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For the first time in six years an international choreographer has created a work on Sydney Dance Company. Spanish superstar Marina Mascarell’s “The Shell, A Ghost, The Host and The Lyrebird” is one of three works being performed at the Sydney Opera House as part of the company's triple bill, “Ascent.” The night brings together three wildly different works, three sublimely different choreographers, and two world premieres.


Sydney Dance Company: “Ascent”


Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, March 17, 2023


Claudia Lawson

Sydney Dance Company in “The Shell, A Ghost, The Host & The Lyrebird” by Marina Mascarell. Photograph by Pedro Greig

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Sydney Dance Company in “I Am-ness” by Rafael Bonachela. Photograph by Pedro Grieg

But before Mascarell’s piece, we start the night with another Spanish choreographer, the world premiere of “I Am-ness,” by SDC’s own artistic director Rafael Bonachela. Performed by just four dancers, Bonachela describes it as “a momentary constellation of feelings, thoughts, and sensations.” And it delivers. It is an ethereal work for a quartet of dancers, and it is one of those works that washes over you, sensual, reflective, and beautifully fluid. From a creative point of view, it is hypnotic; at no time do the dancers move in synch, instead there is a gorgeous weaving of arms, legs and torsos. Dancers Madeline Harms, Naiara Silva De Matos, Riley Fitzgerald and Piran Scott are all equally enticing to watch. It was the perfect opener to the night.

Sydney Dance Company in “The Shell, A Ghost, The Host and The Lyrebird” by Marina Mascarell. Photograph by Pedro Greig

After a brief pause, Mascarell’s “The Shell, A Ghost, The Host and The Lyrebird” takes to the stage. As the lights lift, the stage is filled with giant silk banners hanging from the rafters. Cleverly supported by Nick Wales’ superb score, the stage is a visual delight. There is a sense we are watching the sails of a whimsical ship. As the dancers pull and push the ropes, the silk banners rise and fall, creating visual magic. Illuminated by Damien Cooper’s lighting design, the dancers weave through clever choreography below. Emily Seymour and Sophie Jones deliver outstanding performances, but the highlight of the night is Jesse Scales. Like the night itself, her performance was an ascent to a new level, perfectly cast, she escalated the work with exquisite grace.

Sydney Dance Company in “Forever and Ever” by Antony Hamilton. Photograph by Pedro Grieg

After interval we return for Antony Hamilton’s “Forever and Ever.’” Hamilton premiered this work with the company in 2018. While I’m not normally enamoured with the now overdone techno works that peaked in the mid naughties, Hamilton’s work cuts through. Aggressive, high-octane choreography pulsates from the stage, backed by a nightclub inspired score by Hamilton’s brother Julian (of band The Presets—think, “My People”). Led once again by Jesse Scales, we watch at the entire Sydney Dance Company join forces on the stage. It energetic and hard-hitting, costumes become scant, it’s like watching a night out from the side lines. Perhaps slightly too long at the tail end, the work is cleverly elevated by Ben Cisterne’s lighting. And after the serenity of the first two works, it's a nice gear shift.

“Ascent” is a sumptuous combination of choreography, music, movement, and light. Joyous and engaging, Bonachela has brought together three diverging contemporary pieces that showcase the immense depth of talent at Sydney Dance Company. A must see.

Ascent performs at the Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre nightly until 26 March 2023. Tickets at www.sydneydancecompany.com

Claudia Lawson

Claudia Lawson is a dance critic based in Sydney, Australia, writing regularly for ABC Radio National, ABC Arts, and Fjord Review. After graduating with degrees in Law and Forensic Science, Claudia worked as a media lawyer for the ABC, FOXTEL and the BBC in London, where she also co-founded Street Sessions dance company. Returning to Sydney, Claudia studied medicine and now works as a doctor. She is the host of the award-winning Talking Pointes Podcast.



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