Sydney Dance Company’s Orb has the right amount of flash to please contemporary dance fans. Costume, lighting, choreography and sound composition come together in two all-original productions featuring Australian and international dance artists.
Original-everything is a tricky gig to pull off. The audience has no pre-conception as with such classics of Cinderella or The Nutcracker. But this unknown can also be a bonus to the creative team: a clean slate to influence emotions.
The first production of Orb is Full Moon with choreography by Cheng Tsung-lung. The dance style involves a lot of rolling and waveforms. There is no plotline and no music theme. Instead the soundtrack by composer Lim Giong is a series of vignettes whereby the eight artists take turns to express individual performances while the others pose in slow motion movements. The soundtrack’s instruments are eclectic, beginning with mainly cello, leading into electronic Vangelis-esque Blade Runner tones, and later turning into a Middle Eastern then, East Asian Zen state. The transition of these themes does not match to any discernible plotline. It’s not clear who the leader is, what is the point to all the leaping and rolling. All dancers have equal solo time, and maintaining a neutral facial expression, so there is no sense of individual characters – likely intended. The standout though in energy comes from Latisha Sparks, who excels at frenzied and flexible.
Despite the athleticism, the artists remain graceful at all times, enhanced by the exquisite costumes by Fan Huai-chih. Floaty, silky, textural: the forms and fabrics transmit the dancer's physical energy. It looks bedazzling, but what is the motivation? An effort to ground the passing of time manifests in the bewilderment/worship of a large metal rectangle that unveils on set, backlit by subtle changing glow by lighting designer Damien Cooper. Are we in the future? Or even on Earth? Are the dancers even human? Does it even matter? The experience crescendos into a quasi-resolution by means of the loudness and frenzied uplift in the atonal soundscape. And then fade out, take a bow, curtain down. The End.
Part two of Orb is Ocho. With a BANG, Rafael Bonachela’s choreography immediately shifts the tone to extreme in-your-face-frustration. Eight dancers represent disaffected idle youth, restless and hell-bent on expending their energy in clawing, jerky movements. Set designer David Fleischer strengthens the claustrophobic and inhuman feeling with cold grey concrete, steel and glass. The artificiality of the lighting and the synthetic costumes combine into a friction flashpoint.
The sound composition by Nick Wales is not so much as music as a collection of sound effects: doof doof electronica drum beats and then quietening into the repeated tedium of a dropping bead. Throughout is the clash-bang of fluorescent lights synchronised to noise designed to be unwelcoming and impersonal. There are no standard ‘lead’ characters. Most performer roles are to pound and grind, smash and grab, except for Charmene Yap’s light and long sways of fragility. Why? Not sure, but the contrast maintains interest. Ocho’s arc transforms from ferocity into harmony. The artists gradually fall into a synchronised sway to calming vocals, and the light morphs into a warm dawn glow.
Orb is art, not narrative. The focus is on movement set to a montage of creative elements. There is no story, no lead character to focus upon in either production. However, the sum of all parts equals a unique and attention-holding experience.
Sydney Dance Company presents
OCHO Rafael Bonachela
FULL MOON Cheng Tsung-lung
Venue: Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates: 25 – 27 May 2017