By Lisa Lanzi
Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela has now worked for a decade at the helm of the Sydney Dance Company and this triple bill features his newest work Cinco alongside award-winning female choreographers Gabrielle Nankivell and Melanie Lane. All three have remarkably talented dancers at their disposal to craft these very different works. The group mostly works well as an ensemble but it is their individual characteristics that elevates the performance to theatrical brilliance.
Nankivell’s movement language for Neon Aether was beautifully realised by the dancers but ultimately unsatisfying choreographically with quite vague program notes alluding to outer space, unknown futures and science fiction. There certainly were images that gave us the sense of moving in space, machine-like efficiency or celestial bodies connecting and reconnecting. However the movement, although atmospheric, was for much of the piece very grounded, simplistic and sombre.
Luke Smiles has created a cinematic-style soundscape for Neon Aether with dialogue, rocket launch sounds, electronica and a countdown punctuated throughout by total blackouts where sound was the star. Designer Harriet Oxley’s costume palette is one of smoky and very muted colours realised in sheer flight-suit-overall-style garments, or as my partner quipped “space genie attire”. The stage is empty except for a lot of haze and subtle lighting states by Damien Cooper; although toward the end the drama of the blackouts leads to very fast and dramatic re-positioning of the dancers across the stage, like a stop-motion track.
Bonachella’s Cinco (Spanish for five) was second on the program. To my mind this work took inspiration from William Forsythe (In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated) and Balanchine (Episodes or Agon). The music for Cinco is Alberto Ginastera’s 1958 String Quartet No.2 Op.26. In perfect synchronisation, music and audience blinders snap us into the first moment - very Forsythe. As lights return to more normal levels, five dancers are revealed in stillness at the extreme front of the stage.
The energetic work has the performers shifting seamlessly through unison, canon, duets, trios and riveting solos for Charmene Yap. There are complex lifts and intermingling of bodies in intricate floor patterns, deft repetitions of motifs and soaring elevated sections. It is a compelling work, and extremely demanding of the dancers. Bonachella’s choreography has definite balletic undertones overlaid with a broad and expert contemporary lexicon.
Costuming for Cinco is by fashion designer Bianca Spender with delicate, spare and flowing silks and subtle colours. As a complementary accompaniment to the choreography the silk elements take on a life of their own. It is the lighting design, again from Damien Cooper, that gifts Cinco with a heightened theatricality. At times, the lighting spots ‘chase’ the dancers and at other times it is the music that drives the sudden changing states. Colours are mostly subtle with occasional flashes of dramatic deep red-golds. This is a true collaboration of contemporary theatre artists resulting in an energetic and complex work.
WOOF is a work for the full company and Melanie Lane borrows unashamedly from visual arts, pop and trance culture, futuristic science-fiction and more. There are a series of silent tableaux in the first instance that bring to mind paintings like The Raft of the Medusa by Géricault, or perhaps a Caravaggio scene. During the piece the dancers prowl with a grotesque sexiness, pose as if inflicting themselves on social media and strut in camp or animalistic styles. There is skilled use of repetition and rhythmic shaking, stepping or jumping and at times the faces of the performers brutally snap, sneer or stare.
With their hands and wrists dipped in black each dancer is clothed by Aleisa Jelbart in collaboration with Lane in various styles and textures of beige, reminiscent of Yeezy fashion. The dark greasepaint gradually besmirches both costumes and flesh as WOOF unfolds, further uniting the performers as a community with a shared goal. There is humour and poignancy and although the movement is not complex or overly dance-like the whole is very powerful.
The soundtrack by composer (and Lane’s husband) Chris Clark is eloquent and fitting but does not dominate the movement. Verity Hampson’s lighting design remains at a low level for the most part and bodies emerge from or disappear into the dystopian gloom. For the most part there is a warm tone to the light with here and there a crackle or shimmer of brightness or blackout, like a faulty film projection, that aligns with the soundscape and provides an unsettling air.
It is exciting to have SDC and their world-class dancers return to Adelaide with such diverse works for this celebratory tour in honour of the company’s fifty year history. They have held such an important place in Australia’s dance landscape and hopefully will continue to surprise and delight audiences for many more years.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.