Generally reviewers see opening night performances, so it was a treat to see Sydney Dance Company mid-way through their season of London-based choreographer Rafael Bonachela’s 360º. I don’t know how tight the show was initially, but what I saw was a performance that was stunning, both technically and visually. Its magnetism and electric physicality translated past that fourth wall, right to my core (no small feat in the wide, cavernous space of CarriageWorks.) This is what dance should do, but, unfortunately, rarely does. I haven’t felt this excited seeing a contemporary work for a very long time.
Having said that, Bonachela’s onslaught of choreography, against a mirrored backdrop that moves to accentuate and multiply complex movement patterns, will not be to all tastes. Its slick, assaulting, supremely virtuosic material often pushes beyond fast and furious, but is always clean and controlled. With dancers clad in nothing more than nude briefs, it’s narcissistic, sensual, grotesque and highly charged.
Opening to the sounds of an oncoming train, dancers stand frozen in front of chunky lighting rigs. A lone female (Annabel Knight) executes a long-limbed solo – sinuous, and low to the ground, at times grasshopper-like and punctuated with the jut of a hip or a thwack of a long leg. The lighting rig ascends and a field of spotlights accompanies a flurry of movement from the ensemble. Dancers manipulate each other, in crisp partnering, formations constantly shift against a loud musical drone and the occasional freeze punctuates the activity.
If this barrage of movement was all there was to 360º, it would be just a slick, self-indulgent and expensive exercise, but, as its title suggests, it manages to build a beautiful sense of circularity, both formally and emotionally. Much of this is created through the sound score, which captures everything from industrial noise to medieval song and the continually shifting lighting (by Hugh Taranto). Set behind and above the mirrors, a large video screen projects simple, large images and does not (as video often do) detract from the dancing. Costumes (by Tony Assness) change from barely there, to sheer body suits splashed with white and black to, finally, variations on black street wear. Choreographically, the ebb and flow between large group patterns and the lone dancer is fluid, and free of awkward transitions.
It’s hard to pick stand-out performers, even though solos highlight particular individuals. The company is so kinesthetically tuned-in to and consistently on top of Bonachela’s material. Every single dancer articulately captures all its glorious and ever-changing detail including every ripple of muscle and flesh, as well as its movement qualities - from animalistic to fluid. Collectively, they’re dynamic, sexy and committed. In lesser hands, 360º would end up a technical, aloof exercise, but, by capturing so much of the choreography’s nuance, they bring it alive for the audience.
They’re versatile as well, since ten of them also perform in a foyer piece by Shaun Parker that opens the evening. In a Sydney Dance Company initiative called The Overture Series, independent choreographers make a short work to accompany the featured program. For Love Instalment, Parker has conceived five raised platforms reminiscent of boxing rings with a male/female couple in each one. The couples’ body language conveys both disconnection and attraction. United by original music from Nick Wales and Bree Van Reyk, which they perform live on a sixth raised platform, there is a similar ethos among the couples, even though their dress suggests different generations and walks of life. The work builds until all five couples execute the same frenetic duet in unison. Stylistically it’s nothing like Bonachela’s work, as it has a pedestrian and more casual feel. Taken on its own, it’s a friendly appetizer that whets the dance taste buds, but perhaps it would be better paired with a different main course.
Sydney Dance Company
By Rafael Bonachela
Venue: Bay 17 Carriageworks | 245 Wilson Street Eveleigh
Dates: 29 July - 16 August
Times: Tue - Sat 8pm | Saturday Twilight Performances At 4pm
Tickets: $70 – 38