Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney
Reviewed June 2
Returning from a five-week tour of France, Sydney Dance Company took to the Roslyn Packer Theatre stage for the opening night of Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela’s acclaimed work, ab [intra]. Premiering in Sydney in 2018, the work has undergone two COVID-related postponements over the past three years — for those who experienced cancellations, ab [intra] is a masterpiece undoubtedly worth the wait.
This distinctly innovative work was born from a desire to explore energy transformation. As Bonachela elaborates in the program notes: “I think about ab [intra] (meaning "from within" in Latin) as an energy transfer between the internal and the external. For me it is more than the external expression of internal concepts, in this dance sphere it is a representation of energy – an energy derived from the interaction of these two facets of our worlds.” While the concept of energy transfer in contemporary dance certainly isn’t novel, Bonachela’s execution of this idea is undeniably sophisticated. Each detail of ab [intra] supports the choreographer’s intention, exploring the motion of energy within the body of one dancer, between company members, and throughout the entire ensemble cast.
ab [intra] feels both classic and groundbreakingly original; the work is anchored in the pure technique required for such demanding choreography, but never falls into familiar patterns, or mundane shapes. From beginning to end, Bonachela works to uncover new ways of expelling and transferring energy, teasing out an otherworldly movement quality which both celebrates and transcends the human form. Dancers navigated the stage in tight clusters of two and three, assembled into bursts of synchronised ensemble choreography, and dispersed again into fascinating solo pieces, showcasing the innate strengths of each performer. Lifts were particularly stunning, adding lovely moments of levity to the predominantly grounded choreography. One memorable lift featured a female dancer wrapped in a tight embrace around the torso of her partner, who then effortlessly unfolded one leg into a sustained extension — classic, yet entirely original.
SDC is a company in the truest sense of the word; the cast appeared to breathe as one, sensing each other with an acute sensitivity indicative of strong direction by Bonachela. Each dancer displayed flawless technique and extraordinary athleticism, traversing the stage with masterful control. Landings from jumps and lifts were inaudible, and complex sections of abstract choreography were executed with focused intention. Even in moments of stillness, the company radiated active energy — like coiled springs waiting to release.
Nick Wales’s score opens with a single, piercing cello chord, plunging the audience into an ethereal soundscape alive with clean classical notes and rich electronic tones. The score is intricately layered and diverse, while maintaining a feeling of synthesised unity necessary for a work of this scale. Damien Cooper’s lighting design elevated the quality of ab [intra] substantially, framing Bonachela’s choreography with elegant ingenuity. Throughout the piece, light was focused predominantly upstage, transforming the downstage dancers into defined silhouettes. The effect was exquisite, showcasing the depth of the Roslyn Packer Theatre stage, whilst creating a necessary sense of breadth between the audience and the downstage performers. Subtle, yet striking choices such as this underscored the tone of ab [intra] excellently, setting a standard for economically impactful lighting design. Simple costumes in neutral shades, by David Fleischer, complemented the minimalistic tone of the piece well. However, I felt that the loose pants worn intermittently throughout the performance distracted from the dancers’ stunning lines, and covered much of Bonachela’s bold choreography.
Though each dancer brought unique virtuosity to the work, I was particularly struck by the performances of Emily Seymour and Jesse Scales. Seymour was impossible to look away from, her raw dynamism electrifying the stage. Scales possesses as an innately delicate quality, which, when combined with the grounded power characteristic of SDC dancers, creates fascinating contrasts.
Bonachela held the audience in the palm of his hand with considered and precise pacing, each tonal shift feeling natural and timely. With a duration of approximately 75 minutes, the performance left me nourished, yet hungry for more. SDC’s ab [intra] is a truly breathtaking work of art, and a must-see event for Australian audiences.
— TAYLOR VENTER
All photos by Pedro Greig.
ab [intra] continues untill June 11. For more info, go here.