Opening nights at Sydney Dance Company have become the place to see and be seen. The troupe’s charismatic artistic director, Spaniard Rafael Bonachela, has transformed SDC into a chic contemporary outfit, at the heart of Sydney’s hip art scene. The company’s recent premiere of “Orb,” a double bill featuring “Full Moon” by Taiwanese choreographer Cheng Tsung-lung and “Ocho,” Bonachela’s latest, was no exception, drawing the glitterati to the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney’s Walsh Bay.
Cheng is the artistic director of Cloud Gate 2, the junior wing of Taiwan’s famous Cloud Gate Dance Theater. Cloud Gate dancers are known for their almost miraculous ability to move their bodies like liquid, and Cheng’s junior company mirrors that liquefying ability, but under Cheng’s tutor, have more grit, more edge. “Full Moon” is Cheng’s first work for SDC, and it opened the evening.
Perhaps unwittingly, the title sets up an expectation of lyrical movement and a serene score. It is nothing of the sort. “Full Moon” begins with eight dancers running helter skelter across the stage, dressed in all sorts of colours and fabrics, under intense lights. From here the dancers break off into ones and twos, presenting unusual but fluid choreography. From the outset, it is hard to get your head around any connection to the moon. While the dancers are fabulous independently, the work maintains a sense of disconnection. As the work nears its close and Lim Giong’s score builds, there is yet a wonderful coming together of the cast. Serene choreography sees the dancers move in harmony, while Damien Cooper’s lighting gives an overall sense of wonderment to the stage, the notion of the full moon now cognisant. Highlights were the physically striking Sam Young-Wright and Chloe Leong. Holly Doyle as a slightly unstable character was also a standout, her jagged movements and bobbing head completely engaging in a blue and white bell-shaped dress. Indeed, Fan Huai-chih’s costuming is perhaps the most striking element; a fabulous mix of colours and textures, they move with subtle differences in tune with the dancers’ bodies.
Bonachela’s “Ocho” is, quite literally, a work for eight dancers. He created distinct choreography for each dancer, playing to their strengths, before bringing the dancers together as a whole. It is a novel approach as most works are borne from the company dancers working together, rather than being individually pieced together.
“Ocho” opens with an energetic solo danced by Nelson Earl. From there, the other seven dancers emerge from a huge glass box positioned at the back of the stage. Each of the dancers watch the other, before being watched. Bonachela knows his dancers, and the choreography is tailored to bring out their best. Josephine Weise’s athleticism is a real standout. The costuming and the score, however, didn’t quite live up to the level of Bonachela’s choreography with the dancers in daggy sportswear and Nick Wales’ electronic score grating with static noise. The result is that the work in parts seems dated. Rrawun Maymuru’s vocals are a saving grace; they are a wonderful addition. The work has a darker undercurrent, too. As the dancer’s move around their glass cage, the men at times appeared to dominate the women. It is challenging to watch and cast a shadow over the strong solo work executed with flair.
“Orb” brings together an eclectic mix of high energy choreography borne of unusual concepts. While it’s probably time to move on from the static, electronic scores, Bonachela has once again delivered clever and fresh choreography performed by dancers who mesmerise with their bodies, their movements and their stamina. A performance worthy of its cool factor.
“Orb” performs nightly at the Roslyn Packer Theatre Walsh Bay in Sydney until May 13, before travelling to the Arts Centre, Melbourne 17 -20 May; then the Canberra Theatre Centre 25-27 May 2017.