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Canberra Today 13°/15° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Arts / Dancing in the ‘Right Frame of Mind’

Jesse Scales dances in “Quintett”. Photo by Peter Grieg
Jesse Scales dances in “Quintett”. Photo by Peter Grieg
SYDNEY Dance Company member Jesse Scales is not one of those shrinking-violet dancers and has plenty to say about what we’ll see.

Scales, born in Hobart but a graduate in classical ballet from the NZ School of Dance, is performing in the company’s coming production “Frame of Mind”, a new work by director Rafael Bonachela.

In part of the program, “Quintett”, performed to English composer Gavin Bryars’ 1971 composition, “Jesus’s Blood Never Failed Me Yet”, Scales says: “I don’t think any of us were familiar with the music.

“Gavin Bryars was walking through the streets of Paris and saw a homeless man singing an old hymn… he was drunk and out of it, but Bryars realised he had great pitch and recorded him on a little cassette.”

Years later he transposed this music to disc and put it on to a loop with about 60 to 70 repeats that formed the basis of the now-famous composition, adding string music building and fading in different parts.

“It’s quite repetitious to dance to,” Scales admits, but says she responded immediately to the religious sense of the lyrics and the irony around whether Jesus’ love has failed the tramp – “it’s quite touching to hear it”.

It was a challenge to a classically-trained dancer.

“There is no real count to the music, but once we just jumped on to the music, it totally made sense… and it made me smile the first time I heard it,” she says.

“‘Quintett’ is very conversational in a way, five people dancing and saying to each other, ‘I’m going to dance now’ or ‘how about you guys dance together?’”

“We were laughing, playing games, tricking each other and saying things like, “now I’m going to throw myself – catch me”.

Bonachela’s part in the program is something very personal this time round, Scales reports.

“In this case it is a personal story reflecting on a time in Rafael’s life, how circumstances were creating different feelings in him… Rafael is quite a sociable person, but at this time he wanted not to socialise, it’s basically different scenarios about different states of mind or frames of mind.”

Happily, Bonachela doesn’t normally tell his dancers what to do, rather he invites them.

“Instead of him creating in getting us to copy, we’re producing ideas and putting them into movement, so what we are doing makes complete sense to us,” she says.

“He got us to reflect on our own different emotions in the past year and to make a ‘mind map’.”

As for Ralph Myers’ striking set, it matches the theme.

“The look of it is that it’s framed within a wire picture frame, something like scaffolding, that quite literally frames the space – that is why I love this set,” she says.

And how come Scales is such an articulate dancer? That proves to be no accident. “We have done some media training in the company because Raf wants to enable us to explain the ideas.”

As she says, “amazing”.

“Frame of Mind” at Canberra Theatre Centre, April 30-May 1, bookings to or 6275 2700.


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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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