As a new Australian play enthusiast, obsessed and surrounded by text (constantly), a visit to the Sydney Dance Company’s latest work 2 One Another was to stimulate and relax in a delightful text free zone. A zone free from the glare of my computer screen with it’s pixels and light… with words, words, words.

Oh the ignorant assumptions of a text-based theatre enthusiast!

As I gentle nestled into my seat for what I assumed was to be gentle orchestral music underpinned by floating forms in an elegant mise en scene – I knew, there was something new on the horizon. What I was confronted with was a cluster of highly articulated movements punctuated by poetry underscored by streams of pulsing electronic music, backlit by oscillating lights and projections.

The muttering murmurs of disconnecting words clambered into our ears, sometimes providing a sliver of emotional context to the movements.

The scale of collaboration with Sydney Dance Company’s 2 One Another is impressive and the program notes itself shows great individual talents intersecting and interacting. Choreography by Rafael Bonachela, Lighting Design by Benjamin Cisterne., Original music by Nick Wales, Text by Samuel Webster, Screen Content designed and produced by Iloura, Dance Direction by Amy Hollingsworth, Creators and performance – the company. This reads to me more as an experiment of artform collaboration than an investigation into narrative or theme.

A matrix-like stage sized screen saver illuminates and dwarfs the human forms on stage.

Bodies stretch and flex and shift and slap and extend and fold.

The ensemble breaks and re-unites. Walks and fragments. Shifts and then couples.

The questions which lingered with me, was more about the mechanistic relationships of bodies – I watched as various bodies – somewhat neutralised in costume worked together, or seperately across the stage.

Was it interesting? Yes. Was it emotionally evocative? No.

Was it trying to be?
According to Rafael Bonachela’s program notes:

“I am always fascinated by the interactions between people and as I spend time in the studio with the dancers I can’t help but see them as a microcosm of broader human interactions. As a group they spend so much time together that their relationships and interactions at times seem to be a whole world in itself”

Perhaps this overarching outside observatory eye’s clinical observation of the microcosm has reduced this piece to a scientific study? Dancer as specimen? Rehearsal room as petri dish?

Bonachela continues to describe a layering of material that feeds and informs. He is talking about the collaborative evolution of creating and its affect on the creation of the piece.

Sure. That’s fine by me.

But what beyond the concept of a creative/collaborative experiment do we see? Is it enough merely to present a physical/sonic experiment? What of the audience’s contribution to this collaboration? What are we to add to the interaction? What is to be our impact? If this is a show about human interaction, what is the role of the observer?

And so the text has confused me. The words speak of love are of longing and emotion. And yet – what I witnessed was a highly mechanical, highly precise, mathematical presentation of dance. I watched as perfect bodies leaned in on each other – elevated and intertwined – but I saw nothing of the hot chaos of love. I saw nothing of throbbing lust or wild longing. Where was the emotion? Certainly not on the faces of the performers – certainly not bursting out of urgent bodies.

What I saw was primed athletes carrying out a series of articulated gestures. Occasionally with each other. Was there are moment where I felt that dangerous connection of love/lust or hatred/bare-teethed tolerance between performers? No.

We see mechanization of human form.

What I instead started to think about was the idea that we live in an age of body worship. A recent Sydney Morning Herald opinion article “Fitness fascination stretches the truth” http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/fitness-fascination-stretches-the-truth-20120202-1qvii.html reveals the trend towards fitness as an obsession with white-collar workers. A taut and fit body is a sign of the affluent and the ambitious.

I started to think about how alien those bodies are to me and my world of soft-skinned, soft-fleshed interactions.
I started to think about my connection to my body and my connection to other people’s bodies… and really I felt utterly disconnected from the performance.

I felt no connection. No love. No emotion.

I merely watched as the microcosm folded and unfolded. I watched the stage fill and empty. The lights flicker, the stars fall, the bodies move. I watched.

Recently on Twitter Elissa Blake wrote:
“Agree with @jolitson that SDC was incredibly beautiful to look at. Stunning. But sadly no emotion this time.”

“Maybe us theatre types can’t let go of our need for narrative and emotion and just enjoy the abstract aesthetic.”

Perhaps… but when a piece of art is exploring the idea of connection, interaction and love – and the process is one of collaboration, instinctual reaction and interaction – wouldn’t it make sense for the work to stir in us a feeling of connection or connectedness or perhaps even show us connection?

2 One Another is perhaps one of the most surprising contemporary dance pieces I have seen – but has on this occasion failed to reach beyond its microcosm to those beyond the footlights.