2 One Another : : Seen

I, for one, have missed the Sydney Dance Company. They haven’t performed in New Zealand for ten years, and we kiwis haven’t had a look at the company under its new Artistic Director, Rafael Bonachela.

2 One Another premiered in Sydney in March 2012, and is a full length work at just over an hour long. The programme notes and promotional material describe it as “dynamic, deeply personal and highly physical”. The work grew as a collaboration between Bonachela and poet/writer Sam Webster, set/costume/screen designer Tony Assness and composer/sound designer Nick Wales. The collaborative process between the artistic staff has long been a strength of the company. They seem to have an approach that is intrinsically integrated and extremely effective. Sound, set and lighting (by Benjamin Cisterne) are combined to create a new world for the audience to discover. These production elements are sophisticated in themselves, but never overshadow the people they are highlighting – the dancers.

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The three-month creative process started with Sam Webster in the rehearsal studio, writing non-narrative poems in response to the dancers’ movements and relationships. The poems were then used as the impetus for creating new movement. The work is abstract, but the dancers hold a sense of meaning throughout the performance.

2 One Another opens subtly, without obvious clues from the production technologies. An open stage, a backdrop that looks like crumpled paper, a formation of dancers, synchronised movement that looks gestured or ritualised, silence. Tension and expectation are created amongst the audience by the focus of the dancers, the minimalism of the opening choreography, the strange and ambient sound. The theatre is full and the audience are completely engaged. Sudden loud, discordant sound synchronised with a bold snap of light is shocking to at least two of our senses. This is gonna be something.

I’m not disappointed. The choreography is fast paced, but it’s developed and refreshed by segments within the full-length work. Canon is interesting, not overused, and the solos, duos and smaller group sections create the light and shade that a full length work needs. Interestingly, Bonachela created the climax of 2 One Another in the middle of the work, rather than building to it at the end. The final pas de deux was sophisticated and calm – the dance flowed away from us, the audience, rather than hyping us up for a finale.

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The real standout for me is the superb technique of the dancers. I love their mastery of classical vocabulary; I love their length and their extension. Bonachela’s movement is punchy, often upbeat and completely full on. Within this choreography, the dancers perform with control and mastery. It’s not just a reconfiguration of classical alignments though – they are as impressive in their twisted contemporary shapes and their rock-solid isolations. I have yet to see a hip hop performance with dancers who can pop or isolate with any more control than these dancers. The nice thing is, the dancers are as comfortable and as convincing in each of these varied movement vocabularies. And they’re faultlessly integrated.

The Sydney Dance Company’s aesthetic is lean and agile. It’s evident that we’re watching artist/athletes at the top of their game, and this gives them a powerful presence onstage. Equally strong is their focus and sophistication of expressive detail. Every eye line feels deliberate. There’s a brilliant sense of calm and control even during the most demanding choreography, performed at speed with full attack.

As dancers do, three stand out to me. Janessa Dufty, Chen Wen and Charmene Yap are all powerful, cool, and masterful in their performances.

Dynamic – absolutely. Deeply personal – yes, but in a subtler and more abstract sense than the Auckland audience may be used to. Highly physical – it's nothing but. When they come back, don’tdare miss them.

Gold stars: 5/5

Sydney Dance Company

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre November 15

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