Review / Sydney Dance Company’s ‘Counter Move’ at the Canberra Theatre

Sydney Dance Company Cacti (2). Photo by Peter Greig

THE Sydney Dance Company can always be relied on to come up with something extraordinary. “Counter Move” consisting of two separate dance works, “Cacti” and “Lux Tenebris”, each entirely different in mood and intent, but each demanding astonishing physicality and virtuosity of the dancers, provides an absorbing and entertaining evening of dance.

“Cacti”, created in 2010 for the Nederlands Dans Theatre to a cleverly fragmented score of snippets of Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, played by an onstage quartet, Alexander Ekman’s delightful thumb nose at dance critics, remains as delightfully prickly as ever.

Po-faced dancers, each isolated on their own little dais, work at inventing individual moves.

Ultimately the group dynamic insures that their moves turn out to be the same as their neighbours. As the string quartet drifts in and out of the action, each dancer introduces a cactus, which is treated, displayed and studied as if it were some precious art-work. All the while a patronising voiceover intones inspirational meanings for what we are watching.

Ripples of laughter burst continuously from the audience, especially during a sequence when Charmene Yap and Bernard Knauer perform a complex “meaningful” duet, while their waspish inner thoughts are broadcast to the audience.

Wickedly witty, brilliantly danced and hugely entertaining “Cacti” is enhanced by the clean lines of Ekman’s stage and costume design, and the stunning lighting of Benjamin Cisterne.

No less brilliantly danced, and equally absorbing, is Rafael Bonachela’s newest creation, “Lux Tenebris” which proves to be a startling departure from what we have seen previously from this choreographer.

Exploring the way light and darkness affects our moods and memories, Bonachela has worked closely with composer, Nick Wales, and designer Benjamin Cisterne to achieve an extraordinary environment in which disturbing images suggesting group violence or orgiastic sexuality are glimpsed as tantalising snapshots through ominous flashing lights.

Lone figures hurtle through the darkness, sometimes hooking up in rough duets, sometimes joining shadowy groups in complex couplings. The dancing for both the men and women is aggressive and muscular, and Bonachela has provided a moment for each member of the ensemble to shine, but a dazzling solo from Juliet Barton and a luscious duet performed by the remarkable Charmene Yap, this time teamed with Todd Sutherland, burn into the memory among images of complex ensemble groupings, inventive duets and solos, leading to the deeply unsettling climax in which the entire ensemble begin walking, then slowly and urgently running from, or perhaps towards, some unspecified danger.

[Photo by Peter Greig]

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  1. My 9yo went to the schools’ session of ‘Cacti’ this afternoon. She said all the body percussion was just amazing – some of it very simple, but effective; other bits were just about beyond her understanding!

    It sounds like an amazing piece of dance/theatre/music.

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