but from row A in the theatre these qualities came home with much greater emphasis.
It was also a thrill to have live music with the Australian String Quartet playing three of Bryce Dessner’s captivating compositions for strings.
Bonachela’s choreography has always been characterised by a satisfying flow of movement. So it was something of a shock to be confronted by Hamilton’s much more sharply angular, robotic choreography and static poses in Forever & Ever, which was the second work on the program. At times I was reminded of clockwork toys and, with the poses, there were moments when I thought either of Lego figures or, at the other end of the spectrum, suprematist images (from the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, for example).
Jesse Scales led the cast of Forever & Ever and did so with strength and clarity from the beginning, which began on a half-lit stage before the audience had quietened down after the interval. And did they quieten down when suddenly, and without warning, the stage lit up with a bang!
Then there were the costumes. The elegant, black, subtly diverse, easy-to-dance-in costumes by Ralph Myers for Frame of Mind stood in dramatic contrast to the costumes for Forever & Ever by Paula Levis. These latter costumes were of all shapes and colours and included long, black hooded gowns with sharply pointed, cone-shaped white ‘gloves’ (for want of a better word); white monks’ garb (the ‘monks’ also carried lanterns which lit up occasionally); white, puffy jackets over black and white zig-zag patterned pants; mustard yellow jumpers, short black pants; and lots more. And costumes were freely and frequently removed to reveal new items underneath them. (You can see the discarded items piled up at the back of the stage in the featured image to this review).
But in the end the costuming, as incredible as it was, bore little relation to anything, a bit like the theory of deconstruction where meaning is meaningless. Discarding one costume for another, willy-nilly, made it clear that no costume had an intrinsic meaning within the work, even though we could draw conclusions about them using our memory of other things. Which brings me to the next point. Despite the obvious differences between the two works, there was something similar about them. Bonachela always suggests that his abstract works are open to interpretation. Sometimes he mentions his own inspiration behind a particular work, but always we are left to find our own emotional ‘meaning’ in his works. With Hamilton, at least in this case, his postmodern technique of making references to many things meant that no one aspect seemed dominant. So, as with Bonachela’s work, we were left to make up a meaning for ourselves, if we felt the need. Or, we could simply say there is no definitive interpretation of anything, which seemed to me to be in the spirit of Hamilton’s work.
This program was remarkable for showing us the breadth of what contemporary dance can accomplish. But the most exciting bit was that both works were stunningly danced.