Sydney Dance Company. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 17 August 2017
Look for details informing the evening’s double bill and you find a tale of new breed greatness paired with a mature master’s work.
Gabrielle Nankivell’s intensely rich, deeply primal Wildebeest was commissioned by Sydney Dance Company’s 2014 New Breed season. In 2015, she was awarded the Tanja Liedtke Foundation award.
Opening night marked the 10th Anniversary of Liedtke’s death. So it was quite fitting Nankivell’s work was performed. Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind scooped the 2015 Helpmann Awards for dance; best choreography, best dance work, best male dancer and best female dancer.
Instinct and knowledge are words Nankivell uses to describe the core to her Wildebeest. The work choreographically sears with animal primality blended with mythological ritual.
Almost every move originates directly from body joints - knees, elbows, knuckles - from which the limbs take their cue in bringing to life what is animal, powerful, fast, dangerous, wild, strong, and graceful.
Whether in solo or ensemble performance, the presence of the beast in fight or flight is utterly clear. Fiona Holley’s loose tunic costumes in gradations of dark to light soil colours and Benjamin Cisterne’s low level lighting with subtle white lightning flashes enhance the sense of animal chaos.
Surprisingly then, perhaps not, there’s a shift from wildness to a lemon hue lit phrase. Composer Luke Smiles offers up a delicious series of hoof like beats to which the ensemble matches with hands and arms as two dancers come together to form a living statue, then other dancers. Their arms and hands clapping together in time with beat.
It’s a mythic, religious soulfulness matching the animal wildness. Given the primal nature of the work, it’s easy to see this phrase of the work as a primitive human response to a feared power, worship it to understand it.
Frame of Mind is a very clever piece. Rafael Bonachela wanted to explore that desire to be in two places at once. He achieves this beautifully by mixing phrases of ensemble work with a duet. Designer Ralf Meyers and Lighting Designer Benjamin Cisterne provide Bonachela with a red curtained quarter square which is yellow lit for ensemble work and goes dark with faint front white wash lighting for the duet.
Where’s the clever? In the psychology informing the dance. Wonderfully, it’s not so much the dance that’s going on in the red corner that’s important. Oh no, it’s that male dancer and female dancer who don’t seem to be doing much. It takes a while to cotton onto it. She stands by the red curtain wall, watching. He slips in and out of the dance with the ensemble which is clearly under his direction. He’s half there, half elsewhere.
This terrific tension established so quietly between the male and female is given much more complex expression in the series of duets interpolated between the ensemble phrases. Only in these phrases is there a sense of unity, completeness and being at one in the moment. The choreography is gloriously intense, filled with ardent, passionately executed leaps, lifts and turns in which there’s an unrestrained freedom and joy between the two that is restricted when these two are in ‘real now time’. In the red corner with the ensemble.
Only when the first duet has occurred does attention turn to what is actually going on choreographically in the red corner space. It’s fantastic; filled with hard work and thrilling dance worthy of applause on its own. But it’s not personal. It isn’t intimate. It’s controlled and dependent for success on all dancers conforming to its dictates. Hence the tension tucked away between two dancers who would rather be somewhere else, and still get the work done.
When: 17 to 19 August
Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre