• Juliette Barton and Thomas Bradley. Photo: Wendell Teodoro.
    Juliette Barton and Thomas Bradley. Photo: Wendell Teodoro.
  • Juliette Barton and Thomas Bradley. Photo: Wendell Teodoro
    Juliette Barton and Thomas Bradley. Photo: Wendell Teodoro
  • Janessa Dufty and Bernhard Knauer.  Photo: Peter Greig.
    Janessa Dufty and Bernhard Knauer. Photo: Peter Greig.

Sydney Dance Company:  Les Illuminations -
The Studio, Sydney Opera House, 28 August -

2013 marks the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten’s birth, and according to the program notes, this production of Les Illuminations is both inspired by, and a tribute to, his life and music. It is boldly collaborative in bringing together a number of artists from different disciplines including singer Katie Noonan, costume designer Toni Maticevski, choreographer Rafael Bonachela with eight dancers from Sydney Dance Company (SDC) and musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Yet perhaps the most unusual element of Les Illuminations is its staging on an elevated catwalk that inevitably places tighter boundaries than usual on the dancers’ ability to move. Despite this, Rafael Bonachela’s choreography remained varied and inventive while the dancers’ proximity to each other as well as to their audience enhanced the intimate feel of the Studio.

The first piece is set to Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony and shows a playful, tender side of love through a series of duets. The dancers are dressed simply and effectively in neutral shades with their legs left bare.  The first couple, Janessa Dufty and Bernard Knauer, were convincingly exuberant but rather overshadowed by the intensely absorbing and believable connection between Andrew Crawford and Fiona Jopp. Their duet was mesmerising to watch and hopefully this is a partnership that will be further developed by SDC in future works.

The second work, set to Britten’s Les Illuminations, is a complete contrast in mood and tone to Simple Symphony, exploring a much darker, more possessive and controlling type of love. These dancers wore cool, guarded expressions while a spiky tension came through their slow drawn out movements. Toni Maticevski’s black costumes with contrasting mesh and opaque sections were very striking and looked as if they belonged on a catwalk, in turn making the dancers look more like models. Juliet Barton in particular had a willowy elegance that was accentuated by her black, feathered headpiece. And the cross-shaped black mesh that covered Thomas Bradley’s mouth added an extra poignancy to his closing duet with Cass Mortimer Eipper, perhaps a reference to Benjamin Britten’s homosexuality, “the love that dare not speak its name”.

Musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra were led assuredly by conductor Roland Peelman while the purity of Katie Noonan’s voice soared above the darkness of the second work. Collaborating live with musicians of such calibre is enormously beneficial for smaller dance companies like SDC and plays an important part in attracting a wider audience. On this basis it is a shame Les Illuminations did not have a longer run of performances at the Sydney Opera House because it is an intriguing show and well worth seeing. 

- Geraldine Higginson

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