CounterMove | Sydney Dance CompanyLeft – Charmene Yap and Todd Sutherland in Lux Tenebris. Cover – Cacti. Photos – Peter Greig

Sydney Dance Company’s latest double bill is hugely entertaining, combining the wry humour of Alexander Ekman’s very accessible Cacti with an exploration of darkness in Rafael Bonachela's new work, Lux Tenebris. The two pieces work in counterpoint, offering a vivid contrast in approach and meaning.

This is a reprise by SDC of the immensely witty and charming Cacti, which Ekman originally choreographed for the Nederlands Danse Theatre. Cheeky and entertaining, it has been performed by 18 international companies, picking up a string of awards including the British National Dance Award in 2012 and an Olivier Award.

Devised in response to his despair with critics, Ekman’s Cacti lampoons the pomposity of contemporary critical theory and creates a tongue in cheek, postmodern work. Funny and clever, Ekman challenges the audience about how they read a work, but sympathises with the difficulty of understanding what is going on.

A voice over provides a comic commentary of the work which simultaneously parodies critics and provides a plausible description of what he has produced. Or is it just a spoof? It is when the commentary offers an interpretation of the meaning and symbolism of the production that it is most clearly a joke. At other times it seems to be explaining Ekman's vision so we don’t misunderstand it, or it might be a nonsensical interpretation by a critic who has no idea of its real meaning. As I said, its post modern.

Cacti is an interdisciplinary work, combining dance, live musicians and text. And the dancers do indeed become a human orchestra playing out rhythms with their entire bodies. Each has their own plinth upon which they dance, beat out rhythms (Stomp style), strike poses, move around, tilt up to catch their own silhouettes (made possible by Tom Visser’s brilliant lighting design) or pile up to create a striking cubist installation.

A terrific violin ensemble further enlivens the production. They wander through the dancers playing a selection from the classical string quartet repertoire and original music.

Ekman not only choreographed, but he also designed the costumes and the set, together with Tom Visser. The costumes are striking –  flesh toned leotards, black culottes and black skull caps. They unify the appearance of the dancers so that, at first glance, it is difficult to distinguish between the men and women. Their uniform and non gendered appearance suggest the possibility that the dancers are drones confined to their workstations, although that idea is undercut by the humour and irony with which they go about their work.

While Cacti is played out within the confines of each dancer’s plinth, Lux Tenebris is also largely performed within contained spaces, not defined by plinths, but by light.

Unlike the usual meaning of Lux Tenebris, which emphasises the light or goodness that shines through the darkness, Bonachela says that the title suggests an exploration of the beauty that is inherent in darkness.

The combination of composer, Nick Wales’s ferocious original electronic score and the courageous use of darkness in Benjamin Cisterne’s light design creates an edgy, powerful and unsettling tone. This is an altogether darker and more fever pitched work from Bonachela that evokes the primal and the tribal, both ancient and urban. Conflict arises within and between dancers and groups as they negotiate their illuminated confinements. At one point a single dancer, Cass Mortimer Eipper, for example, fights to be released from the confines of a square of light.

The speed and the power of the dancers is astonishing, one movement topping the next with force and dexterity, driven by the music’s seemingly unstoppable, pulsating bass. The pace slows, however, for an exquisite duet between Charmen Yap and Todd Sutherland in which every movement follows organically from the one before and reflects more of Bonachela’s trademark sensuality.

It is impossible to single out any dancer for particular praise in this work which relies on the extraordinary calibre of each and every dancer. Not only are these 16 performers physically in synch, but their rapport is obvious. At any given moment they share a collective intention that marks them as a genuine and impressive ensemble.

Separated by a 20-minute interval, the two works in CounterMove could not be more different. While catering to different tastes and sensibilities, the program is entertaining, immersive and thought provoking, as well as a tremendous showcase for the company’s prodigious talents.

Sydney Dance Company presents

Cacti by Alexander Ekman 
Lux Tenebris by Rafael Bonachela

Roslyn Packer Theatre Walsh Bay, 26 Feb - 12 Mar

Canberra Theatre Centre, 19 - 21 May

Southbank Theatre, 25 May - 4 Jun

Regional Tour

Wollongong, 17 – 18 June
Orange, 22 June
Newcastle, 25 June
Port Macquarie, 29 June

Rockhampton, 2 July
Gladstone, 6 July
Cairns, 9 -10 July
Gold Coast, 15 - 16 July

Darwin, 29 July

Geraldton, 3 August
Mandurah, 6 August
Albany, 9 August
Bunbury, 13 August

Bathurst, 20 August
Griffith, 24 August
Dubbo, 27 August


Most read Sydney reviews

It is a skewed symbiosis that unravels before the audience as the interaction between such...