Sydney Dance Company in “Impermanence” by Rafael Bonachela. Photograph by Pedro Greig

Fleeting Beauty

Sydney Dance Company perform “Impermanence”

Performance
Sydney Dance Company: “Impermanence” by Rafael Bonachela
Place
Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales, February 20, 2021
Words
Claudia Lawson

And here we are—in Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre. Everyone is wearing masks, yet the theatre is buzzing. The anticipation is palpable—the Sydney Dance Company is about to take the main stage for the first time since late 2019. The work is Rafael Bonachela’s “Impermanence.”

When the first Covid-19 lockdowns started in March 2020, “Impermanence” was four days away from its world premiere. Bonachela, Artistic Director of SDC, together with composer Bryce Dessner (of U.S. rock band The National), created a work drawing on the devastating bush fires that raged across Australia in late 2019, and also the tragic burning of Notre Dame. The work sought to explore loss and the ephemeral nature of beauty.

But then Covid-19 arrived, and the world changed irrevocably. The pandemic highlighted the fragility of life as we know it, and Bonachela felt he couldn’t take “Impermanence” to the stage without acknowledging the turbulence of the last year. So, he extended “Impermanence” from 40 minutes to a full-length work, seeking to explore themes of beauty, loss, anxiety and change.

Sydney Dance Company in “Impermanence” by Rafael Bonachela. Photograph by Pedro Greig

The Australian String Quartet, playing Dessner’s score live onstage, sit upstage right. Silhouettes cross the stage, walking at first with purpose, then slowly weaving and flowing amongst themselves. As the work builds, the music is hauntingly emotive, projecting uncertainty and anxiety. At times, the dancers move in sync; at other times, they move in canon, and jerk and collapse to the ground. The work evolves into a series of vignettes; solos mix into duos and trios, and the entire ensemble takes the stage. The choreography oscillates between feeling strong and certain, to ethereal and vulnerable. The solos, a real highlight, reminiscent of the last year, depict isolation, strength and beauty.

Sydney Dance Company in “Impermanence” by Rafael Bonachela. Photograph by Pedro Greig

Following a year of taking class at kitchen benches, I did wonder whether the company would be physically match-fit. There were understandably mixed results, however some dancers appeared to be even more inspired. Jesse Scales illuminated the stage with a presence and grace that I have not seen previously. Juliette Barton was also a standout in a spellbinding solo, and an enthralling duet with Davide di Giovanni.

Damien Cooper’s lighting design was simple but effective. A burnt orange stage evoked memories of the fires while ashen hues set a tone of recovery, lost treasures and the uncertain times ahead.

The work concluded with a solo danced by Liam Green to an arrangement of Anohni’s haunting song, “Another World.” It wasn’t the ending I expected, rather hoping for the ensemble to reunite onstage. Yet, “Impermanence” left me reflecting on the toll of the last 12 months.

While much of the world is still grappling with lockdowns, Sydney Dance Company handled their return to the stage with care and grace. “Impermanence” showcases exquisite choreography and a superb score, while allowing the audience to reflect on the privilege of watching a live performance. “Impermanence” is the perfect return to the stage for Sydney Dance Company.

Bryce Dessner’s single, “Emergency” featuring the Australian String Quartet, is now available to stream. The album, Impermanence/Disintegration, will be available from April 2, 2021.

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