Things have changed at the Sydney Dance Company. Many of us are, perhaps, still seeking to full embrace that change: the Murphy-Vernon era was so extended, intrinsic and defining for the company that it might take some time yet for Barcelona-born Raphael Bonachela to cement his position as artistic director in the collective consciousness of the public mind.
The ‘Australian’ sensibility has, in the sense that was, all but disappeared. But just as Australia has changed, so too has the SDC. What is Australian, after all? For mine, the first thing that springs to mind, to use an oft denigrated but still valid word, is multicultural. Like the US, or Israel, or a host of other nations, each country is, more and more, a global community; racially, culturally, religiously, artistically and otherwise, indefinable.
SDC is and can be no exception to this. Perhaps that’s why the two brave, new works that make up SDC’s latest touring production, Shared Frequencies, seem to have such European sensibilities, above all; notwithstanding references to the Australian landscape.
The first of two world premiere works is Raw Models, choreographed by Italian dancer Jacopo Godani, with music by 48 Nord. A bare, black stage, its rectangular form emphasised by downlights, is crowded with bodies, convulsing and tortured, twisting and turning in a kind of torsional agony. It’s dynamic; busy, but in an interesting way. These are bodies and, presumably, therefore, hearts and minds in conflict and struggle. The daily struggle of existence, I take it. And, indeed, Godani confirms something akin to this in his rantingly philosophical curatorial notes: “Raw Models is the result of a small war declared against our alter egos.” So, it’s all about the shackles, containment and boundaries drawn by socialisation, conditioning and external expectations. No wonder the dancers are trying every possible move to break free.
Godani has interpreted his own ideas into dance dramatically: each dancer seems to explore their full range of movement and prowess. There are solos, pas de deux and ensembles. The movement is woven, like a freeform tapestry; sometimes wound more tightly, sometimes slackly. Their proximity to each other adds to the tension and suspense. It’s choreographically dangerous, if not downright suicidal: will they collide? Inextricable from this is the score, written by former rock musicians, Ulrich Mueller and Siegfried Roessert. They’ve borrowed the raw energy of their former genre and taken it into electronic territory not a million miles from the orchestral vamps, a la electronica, of Emerson Lake and Palmer.
The costumes (Godani’s design, as with the lighting) resemble embellished, sheer, black body-stockings and are in sync with the mood. The overall effect is all very Teutonic: there is grace in its violence, and violence in its grace.
Rafael Bonachela’s world premiere is LANDforms. While it’s clear Godani, Mueller and Roessert worked in close collaboration, Bonachela takes this notion to an even more democratic polarity, bringing his dancers in to the creative circuit and, especially, one of his favourite (and, again, Italian) composers, in Ezio Bosso. Bosso is a contemporary classical composer and, if we lived in just about any other part of the world, we’d probably be more than familiar with him.
On the strength of his Music For Weather Elements, which is the inspirational basis for the dance work, I intend to make it my mission to know him much better. It has all the hallmarks and harmonic imprimatur of a revered work from a decomposing composer; it’s both memorable and deeply moving. In deference to the sensitivity so evident in the composition, Bonachela has surrendered to nuance, particularly in the opening movement. Even when the movements become larger, more invigorated and complex, there’s a light, almost feminine touch present. Mother earth, perhaps?
In a sense, it forms the final part of an unwitting, unplanned trilogy: Bonachela’s We Unfold was inspired by notions of water and the ocean; 6 Breaths, as the name implies, aspirated by air. But, aside from the title, you might be hard-pressed to interpolate ideas about landscape. To me, it reads more as being about relationship of all kinds: same and differing sex; tender and tumultuous. The sequences and interplays do, after a fashion, mimic the constant shifts of our planet’s crust, folding, rippling and unfolding, forming and flattening mountains, compressing and expanding. This physicality seems to be captured and translated as sensual movement and, seen from a distance, given enough deep space, I suppose it might appear that way, to ET, or Paul, or whatever his name is. Perhaps it’s the relationships between the earth’s elemental forces that are being given ‘voice’.
One thing I reckon RB should stay away from is costume design. I didn’t mind the muted colours, though it would’ve been better, for mine, to reflect a broader palate of the Australian landscape. As it is, this more restricted range again evokes, if anything, more of a wintry European outlook than the diamond light for which Sydney, for example, is known. And the random cut of the garments is just plain ugly.
Bosso performs and conducts his piece live: he on piano; Geoffrey Gartner on cello; Veronique Serret, on violin. All three are resplendent and flawless. This triple-treat is given a fourth, fabulous dimension, with the appearnce of Katie Noonan, who serenades with her familiar purity and panache.
Last, but by no means least, one is constantly reminded of just how superlative a troupe of dancers is comprised in the SDC. One can’t imagine any group making the most extraordinarily demanding moves look so effortless and doing that so uniformly. In watching them, I find myself nerve-deep in paralysing fear: “surely that’ll cost a hammy”; “ouch!”
It would be almost arbitrary to pick favourites, but no one could deny the impossibly elongated Andrew Crawford his glory; nor the contrastingly diminutive dynamo, Charmene Yap, hers.
The details: Shared Frequencies is at the Sydney Theatre until April 16. Tickets on the venue website.