Dance / “Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane”, directed by Rafael Bonachela, the Sydney Dance Company, at Canberra Theatre, May 2–4. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
THE Sydney Dance Company has been a regular visitor to the Canberra Theatre since its inception in 1969. During that time it has built up a loyal and informed audience. Rafael Bonachela took over the reins of the company in 2009 and ever since has enthusiastically embraced its ethos of fostering and showcasing the work of Australian dancers and dance makers.
Already acclaimed internationally for his inventive choreography when he took on the artistic direction of the Sydney Dance Company, Bonachela has lead by example, re-inventing the company and creating a string of stunning dance works. He’s also featured the work of cutting edge international choreographers in his programs, and provided opportunities for local choreographers to create works for the company.
Typically he has chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company with this triple bill for which he has created a new work, ”Cinco”, bookended by two contrasting works by outstanding Australian female choreographers, Gabrielle Nankivell “Neon Aether”, and Melanie Lane, “WOOF”. Though totally different in concept and execution, each work shared the company’s current aesthetic of stripped back presentation style, relying on striking musical choices, inventive lighting and haze effects, and minimalist costuming to complement the brilliance of the current crop of dancers.
The program commenced with Nankivell’s “Neon Aether”. In it eight dancers, costumed in Harriet Oxley’s soft outer-space-inspired costumes, primarily working in unison to Luke Smiles’ apocalyptic soundscape, performed six episodes each punctuated by black-outs, exploring concepts of air, magnetism and the infinite unknown. Although the concept was challenging, the movement style was fascinating to watch, often quite beautiful and absorbing.
Bonachela chose a dramatic string quartet by Alberto Ginastera for his work, “Cinco”, a Spanish word meaning “five”. Bonachela explained, at the well-attended pre-show talk, that the quartet was composed in five parts. Referencing the 50th anniversary of the company, and his own 10-year association, he made the work on five dancers, Davide Di Giovanni, Holly Doyle, Riley Fitzgerald, Chloe Leong and Charmene Yap.
Lighting designer Damien Cooper, who also designed the lighting for “Neon Aether”, complemented the theme by using just five lights to illuminate the virtuosic performances of the five dancers, as they fearlessly attacked Bonachela’s fascinatingly complex choreographic combinations.
Melanie Lane used twelve dancers for her work “WOOF”, which commences intriguingly in silence with a series of posed tableaus. Eventually the dancers begin to move in unison groups employing a vocabulary of increasingly eccentric and bizarre movements. As the work progresses, Aleisa Jelbert’s shiny grey costumes, which mimic everyday wear, become smudged by a black powder each dancer wears on their hands.
Performed to an electronic soundscape by Clark, and beautifully lit by Verity Hampson, “WOOF” is an amusing, complex and challenging work, which provides a satisfying conclusion for a dazzling program and fitting demonstration, of why, after 50 years, the Sydney Dance Company is regarded internationally as a leader among contemporary dance companies.