It’s a mighty mix when music meets dance

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CANBERRA audiences will soon be treated to a mighty collaboration between Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Respective artistic directors Rafael Bonachela and Richard Tognetti have blended dance and music in “Project Rameau”, a meld of refined contemporary dance, perfectly performed string music and spectacular costumes.

It is an extraordinary mix of French Baroque dance music by Jean-Philippe Rameau and dance itself that has already thrilled audiences interstate.

The winds of change are also evident elsewhere, for just as Graeme Murphy retired from the Sydney Dance Company and John Bell is regularly handing the reins over to his co-director Peter Evans, so Tognetti, off exploring the world, is passing his lead violinist’s position to Brisbane artist Dale Barltrop for this season.

I catch up with him by phone as he cruises around the Napa Valley in California, en route to Vancouver where he’s doing a summer school workshop.

In 2014 he’ll join the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as one of its two concertmasters and will divide his time between Melbourne and Vancouver, where he is concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

This will be the second time that he has directed “Project Rameau” from his position as violinist, and he’s fully visible, on stage.

“It’s not exactly the same as conducting”, Barltrop points out, but it’s just as hard.

He wasn’t there when Tognetti started creating with Bonachela, but he believes he has now successfully “internalised the music”. This is essential in a such collaboration. Most contemporary dance companies perform to recorded music with set tempi, but live musicians need to have an “internalised sympathy with the dancers”.

“When you’re performing live with a company of dancers, you have to ‘nail it’,” he explains, “but fortunately, on no occasion has the ACO performed too fast or too slow causing any dancer to trip over or fall down.”

Barltrop is familiar with the ACO, having once replaced principal second violinist Helena Rathbone and also directed ACO 2, their ensemble of emerging musicians. He was helped by a DVD of the first production last year in Sydney.

“While I was learning the music, I was getting an understanding of the dance,” he says.

There’s nothing surprising about combining the music of Rameau with dance, he says. Indeed, the great French composer wrote many works in an operatic genre where dance interludes permeated the entire evening’s work.

“There are about 20 selections from Rameau in this performance, and the orchestra has to be sensitive to every change,” he says. But there is something that’s made it easy for him and the other players – “the absolute professionalism of the Sydney Dance Company.”

During the Brisbane season, one dancer couldn’t go on.

“So they went into rehearsal and, in the end, you wouldn’t have known that there was one missing,” he says.

“They’re world class in every respect.”

“Project Rameau”, at the Canberra Theatre, September 12-14, bookings to 6275 2700 or

TOP IMAGE: “Project Rameau”… from left, violinist Dale Barltrop and dancers Alisha Coon and Todd Sutherland. Photo by Justine Walpole

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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