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IMPRESSIONS: Sydney Dance Company at The Joyce Theater

IMPRESSIONS: Sydney Dance Company at The Joyce Theater
Cecly Placenti

By Cecly Placenti
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Published on April 29, 2024
Photo: Pedro Greig

Artistic Director and Choreographer: Rafael Bonachela

Executive Director: Lou Oppenheim

Technical Director: Guy Harding

Rehearsal Director: Richard Cilli

Music: Nick Wales

Lighting Design: Damien Cooper

Dancers: Timmy Blankenship, Anika Boet, Dean Elliott, Riley Fitzgerald, Tayla Gartner, Liam Green, Luke Hayward, Morgan Hurrell, Ngaere Jenkins, Sophie Jones, Naiara de Matos, Connor McMahon, Ryan Pearson, Piran Scott, Emily Seymour, Coco Wood, Chloe Young

Date: April 16, 2024

Choreographers who have dancers observe one another on stage always intrigue me. The act of watching performers watching themselves makes the piece more personal. In ab (intra), choreographed by Sydney Dance Company's artistic director Rafael Bonachela, the dancers regard each other throughout the seventy-five-minute piece as they navigate tenderness and turbulence, connection, and division.

From the opening, as they traverse precise, designated pathways, specific movement motifs emerge: clapping and dropping to one knee; running and sliding along a diagonal; lunging and striking out with an arm. These motifs are specific to individual dancers, and while the dancers bear witness, they do not share.

(L - R) Jacopo Grabar, Chloe Young, Telea Jensen, Isabella Crain, Dean Elliot, Liam Green, Mia Thompson and Jesse Scales. Photo: Pedro Greig

Performers idly walk the perimeter of the stage, intently watching a man and woman coil around each other, limbs seamlessly wrapping and unwrapping, evoking images of an anemone drifting under the sea. Bonachela has a boundless imagination for interlacing bodies. Twining duets and trios emerge and dissolve as dancers connect in surprising ways. Legs hook around waists. Ankles encircle necks. Dancers tumble end over end in seamless transition. The opening patterns repeat and give the work a tidal rhythm, acting as palette cleansers between movement courses.

Jacopo Grabar and Emily Seymour. Photo: Pedro Greig

ab (intra), Latin for “from within,” takes its time building. Unison dancing emerges from chaos. Groupings of performers move in synchronicity, offset by other groups executing different, but complementary phrases. Sometimes three or four patterns happen simultaneously before all seventeen performers join together suddenly and with flawless exactitude. The kaleidoscopic effect created entrances us. ab (intra) ebbs and flows between meetings and partings--sometimes congruous and sentimental, sometimes tempestuous and rough. Alliances form and dissolve quickly, tricking the eye and forcing us to question our own perspective. Previous duets and trios are revisited and performed with new intent. The group continually returns to its earliest motifs, resetting in order to engage in new ways, allowing us to do the same.

With each ebb and flow, Bonachela invites audiences to look closer, notice yet another texture, contemplate a familiar interaction in a fresh way. This is one of the works major strengths. However, while superbly executed and masterfully crafted, repetition can have a lulling effect.

Dean Elliot. Photo: Pedro Greig

Towards the end of the evening Damien Cooper’s cold lighting matches the plucking strings and buzzing electronics of Nick Wales’s sound score. The lights brighten and dim matching the activity, or lack of thereof, on stage. Like suspects in a line-up, the dancers gather to the rear of the stage as one man breaks into frenetic solo. This disconnection feels like a statement, an ending — it’s not.  The man is absorbed back into the line and more unison dancing ensues. In fact, ab(intra) has several false endings, touching on overstatement.

Emily Seymour and Jacopo Grabar. Photo: Pedro Greig

This does not ruin the evening, however. Although unnecessarily long, ab (intra) plays exquisitely with our perception. Bonachela’s choreography is textured and sculptural, full of captivating dynamics that fluctuate between ultra-gooey and machine-like exactness. His craftsmanship invites contemplation of and connection to the 17 wonderful performers, each stunning in their own right.

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