Dance can be an elusive thing, narratively. Which is why I tend to prefer the oblique, abstract and allusive to any pretensions to particularity.
Sydney Dance Company artistic director Rafael Bonachela seems to have taken on a similar outlook with the company’s latest work, 2 One Another, which he has choreographed. It is gestural and a guide to an emerging, still-developing ‘school’ of choreography unique to the man: Bonachela seems to be in the process of really finding himself; his way; his ‘house’ style; his trademark. I now feel, in years and generations to come, he may well be regarded in like manner to a Balanchine, or Taylor.
It must be said that, in the past, I’ve been somewhat conflicted by his work. While no one in their right mind could deny its potency, vivacity or interest, it hasn’t always seemed completely cohesive. 2 One Another, however, seems to be the point at which all, or some, of his disparate ideas and energies converge and coalesce into a meaningful whole. Every aspect seems well-integrated. His emerging specialty seems to be in developing and representing a kind of vocabulary and language which is at once mechanical and fluidic, robotic and graceful.
In exploring the nature of relationships, the comings and goings, alliances and fallouts, conjugations and conflagrations, Bonachela paints a picture that is, by turns, optimistic and expansive; pessimistic and confining. It is celebration and critical, introspective examination; personal and universal. Most importantly, it’s relatable.
RB has extended his affection for the linear and symmetrical, a penchant that echoes the rigidity and conformity of our existence; enslaved, as we are, by iPhones and iPads, rather than enslavers. The blank faces of the dancers point to detachment and disaffection; blood drained from their complexions, just as passion leaks from our lives. Even, or especially, in a crowd, we’re lonely: even in ensemble, dancers can pass each other unnoticed, unmoved, disconnected. It’s powerful, even poignant.
The other studies here pertain to the nature of movement itself: Bonachela’s choreography reflects the art of the possible, by attempting what looks and must sometimes be almost impossible. At the same time, he’s formulating a new, 21st-century sensuality; not as romantic or elegant, perhaps, but exploratory, taking the dancers to physical limits which test suppleness and flexibility. It’s as a metaphor, I dare say, for the exceptional adaptability required of us all for survival in contemporary society.
Bonachela confesses to his fascination with human interaction, but also seems thoroughly absorbed with questions of human frailty and survival, on individual, intimate and societal levels. What and how much can we withstand? Where are our breaking-points? Can any of this be mapped, through dance? Apparently, yes.
Beyond Bonachela and his 16 superlative dancers, Tony Assness is a major contributor: not only to production design, but costume and screen. The screen content works hand-in-glove with Nick Wales’ compositions which, in turn, interpolates the poetic text of Samuel Webster, who RB invited into the rehearsal room when the project was little more than a glint in his eye. “We almost had it; then you started talking.”
Thoughts and sentences like this float in and out, like excerpts from conversations that seem eerily familiar, shuttled into deep space for all the universe to hear. Dance, music, lighting, sound and costume sear the mind simultaneously: visual extensions of these textual capsules. Music, sound and lighting, particularly, conspire to up the dramatic ante, while the dancers bring the emotional connections and intensity.
Amy Hollingsworth has, pretty clearly, done herself, her choreographer and the company proud as dance director. It’s a neat trick to give the impression, even through meticulously rehearsed sequences, of spontaneous expression. The work has the very immediacy and combustibility Bonachela has, apparently, actively sought.
The dancers truly live up to their touted status of 16 of the very best. As such, it’s almost impossible, and folly, to try and separate them, or single one or another out as somehow more adept. Still and all, Andrew Crawford and Charmene Yap seem to me to bring a rather intangible something extra. Personality, I think. In Crawford’s case, a kind of easy charm and agility. In Yap’s, a compelling fervour, vigour and vehemence that shines from her burning eyes as much as through her limbs.
Through solos, duets and ensembles, thematic concerns, energy and interest are sustained. An hour or so can be a long time in dance. It’s easy, even with the best work, artists and intentions, for performance to waver or oscillate. Not here. Not now.
2 One Another is a landmark and turning-point in the upwardly mobile career of this company and this director.
The details: 2 One Another plays the Sydney Theatre until March 31. Tickets on the venue website.