Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Sydney.
15 March 2023.
Sydney Dance Company started its 2023 season with a bang this March at Sydney Opera House, exploding onto the stage with three very distinct works by three very diverse choreographers. Coming together with Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela, whose work I Am-ness opened the night, newly appointed Danish Dance Theatre AD Marina Mascarell made her Australian debut with The Shell, A Ghost, The Host & The Lyrebird, and Antony Hamilton staged his second work for the company, Forever & Ever. The works were as varied as any triple bill program might hope to be, and certainly not a shy start to the season.
Ascent was the name of this program, and ascend they did. Bonachela’s work I Am-ness opened the night, a beautiful one movement piece, with composition Lonely Angel, meditation for violin and strings by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks. I Am-ness explored the connection between the dancers, their bodies, their mood. It was like watching one body with various moving parts that would sometimes separate, only to come back together and continue to move symbiotically. There were some stunning moments of circularity, attunement and technicality that made this piece very easy viewing. It was a nice debut piece for new company member Madeline Harms, and Naiara Silva de Matos was just stunning to watch in this work, with presence of mind and fluidity that worked in beautifully with her sense of artistry. The work had a striking sense of breath, of various thoughts passing and re-passing, a dream-like montage of bodies morphing and changing and moving together.
Mascarell’s The Shell, A Ghost, The Host & The Lyrebird explored an extraction of humanity towards survival, discovery, surrender. It asks many questions, including exploration of ‘the body’s meaning and its capacity to transform; the relationship with technology, and the connection with nature’ Mascarell’s work was reflective of European cirque-esque shows, reminiscent of works such as The Little Prince or Slava’s SnowShow. It contained a stunning mosaic of bright and pastel colours amongst vivid and soft white hues as huge shade sails, diversely shaped and hung by rope from the ceiling that the dancers danced around, through and tangled themselves up in, playing with suspension, lightness and a sense of floating through the space with the billowing sails. They were hung in various shapes and intervals which made for a lovely montage of block colours and textures, amongst costumes that reflected the idea within the sails with slightly darker shades, white being the background. It was clear in this piece that the material was just as integral to the work as the movement. The symbiosis of the organisms was rather mesmerising to watch, with many different excerpts happening across the space. By the last section, there were some interesting group moments, and the soundscape, composed by Nick Wales, morphed into jungle sounds, with the movement turning more animalistic. It would have been good to see more of the group work, as this is where the work started to feel like it was going somewhere, and then it finished. The way the movement flowed in the space and the group work took shape felt very cohesive and satisfying, just not enough of the piece dwelt in this idea.
Post interval, the energy in the night ascended, as the name of this program suggests, with the final work Forever & Ever by Australian choreographer Hamilton. Forever & Ever explores the epicurean world of pop-culture in fashion and music, exploring the fast-paced chop and change of the creative industries. The work opened with one dancer on the stage, trying out different ideas, moving from one to the next, not entirely happy with their choices. From there, a group of dancers entered with giant black coats with hoods and large cones on their hands, and then another group with white hoods and black material over their faces, carrying what looked to be short par cans. There did not really seem to be an obvious purpose to the dancers at the back; they gave the impression of people standing around with not much to do but without any of the nuance that might make this sort of understated presence interesting.
The score for Forever & Ever was composed by The Presets’ Julian Hamilton, containing a trans-like vibe. The movement took on a hip hop style with pairs of dancers moving to the front of the stage and performing sections of clubbing style movement, with the group moving behind, and costumes continuously shedding, down to smaller fitted numbers, and tape on the bodies. The pairs kept coming, and then the group came together, moving in an out of a tight shape, using gestural movement to create intricate patterns as one body with many small moving parts, which was probably the most interesting thing about this work. Forever & Ever lacked the maturity and choreographic crafting usually seen in works created on large and mainstream companies. It contained none of the nuance or subtext of a work that addresses this kind of subject matter might usually contain. It was a very flat work, despite all the noise and multiple costume changes. It did not go anywhere, and the most interesting part was Jesse Scales walking around at the beginning and having a rather pedestrian interaction with the audience, despite the interesting and rather over-sized fashion show-esque costumes by Paula Levis.
The Ascent program was heterogeneous and quite interesting, highlighting the versatility of the Sydney Dance Company dancers. Sydney Dance Company has morphed over the years under the artistic leadership of Bonachela, emerging as a diverse range of movers who are able to approach a wide range of choreographic styles with ease. It is wonderful to see their ability to approach the work given to them with strength and agility, and to see fascinating work being created on them by international choreographers such as Mascarell, who bring an interesting and unique outlook to dance creation and collaboration.
By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.