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Five Decades of Dance

Sydney Dance Company celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a program of three vibrant and divergent works. The celebratory performance is titled Season One: Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane, somewhat quirkily, neither alphabetical nor the order in which the works are performed. Oddities aside, it features brand new dances by Rafael Bonachela, who is celebrating ten years as the company's artistic director; a new work by Gabrielle Nankivell who previously choreographed “Wilderbeest” to great acclaim for SDC; and finally “WOOF” by Melanie Lane. “WOOF” was commissioned for Bonachela’s choreographic development program New Breed in 2017, and on opening night it made its mainstage debut.

Performance

50th Anniversary Performance: Season One: Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane

Place

Roslyn Packer Theatre Walsh Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, April 2019

Words

Claudia Lawson

Sydney Dance Company perform “Cinco” by Rafael Bonachela. Photograph by Wendell Teodoro

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The evening opens with Nankivell’s “Neon Aether.” Performed by eight dancers, it is a mix of ’70s sci-fi with monk-like figures exploring ideas such as the vastness of space and the need to connect with the universe. The stage appears to be a rocket or spaceship of sorts, and the score, composed by Nankivell’s partner Luke Smiles, gives the audience a chance to imagine the unimaginable: crackling radios, oxygen masks and the clunking metal doors. The work is punctuated by blackouts and when the lights lift, it is a though there has been a change in time or space, new dancers, or a new progression. At times you aren’t sure where the work is headed, yet ultimately the strangeness is a point of captivation.

Ariella Casu, dressed in red, was a highlight, with powerful technique and striking onstage presence. Janessa Dufty was also divine, her nymph-like sequence performed in purple early on in the work is one of the most beautiful I have seen her dance.

Following “Neon Aether” was Bonachela’s new work, “Cinco.” Meaning five in Spanish, it is an ode to the five decades of the company’s existence and the huge cultural contribution SDC has made to the contemporary dance landscape. Created for five dancers, “Cinco” is one of the strongest Bonachela works I’ve seen performed.

The magic of this piece is that it starts off ever so slowly and subtly, with entrancing fluidity, before building—perhaps reflecting the growth of the company. The score is an intensely beautiful string quartet by Alberto Ginastera, which also crescendoes with the energy of this work. The five dancers work independently but also as a unit, weaving in and out amongst each other’s limbs and then suddenly falling into perfectly synched passages. All five dancers have clearly mastered Bonachela’s distinct contemporary style.

The women are especially outstanding on opening night. Chloe Leong, Holly Doyle and Charmaine Yap execute the choreography powerfully, with fluidity and grace. The costumes are divine with the women dressed in gold and lavender Grecian-style dresses that bring a fairytale feel to the stage. Designed by Bianca Spender they enhance the sensuality of the piece wonderfully.

Sydney Dance Company
Sydney Dance Company perform “WOOF” by Melanie Lane. Photograph by Pedro Greig

The evening concludes in spectacular fashion with Melanie Lane’s “WOOF.” It is quirky, energising and the clear crowd-favourite on opening night. The piece starts with haunting hums from the dancers themselves. They are dressed in assorted items mostly of gold and flesh tones, and with an intriguing touch—the dancers’ hands and forearms are covered in a sooty black powder. It later evidences itself as an ode to the canine theme, with the dancers covered in dirt.

Initially slow-paced, it doesn’t seem like there is enough energy to sustain the work, but without notice the work morphs from a mellow vibe to a futuristic dance-club. The choreography is brilliant, high energy and completely engaging—bottoms shake, heads flick and limbs jerk as the dancers gather to form a pulsating mass of energy and rhythm. On opening night, Chloe Young was the absolute highlight. Even within the entire ensemble, her energy, alluring stage presence and technique were endlessly captivating, with a luscious pony tail to boot. Only a very new recruit to the company, she is clearly a star on the rise.

With perfect timing, Bonachela has delivered three wonderfully diverse and interesting works. Having previously mused on Bonachela’s very reliable, two-part structures, it is refreshing to see that for the 50th Anniversary, things are different. Not only are there three shorter works, they are fabulously different. There is colour, narrative and costuming—gone are the nude androgynous leotards. A standing ovation heralds the success of the night. One can only imagine what the next 50 years will bring.

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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