It is rare that I’ll venture from the word-heavy comfort of my true love (text-based theatre) and meander into the muscular flesh-fest of contemporary dance… but I do from time to time. This special occasion is a triptych presented by Sydney Dance Company in their 45th Anniversary Year – two new works and a remounted work from yesteryear.

Not practiced in the language of (nor the world of) dance, I feel fairly limited in my ability to articulate the specific thoughts and experience of watching phrase upon phrase of movement. I watch trying to form a sense of how to articulate a moment or an image – and so watching becomes in part an exercise in writerly craft -a previous example of trying to write about dance (Specifically a SDC show) can be found here: https://classic.augustasupple.com/2012/03/2-one-another-sydney-dance-company/ . To build my dance articulation muscle I’ll continue to exercise because I am not yet sophisticated in my viewing, nor in my language in responding or reviewing dance.

Lucky the Sydney Dance Company is so robust in it’s history and vision, that the likes of a reader and writer like myself could not possibly dint their reputation as I fumble about in the top drawer of my language skills to find something coherent to say. It’s taken me too long to pluck the courage up to say something… but now at least I have.
Just in time for the show to move on from Sydney to a bright horizon.

The difficulty I had with this work is that I felt nothing but curiosity for the unfolding of events. I’m not quite developed yet to hook into movement over text when text is presented (such as in L’Chaim), or in movement over music (such as in 2 in D Minor), or to privilege movement over lighting design (as in Raw Models) – and I think my review reveals that. Unfortunately I found the last piece tragic – not comic – and especially brutal in that the simplistic line of questioning of dancers returned fairly basic articulations of why they dance and what they like about it. It deflated me the mechanical and glib responses. I do wonder if I’d come to that piece without the baggage of knowing much of Zoe Coombs Marr’s recent work with “post” (eg Oedipus Schmedepus, Who’s the Best, Horses Mouth Etc) if I’d view the work differently. Perhaps.

Written for www.australianstage.com.au

A black space, a white screen hangs above. Four white illuminated lines form a frame. A violinist takes her place. From the darkness, light: a melodic weaving, the climb and fall of scales as they slide and melt. Precise and agile, a body moves, reacting, resonating with formal elegance, partners with another body creating physical echoes of JS Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor.

In Rafael Bonachela’s latest work 2 in D Minor, the tradition of Bach’s intricate and restless melodic themes is transposed into the dancer’s body in a display of aristocratic maximalism. A suite of actions provides a physical “response” to the violinist’s “call.” Technically crisp and clear, movements responding to individual dancers personal experiences are repeated to a point of visual exhaustion. Bonachela’s note on choreography and costume collides with the experience in an unfavourable way. The intent on a non-gender specific costume leans into the masculine form, denying a connection of the personal or feminine within the female performers. Experience is translated into expression, but abstracted into uniformity in the process, presenting not a unique and individualistic emotional experience, but a homogenization. Movements are measured – not built upon in pace or intensity, but to the degree that exact repetition is it’s own reward. Each suite of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor is punctuated with fierce and fizzing “sound clouds” composed by Nick Wales, creating an abstract response to Bach’s neat structure. This punctuation extends the conversation between music and movement, ultimately lifting the work out like an spiral of fibonacci numbers, from the expected and the usual, climbing steadily and barely resting.

Restlessness might be an underlying theme or modus operandi within The Sydney Dance Company – commissioning eight new works to celebrate their 45th Anniversary – two of which appear in Interplay’s triptych – 2 in D Minor choreographed by Bonachela and L’Chaim! choreographed by Gideon Obarzanek.

The second piece in the evening’s program is a revistation by Jacopo Godani’s critically acclaimed 2011 work Raw Models. A heavy, pulsating, portrait fuelled by animalistic urgency, sexual power and primitive survival, Raw Models is a muscular intense exploration of the natural versus the constructed in human motivation. Dark, sensual and unyielding, Godani’s work combined regimented action with moments of lithe and heated confrontation. Music by 48nord (Ulrich Müller und Siegfried Rössert) is a blend of electronic sounds, instrumentation filtered, mixed, layered and transformed into a composition which according to their program note “would not be possible to do live.” Atmospheres punctuated by shadows and hiccups of brilliant light, this work is undeniably powerful, eye-catching and relentless.

Lastly, Gideon Obarzanek’s L’Chaim! offers a completely different experience. Although using a lighter palette of colour, sound and text, the overall affect is equally as dark and considered as the previous instalments in Interplay. Music by composer Stefan Gregory builds from a place of repetition to an ecstatic burst of traditional dance. David Woods provides a line of textual interrogation performed by actor Zoe Coombs Marr asks questions of a philosophical nature about the very meaning and origin of dance practice, dance aesthetic and a dance career – an interrogation held whilst the company jump and jiggle in precise formation, a gruelling act of restless, visually exhausting movement, which though athletic and ordered ultimately presents the rudiments of dance at its most casual. This irreverent self-conscious jumble of caricatured tropes, glib responses, puns and brutal simplistic self reflection ultimately boils down to “joy.” However, is that meat enough in this particular tri-part presentation of “playfulness” or is it an easy pathway into popularity through being obvious? The weight of dance history, the skill and the tenuousness and fragility of the dancer is bludgeoned by text and cutesy gimmicks, leaving nothing but sour and simple taste in my mouth that dance is brutal, to subvert one’s artform into the obvious and entry level understanding of human existence is ultimately cruel and ungrateful, and perhaps that’s what artists ultimately are?

Interplay is an intriguing suite of works by Sydney Dance Company full of experimental expression, philosophical questioning and casual elegance. Each section offers an exploration into the body’s relationship to sound and space and offers much to chew over post-event.
Sydney Theatre
Preview: Saturday 15 March, 8pm
Opening: Monday 17 March, 8pm
Tuesday 18 March, 6.30pm
Wednesday 19 – Saturday 22 March, 8pm
Wednesday 26 – Saturday 29 March, 8pm
Tuesday 1 April, 6.30pm
Wednesday 2 – Saturday 5 April, 8pm
Matinee: Saturday 5 April, 2pm
Tickets $30-$75 (transaction fees apply)
Phone Sydney Theatre Box Office on: 02 9250 1999

Canberra Theatre Centre
Opening: Thursday 10 April, 7.30pm
Friday 11 & Saturday 12 April, 7.30pm
Tickets $30-$63 (transaction fees apply)
Phone Canberra Theatre Centre Box Office on: 02 6275 2700

Southbank Theatre, Melbourne
Preview: Wednesday 30 April, 8pm
Opening: Thursday 1 May, 8pm
Friday 2 – Saturday 3 May, 8pm
Wednesday 7 – Saturday 10 May, 8pm
Matinee: Saturday 10 May, 2pm
Tickets $30-$75 (transaction fees apply)
Phone Southbank Theatre Box Office on: 03 8688 0800