Arts / Artistic weight to the power of eight

“Orb”… Sydney Dance Company’s new double bill performance coming to Canberra later this month.

THE number eight can mean many things to many people, but to the artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela, it means he’s been at the helm of the flagship company for eight years.

His newest dance work is “Ocho” – “eight” in his mother tongue Spanish – and we’ll be seeing it soon at The Playhouse in the company’s double bill, “Orb”.

“Time flies,” Bonachela tells “CityNews” by phone from Sydney. “It has really gone fast, it takes so much to start working with a company, so it feels like three years.”

But if we’re talking numbers, he confides, the fact that he’s been here for eight years is more of a “nice coincidence” than anything. He normally works with 16 dancers, but with the visit of Taiwanese dance artist Cheng Tsung-lung to Australia to work on “Orb”, he’s split them down the middle, so that he gets eight dancers and so does Cheng.

Bonachela, a noted connoisseur of music, has been collaborating with one of his very favourite composers, Nick Wales.

“The first thing I thought about, even before I had a title, was that I wanted to work with Nick again,” he says.

“Orb”… Sydney Dance Company’s new double bill performance coming to Canberra later this month.

“After working on last year’s piece ‘Lux Tenebris’, I was left thinking how much common ground there was between his music and my physical language, but also there were interesting tensions between him as a composer and me as choreographer.”

After Wales said “yes”, they started playing with ideas for a 40-minute piece. Looking at the number of dancers, they looked at the shape of eight, finding the octagon to be an interesting shape. And if you turn it on its side, it can be the symbol for infinity. By chance, Wales found himself collaborating with Arnhem Land singer Rrawun Maymuru, who told him that in songlines of his family, the idea of infinity is “very sublime and important”.

Neither Wales nor Bonachela was thinking literally of an eight-beat rhythm, but they did find, in yet another nice coincidence, that the number eight in numerology is all about confidence, authority and dynamic determination, connecting with the idea of a solo dancer.

That was serendipitous, because Bonachela had been thinking he’d like to do something about the solo performer. It won’t be a series of traditional solos, he says, as the dancers are on stage all the time but there will be a real identity in a certain intensive idea that the soloist uses so that “each dancer’s uniqueness will come to light”.

The second part of the evening is a first, he believes, for Sydney Dance Company in having an Asian choreographer.

“Our dancers are from all around the world with very mixed backgrounds,” he says, so he set about looking for choreographers from Asia and found Cheng Tsung-lung.

“There is a lovely floating quality to his choreography, the way he conveys feelings and ideas in a unique language, giving audiences something they haven’t seen before,” he says.

“Full Moon”, inspired by the importance of the moon to Taiwanese and Chinese culture, will be, Bonachela believes, in marked contrast to his own more intense work and will be enhanced by the “unique but gorgeous” costumes by high-end fashion designer Fan Huai-chih.

“Orb”, Sydney Dance Company, The Playhouse, May 25-27. Bookings to or 6275 2700.


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