Review: Sydney Dance Company at 50

Sydney Dance Company returns to Adelaide with a trifecta of works celebrating half a century of movement.

Touring the country in celebration of its 50th anniversary, this triple bill of Bonachela/ Nankivell/Lane is a coherent program. Though the three works differ from one another choreographically, they share a similarity in the way lighting becomes virtually another character, the barefooted dancers have a similar style in each and they often emerge from darkness into light. Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela’s Cinco and Gabrielle Nankivell’s Neon Aether are new works, while Melanie Lane’s WOOF was first seen in the company’s 2017 New Breed season in Sydney.

Opening the program, Neon Aether takes us into space with eight dancers and composer Luke Smiles’s thunderous, clanking, swishing score using spoken words, mostly not clearly heard but sounding as if they come from somewhere out there. At one point the dancers take hands and walk in a ring, planets around the sun. At other times some dance in small groups, watched by others, particularly one woman, dressed in pink, who eventually joins in until at the end she is poignantly left alone, centrestage. Harriet Oxley’s pale-coloured costumes inspired by boiler suits are loose enough to give the wearers freedom of movement. The various sections of the piece are punctuated by blackouts – maybe too many, as they become a bit irritating.

Neon Aether (Photo: Sydney Dance Company / Pedro Greig)

It’s all in the name – Bonachela’s Cinco is a work for five dancers, three women and two men, and the music is a five movement string quartet by Ginastera, played at full throttle. The choreography depends on moments of calm contrasting with sudden bursts of fast movement, verging on the frenetic. Groups, and soloists, often come to a sudden rock-solid stop. And there is a show-stopping solo for Charmene Yap, displaying her wonderful flexibility and glorious extensions to the full. Damien Cooper’s lighting pierces the smoky and frequently shadowed stage and brighter lighting allows appreciation of Bianca Spender’s imaginative short chiffon costumes which cling to the dancers in slower movement and float airily or whip around their bodies when it gets faster. Bonachela’s choreography follows the music closely, but does not escape some repetitiveness.

WOOF (Photo: Sydney Dance Company / Pedro Greig)

Last and best is Melanie Lane’s WOOF. It’s not at all clear that the name has any relevance to the work, but what the hell, it doesn’t really matter. The 11 dancers come together in groups, split apart, prance around on demi-pointe, line up, intersect, scatter, join up again. Single-name composer Clark’s score begins with a cello, but fairly soon moves into today’s digital sound. Lane references ballet, science fiction, art of different periods, and at various times poses her dancers in tableaux, still and expressive. Their hands and wrists are covered in black paint which transfers itself to Aleisa Jelbart’s flesh-coloured costumes, maybe signifying by the end the group’s unity. And the ending is spectacular, with the cast parting two high curtains to reveal an upstage bright orange glow through which the dancers leave.

Though most of the cast are fairly new, this is a company as fluent, as brilliant, as you could wish for.

One big grouch. No printed program, not even a cast sheet, puts the audience at a disadvantage.

Sydney Dance Company
Bonachela/ Nankivell/Lane
Dunstan Playhouse 8-10 August

Header image:
Sydney Dance Company / Pedro Greig

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