• A scene from 'Forever & Ever', choreographed by Antony Hamilton. Photo by Pedro Greig.
    A scene from 'Forever & Ever', choreographed by Antony Hamilton. Photo by Pedro Greig.
  • 'The Shell, the Ghost, the Host and a Lyrebird'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
    'The Shell, the Ghost, the Host and a Lyrebird'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
  • Rafael Bonachela's 'I Am-ness'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
    Rafael Bonachela's 'I Am-ness'. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Canberra Theatre Centre
Reviewed March 9

The new triple bill from Sydney Dance Company, Ascent, included two world premieres—Rafael Bonachela’s I Am-ness and Spanish choreographer Marina Mascarell’s The Shell, a Ghost, the Host and a Lyrebird. These two new creations were supported by the return of Antony Hamilton’s 2018 work Forever & Ever. As Bonachela noted in a casual conversation with the audience from the stage during a short break between the first and second works, the Canberra premiere was an unusual occurrence and was, in fact, the first time an SDC program had premiered anywhere other than in Sydney. But the Canberra Theatre Centre was a co-commissioning body for the program, so the premiere in Canberra was recognition of that input.

The first work was Bonachela’s I Am-ness—not the most accessible of titles. In the program notes, Bonachela describes this work for four dancers as “a state of being in one breath”. Despite this note also being a little obscure, I Am-ness is typical of Bonachela’s choreography—extraordinarily lyrical, filled with unexpected movements across every area of the body, and composed of groupings that break up and then come together in different arrangements throughout the work. It was beautifully performed by Riley Fitzgerald, Madeline Harms, Piran Scott and Naiara de Matos. 

Following on after a short break was Mascarell’s The Shell, a Ghost, the Host and the Lyrebird. Again, not the best of titles in my opinion and, given what followed, it is hard to understand why such a specific title was attached to a work that seems largely abstract. It focuses on several differently shaped and coloured pieces of cloth attached to ropes that are controlled by the dancers. The skill with which the dancers manipulated these items is remarkable and the shapes that emerge are often held motionless as the dancers pose beside them. But most of the dancing, apart from two short duets, is done by those sails of cloth. In terms of human movement, the final duet is quite robotic and I wondered exactly what that machine-like movement represented? 

The commissioned score for Mascarell’s work came from Nick Wales working with a range of collaborators. It is written for an unusual mixture of instruments and noises, including a Baroque harp, electronics and a variety of sounds from elsewhere, including bird sounds. It is beautifully redolent of the natural world and is quite transforming in a way that the dance aspects of the work are not. The score is the highlight of the work. 

The evening ended with Hamilton’s engrossing Forever & Ever with its constantly changing, extraordinary costuming. The work begins quietly with a solo figure (Jesse Scales), dancing calmly and quietly, until a sudden crash of music and a flash of light break the calm and other dancers enter. From then on, to the sound of Julian Hamilton’s relentless score, the movement gathers momentum eventually reaching a finale that is staggering in its arrangement of fast-paced choreography for the upper body as lines of dancers move forward, backwards and sideways.

In the same onstage conversation in which Bonachela spoke of the season premiere taking place in Canberra, Bonachela also spoke about the overarching name of the program, Ascent. “We wanted,” he explained, “to start on a high and elevate ourselves into three different worlds.” The three different worlds were there for us to see. Bonachela gave us an insight into who we are as human beings and how we relate to each other. Mascarell’s ideas were presented not so much in dance as in visual imagery. Hamilton gave us much to consider about our changing relationship with the world and Forever & Ever was the highlight of what was a challenging program.


 'Ascent' moves to the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House from March 15 to 26. For more info, go here.

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