Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney
Reviewed October 29
Resound is a striking triple bill of contemporary dance that feels particularly relevant to our shared societal experience of the last few years. From the first work to the last, it touches on themes of confinement and isolation though to a re-emergence into a brighter, lighter world made all the richer for its rougher edges. This is contemporary dance as catharsis, and the program seems to follow a more specific narrative than Sydney Dance Company (SDC) programs have done in recent years.
The opening piece is Ocho, a 40-minute work choreographed by Rafael Bonachela which I reviewed when it premiered in 2017. It's interesting to discover that this time, despite all the familiar aspects of this work, it seems to take on new meaning because of our recent experiences through lockdowns/restrictions in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. In 2017 set/costume designer David Fleischer’s empty grey bunker brought to mind a dystopian future in an indeterminate time and place, but in 2022 it speaks of city streets and buildings suddenly devoid of people. Meanwhile the set, a glass-fronted room in which the dancers are confined, is all the more effective because of the dancers' forced proximity (no social distancing possible here) and lack of room to move independently. Come to think of it, is the glass-fronted room really here in the theatre with us or could it simply be a screen – live-streaming human contact from afar?
Ocho means eight in Spanish, and the cast of eight are all soloists in this piece. Luke Hayward and Chloe Leong were outstanding in roles danced previously by former SDC members Nelson Earl and Charmene Yap. In the work's closing moments the dancers appear to find a meditative stillness and serenity, moving slowly in unison as the warm light of dawn streams through gaps in the towering wall panels and Nick Wales’s music score shifts from electronica to the song of vocalist Rrawun Maymuru.
Probably no sound so closely evokes summertime in Australia as that of cicadas, so it makes sense that Bonachela’s brand new work Summer is set to a score called Cicadidae, written by composer Kate Moore and played by the Australian String Quartet. As anyone familiar with the chorus of cicadas might expect this score is repetitive but within that framework musical shifts and changes can be easily observed.
In contrast to the emphasis on solo work in Ocho, the trio of dancers in Summer remain more closely entwined and connected with some complex three-way partnering that sometimes limits their capacity to match the frenetic pace of the music. The costumes are simple but striking unitards - splashed with bright, summery colours (courtesy of a collaboration between Romance Was Born and Ken Done). Dancers Dean Elliott, Liam Green and Emily Seymour gave vivid performances on opening night.
Like Summer, Stephanie Lake’s The Universe is Here is also a brand-new work, having its world premiere in this season of "Resound". The Universe is Here is a work for 14 dancers and one featured harpist - Emily Granger. With Emily seated centre stage on a round plinth behind an imposing and intricately carved harp the work begins like a classical music recital, with notes rippling and shimmering like a mirage of ordered, harmonious perfection. Even the harp looks like a sculptural object of beauty in its own right so you don’t really notice the line of dancers upstage until they edge closer to the front. With arms interlinked this line has to break in half in order to move downstage of the harpist and Lake’s choreography initially emphasises the structured unison of the ensemble. But it doesn’t stay like this.
When composer Robin Fox’s score shifts to the rolls and claps of thunder, the line of dancers breaks up completely. The harpist leaves the stage and the harp remains but moves upstage to allow greater focus on the dancers. Now atomised into singular parts the dancers move in more grounded and less overtly "beautiful" ways. Dressed in costume designer Harriet Oxley’s gold boxer style shorts interlaced along the side seams they crouch and jab in defiant, defensive movements. This is interspersed in other sections with solos and duets that range from lyrical grace to a twitchy, trembling pulse – a kind of visual stutter that translates and amplifies implied psychological distress through the dancers’ bodies to the audience. Jesse Scales was excellent in this work, especially in a duet with Luke Hayward towards the end which was accompanied by the harpist. Other standout performances included those of Mia Thompson, Jacopo Grabar, Chloe Young and Rhys Kosakowski.
The stage was imaginatively and evocatively lit for all three works by Damien Cooper and there was plenty of interesting background information in the electronic program, which was free to access online via QR codes in the theatre foyer.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON