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De Novo

Sydney Dance Company presents DE NOVO at the Sydney Theatre, Hickson Rd.

DE NOVO is a three-work evening of dance with the Sydney Dance Company. EMERGENCE, choreographed by Rafael Bonachela; FANATIC by Larissa McGowan and CACTI by Alexander Ekman.

The audience loved it. My audience applauded hard, stamped and whistled for all three pieces.

I did not love it. I have reservations, reservations, reservations. AHHHHH! I wished I didn’t.

I loved the dancers and the dancing, I didn’t much like the dances. Well, not completely true, I thought CACTI was clever and if it were in another program, say like the one given by NEDERLANDS DANCE COMPANY, in July, 2011, in Melbourne, it would have been in a context that would have contrasted it fabulously. In this context of works, CACTI doesn’t have the comparative zing of content to make its satire work.

I have not seen the Sydney Dance Company as often as I could: WE UNFOLD (2009) and 2 ONE ANOTHER (2011) being the recent works, that I have caught. What Mr Bonachela has done with this company, since last I saw them, is bring the dancers to a startling capacity for movement. Within the limitations of the choreography that they are working in, they are amazing to watch. The ensemble is brimming with energy and a seeming simpatico of spirit. There physical dynamicisms/fitness are exciting.

What is true, for me, having watched Mr Bonachela’s work before is true here again in EMERGING. The dancers are either moving flat on the floor or in standing positions, solo, or in writhing sculptural patterns of duos, triplets etc etc, They rarely, if ever, get off the floor. Two feet off the ground, is it possible? EMERGING is grounded. Beautiful, sometimes, but unremittingly earthbound. What one feels is that this work has come from discussion and observation, but, in the motions, on stage, are, essentially, a cerebral exploration of that: sculptural abstractions of body, observed and discussed. Besides, the work does not have a discernible artistic shape, failing to find a theatrical structure that will overwhelm and satisfy an audience. It seems to be, piece following the next piece – walk from the wings to position and begin, when finished walk back into the wings – so self concerned with its ideas, that the audience’s journey is left to happenstance.

 I understood this most clearly with this work as the musical score, an original work by Nick Wales (2 ONE ANOTHER; THE YARD) and Sarah Blasko (soundtrack mixed by Phil Punch), is so present and powerful, a thing connected to the vibe of now, a deeply organic expression of the artists, and, so, is in such contrast to the dry cerebral approach of Mr Bonachela’s work, that one wishes to hear the work again but not see the dance. Nick Wales’ technique measured and enmeshed in the inspiration of that organic expression. The score to THE YARD, last year, the precursor to this terrific offer.

Costumes by Dion Lee do not work as dance costume, the divided tailored jacket, clumsy and eye-drawing (that black join band – I just wanted to blank it out!); the second set of dress better, but still, distracting. The cerebral concept of fashion innovator, Mr Lee, is not useful in the real practice of movement. What is it with this company? Are there no dance costume designers around or what? The Sydney Dance Company (or, is it Mr Bonachela?) has an obsession with Fashion Week wonders, why? It doesn’t work. The other works where the fashion guru has been invited in has never worked before, so why again?

The lighting in this work  (Benjamin Cisterne) that has no set design, is a substitute, briefly, with the reflection of the lighting tubes close to the floor, opening and closing the show, but too open and ‘ugly’ in the general states chosen, to show the dance in an aesthetically pleasing environment. One became aware of the cloth wing walls and the floor gaps. If the dancers and the music had not been of the highest quality it would have been a dire aesthetic night in the theatre.

Great applause and wolf whistles – ignore me.

FANATIC a new work by Larissa McGowan, as been developed from an earlier incarnation that was part of the Sydney Opera House’s Spring Dance Festival CONTEMPORARY WOMEN program in 2012. It is now a longer work (15 minutes) based, as it was last year, on the Ellen Ripley character from the ALIEN film series. Sam Haren was dramaturg (really?) and Steve Mayhew is the Sound Constructor. The best part of this trite work is the sound construction, it is “AWESOME”. But how many times can you physically repeat yourself in 15 minutes? – count the number and become bored. Choreographically dull. It is a one minute joke that passes its use-by interest after 3, generous, minutes. The dancers I saw were Natalie Allen, Thomas Bradley and Chris Turner, they appeared to be having fun, but what a waste of effort and talent.

Great applause, wolf whistles and stamping of feet – ignore me, some more.

The last work CACTI, having its Australian Premiere, with costumes and choreography by Alexander Ekman; set design by Alexander Ekman and Thomas Visser; Lighting design by Thomas Visser is a very clever work, with all of the collaborators elements integrated sublimely, and has its tongue placed firmly in cheek, satirising art and dance criticism. It begins and finishes with four live classical musicians and mixes in a full scale orchestral recording as well.

The full company of dancers each in possession of a white rectangular raised square use it has a platform and shield and also arrange it in a sculptural background shape. The dance is a wonderfully jokey affair at pell mell speeds and arrangements. Once again the stamina and flexibility of this company is breathtaking to watch. There is an hilarious point to this ‘wicked’ conception but, in this presentation, it is blunted in the context of the rest of this repertoire. It became a tiresome vacuity in this program – something it should not have said about it.

Applause and cheering – I am still there, just. The Dancers and the Sound Artists deserve the appreciation. I applaud them.

What I find about the failure of the structure of the ideas, images and dance abstractions in EMERGENCE by Mr Bonachela, is reflected once again in the organisation and or artistic choice of the programming of these works in the one evening, by Mr Bonachela. It is, in content, featherlight and undemanding. It has no guts. EMERGENCE is ‘pretty’, albeit contemporary, dance movements and pictures and FANATIC just a waste of time. CACTI, a relatively clever work, idea-wise and choreographically, but loses its impact because of the company it is shown with.

Richard Tognetti in the programming of his works with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) finds, consistently, the solution to balance and contrast the works at each concert. It is part of the joy of the ACO, the artistic construction of the evening, one has a mix of the old and the new and each piece sets the other off in a very stimulating way. One feels intellectually flattered and satisfied after attending their concerts. When one considers the work of The Australian Dance Theatre (BE YOUR SELF) alongside DE NOVO or compared to THE NEDERLANDS DANCE COMPANY one is given pause.

Most of the audience loved it.

P.S. I loved the fact that the programs were free, not $10 or more! Great move, SDC.