Holly Doyle, Charmene Yap, Chloe Leong, Davide Di Giovanni. and Riley Fitzgeralnd in Rafael Bonachela's 'Cinco'. Sydney Dance Company 2019. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro

Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane. Sydney Dance Company

27 March 2019. Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay (Sydney)

It is 50 years since Sydney Dance Company (under a different name or two in its early years) gave its first performance. The time had come to commemorate the company’s remarkable longevity, and its absolute commitment to contemporary dance. Rafael Bonachela’s first season for this anniversary year celebrated with a triple bill consisting of a brand new work from Bonachela himself, and works from two female choreographers, Gabrielle Nankivell and Melanie Lane.

The program opened with Nankivell’s Neon Aether, which to me was not the strongest work of the evening, although it was the loudest and the one that included the most confronting elements. It was difficult to fathom exactly what was going on onstage, what the work was ‘about’. The choreographer’s statement that it was ‘an ode to the burning intangibles that fuel our imagination’ didn’t help, and the most confronting bit was that often there was a sudden, long-ish blackout and a recorded announcement (part of the score by Luke Smiles) could be heard during the blackout. The announcement had something to do with a voyage in space. The blackout bit seemed to me to be a somewhat outmoded way of presenting an idea. This aspect of Neon Aether reminded me of William Forsythe’s Artifact, which goes way back to 1984, when dropping the house curtain at various stages throughout the work, and thus obscuring our view of the dancing, seemed an outrageous step forward that made us question many things. Not any more. I found the blackouts in Neon Aether an annoyance. While the dancing was spectacularly good, as we have come to expect from Sydney Dance Company, the work just left me a little cold.

Scene from Gabrielle Nankivell’s Neon Aether. Sydney Dance Company, 2019. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Bonachela’s Cinco followed. Made on just five dancers to five movements of a string quartet by Alberto Ginastera, the number five is of course a reference to five decades of dance from Sydney Dance Company. But, like most of Bonachela’s works, it was inspired not by any narrative idea but by the changing patterns and rhythms of the music. Its combination of solos and unison pieces was often filled with the unexpected, but was always a visual delight. And the silken costumes by Bianca Spender were also visually fascinating, flying around the dancers’ bodies with every move those dancers made.

Dancers of Sydney Dance Company in Rafael Bonachela's 'Cinco', 2019. Photo: © Pedro Greig
Dancers of Sydney Dance Company in Rafael Bonachela’s Cinco, 2019. Photo: © Pedro Greig

The absolute highlight of the evening for me was Lane’s somewhat eccentric work WOOF. It began with the twelve dancers who made up the cast grouping themselves and holding the pose for a short time, giving us the opportunity to take in the complexity of those group shapes. What was going on between them? Some of the groupings even seemed ferocious with a large group of dancers growling at a much smaller group.

Scene from Melanie Lane’s WOOF. Sydney Dance Company 2019. Photo:
© Pedro Greig

As movement took over from stationary groups, I admired Lane’s awareness of the space of the stage and how to fill it, or leave it empty, for maximum effect, not to mention her juxtaposition of movement and stillness. And her movement vocabulary with its tiny runs on half pointe with bent knees, or its group marching, or its eccentric details of head and arms, was fascinating to the point of being exciting. With its emphasis on groups and their interrelationships, along with the often relentless quality of the work, aided by a commissioned score from composer Clark (who does not use a first name on the program), it reminded me of a contemporary version of Rite of Spring. It was an outstanding work that generated an exceptional audience response.

The diversity of material that the dancers were asked to perform in this triple bill was remarkable and, in their usual fashion, they rose to the occasion and looked stupendous throughout.

Michelle Potter, 6 April 2019

Featured image: Holly Doyle, Charmene Yap, Chloe Leong, Davide Di Giovanni, and Riley Fitzgerald in Rafael Bonachela’s Cinco. Sydney Dance Company 2019. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro

Holly Doyle, Charmene Yap, Chloe Leong, Davide Di Giovanni. and Riley Fitzgeralnd in Rafael Bonachela's 'Cinco'. Sydney Dance Company 2019. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro
Scene from 'Anima', Sydney Dance Company, 2016. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Untamed. Sydney Dance Company

19 October 2016. Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney

The latest program from Sydney Dance Company—a double bill with the title Untamed—showed once again what a high energy, physically accomplished company Sydney Dance is. Gabrielle Nankivell’s Wildebeest opened the evening and opened it in an extraordinary manner with a solo from Bernhard Knauer. ‘The wildebeest as image morphs easily between living animal and fanciful creature’ writes choreographer Nankivell in her program note and Knauer was given movements that were eccentric, idiosyncratic, half human, half beast. The wildebeest was never quite sure of his true nature (or her nature as the case may be since Knauer alternates in the role with Juliette Barton). But the animal struggles to be born into the world with a shudder and a shake and often a kind of liquid movement within those animal limbs.

From the opening solo the work proceeds through a series of further solos, duets, trios and quartets and, against the pack-like, wild and wilful movements, a certain vulnerability creeps in at times when small, intricate movements of the head, hands, fingers and other extremities of the body become visible. Then there are sections where the entire cast moves in a mechanical fashion, like clockwork. And yet, within these sections, we often see a single dancer moving erratically through the order like a misfit in an ordered world. A powerful duet from Todd Sutherland and Holly Doyle had antagonistic overtones while Janessa Dufty stood out throughout the work, especially in her closing solo.

For better or worse we have become accustomed to dark lighting of contemporary dance these days but, for once, Wildebeest’s gloomy lighting (by Benjamin Cisterne), which was punctuated by sudden, sharp, completely unexpected flashes of brightness, was appropriate to the theme of the work. I was lucky, however, to be sitting quite close to the action so I’m not sure how the gloom looked from further back. A soundscape by Luke Smiles rode beautifully with the action. Its sounds were often as startling and unexpected as the movement but, like the lighting, totally appropriate for the nature of the work. Smiles and Nankivell have been working together for several years now and their understanding of each other’s work was clearly evident. I admired Fiona Holley’s simple, easy-flowing, red earth coloured costumes.

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

After the extremes and idiosyncracies of Wildebeest, the second work on the program, Rafael Bonachela’s new work, Anima, had something of a romantic feel to it. True, its choreography was highly physical and without a narrative line in the manner we have come to expect from Bonachela. But along with the extended limbs, the partnering involving turning, twisting bodies being flung about, and the fast and thrilling movement around the stage, there were moments that were thoughtful in nature, when a humanistic approach seemed to surface.

Anima opened strongly with a duet between Juliette Barton and Izzac Carroll, which in particular showed off Barton’s delicious, long-limbed extensions and her absolute control of every movement. But at the heart of Anima is a male duet, long and intimate, although punctuated by occasional tension, between Cass Mortimer Eipper and Petros Treklis. The male duet has become something of a signature element for Bonachela and this one, which required huge stamina and body strength from Eipper and Treklis, was filled with exceptional moments when we had to ponder at the nature of the relationship between the two protagonists.

Group sections broke up the focus on duets, trios and quartets and Sydney Dance Company dancers have a remarkable facility for unison dancing, which always surprises me given the speed at which the dancers are usually asked to move in such sections and the individual qualities Bonachela’s dancers always display in their work. Bonachela’s group sections give me a shiver of excitement.

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

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

Lighting for Anima was also by Cisterne and several sections were lit red. Sometimes we also saw abstracted, coloured shapes dancing across the back screen. I’m not sure that these coloured lighting effects offered anything additional to Anima and I would have preferred the more ordered (or less colourful and fanciful) approach that usually marks Cisterne’s designs. There was enough emotion generated by the music from Bulgarian-born, London-based Dobrinka Tabakova, and from Bonachela’s intuitive response to this music, Insight for string trio, created by Tabakova in 2002. Aleisa Jelbart’s white/grey costumes occasionally looked too much like underwear for my liking, but luckily there was so much else to focus on that they didn’t detract too much from the overall experience.

Anima was greeted with tumultuous applause. People stood, a few left their seats and rushed towards the stage, while the dancers taking their bows could not hide their pleasure at this response. But of the two works Wildebeest was, for me, the more thrilling, more creative, more satisfying work.

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

Michelle Potter, 23 October 2016

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

This review was originally published 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.