Reviewed November 6 

 Ten dancers in 31 solos over 45 minutes = Years.

With choreography by Rafael Bonachela, music by J.S. Bach and costumes designed by Bianca Spender, this made for digital premiere really gave the viewer a chance to see the dancers as individuals – up-close and in far more detail (depending on the size of your screen) than you would ever see them onstage.

While the performance was free to access it did require registration. And for those interested in understanding more about how the work originated and developed there are also a number of educational videos available on SDC’s Youtube channel which featuring the relevant creatives talking about specific features of the work – including an excellent interview with Rafael Bonachela and Dame Darcey Bussell that I highly recommend.

Rafael’s explanation of how the work came about via an attempt to keep creating and working when unable to physically gather in the same space due to pandemic restrictions brings to mind the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. The fact that it was made entirely of solos, for example, relates directly back to the home isolation in which initial preparations for Years began. With no certainty back then of when they would be able to gather together and rehearse as a group, Bonachela took the opportunity to look back at his archive of choreographic work, teaching phrases of movement from right through his career over Zoom and setting his dancers tasks in order to personalise and make them their own. Even the final cast of 10 dancers was less a matter of casting in the traditional sense (director/choreographer’s choice), and simply the pragmatic result of using those dancers who were fully vaccinated first and able to come back to the studio as soon as restrictions were fully lifted.

I am not sure who to credit for the lighting design (four large circular pools of light - separate, but only just - dark shadows tracing their narrow boundaries) but it was visually striking. This lighting design also gave the loose folds and silky sheen of Bianca Spender’s costumes greater dramatic emphasis. Each dancer had their own unique costume but Emily Seymour’s burnt orange dress had the strongest visual impact and she looked absolutely stunning in it. Bonachela’s choreography was alternately slow, fast, playful, cheeky, reflective or tender – never settling on any one mood for long.

The structure of 31 solos comes directly from the musical framework of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Although originally written for a harpsichord with two keyboards, this version was re-arranged for two pianos by Stephen Emmerson and played in the studio with the dancers (on concert pianos provided by KAWAI) by Stephen Emmerson and Sonya Lifschitz in SDC’s new black-box Neilson Studio for the livestream on this night. Each solo was filmed in one-take with one steady cam, making the end result a kind of dance between dancer and camera (putting the viewer in place of the camera).

 Finally, the long exposure photographs shown at the end (and presumably taken by Director of Photography Florian Emmerich) were stunningly beautiful. One photo for each solo was taken from a birds-eye view, and these traced each dancers’ path across the floor while capturing and abstracting the movement of their bodies and costumes in what appeared to be billowing puffs of smoke. Capturing a solo in one frame meant that the dancers’ bodies were fragmented with glimpses of a hand, arm or foot, but never a legible whole body.


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