You know that you have just witnessed an incredible performance when you step out into the foyer after the show and see some aspiring young dancers trying to replicate the moves.
The moves were from the finale of the trilogy of Sydney Dance Company’s 50th Anniversary Triple Bill. Woof, choreographed by Melanie Lane, is one of the most charmingly delightful dances I have seen. Performed mostly in high releve, the dancers coquettishly prance in a synchronised collective spirit, drawing on the tapping moves so often used in the folk character steps of the trans-Caucasian region. The choreographer’s notes tell us that this dance is set in “an imagined future, stealing from renaissance imagery, pop culture and science fiction,” yet what struck me was just how joyous this imagined future will be. Woof, has the audience sitting on the edge of their seats with a huge smile for the entire duration of the dance.
Melanie Lane has her dancers assemble into a tableaux after a hum and soft patter of feet; a celebration of community which dissolves into individual frenzy then reunites into waves of celebratory group shapes and patterns reminiscent of national character dance. At other times the dancers borrow from the world of circus acrobatics building a five storey human pyramid. All of this is performed to a very bold musical score designed by Clark which starts with a distorted, almost percussive cello that explodes into an electronic rave party beat. The costume design by Aleisa Jelbart is equally clever – soft pastel hued body suits, tights and shorts become smeared in the black powder or make-up the dancers have on their hands signifying a ritualistic symbolism for the collective. The lighting design by Verity Hampson is inventive in its simplicity. Relying on spots and strobe chase sequences, the lights are very black and white until the glorious finale which has the cyclorama part to a warm orange glow that the dancers enter.
Woof is a sensational creation every way you look at it.
The first dance in the trilogy is Neon Aether choreographed by Gabrielle Nankivell. In medieval science, the aether, or quintessence, is the space that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere and was often used to explain gravitational forces. Whether by accident or design, this is a really clever way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a dance company that shares its milestone with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11, first crewed landing on the moon.
Costume designer, Harriet Oxley has the dancers wearing different coloured boiler suits, seemingly symbolising the planets while Luke Smiles’ music starts with the hiss and crackle of radio and transmitters reminiscent of space mission control centre chatter and countdown which then evolves into a score that has a light etherial quality (pun intended).
Nankivell has her dancers stretching and exploring the extremities of human movement. This is a fascinating performance that combines bold and inventive design with equally edgy choreography. At times the movement was mechanical and robotic working in wonderfully precise synchronicity with the snap blackouts that would have the dancers reassemble into inventive poses; at other times there was a light fluid movement that conjured up images of those famous space walks.
Cinco, which means 5 in Spanish, choreographed by the Artistic Director of the Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela explores the possibilities inherent in the number 5. Using 5 dancers, much of the movement was devised, as he says, “within the imaginary constraints of a pentagon with the dancers operating within their own 5-sided world.”
Cinco is set to the five-part string quartet No.2 Opus 26 by the 20th century Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera. The first part of the Opus, the Allegro Rustico, is reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and the dancers dressed in soft flowing rustic, almost Grecian tunics seem to be undergoing their own “spring awakening,” as they metamorphose from earth bound creatures and spring to life in joyously effortless leaps.
The fifth and final movement, Furioso, is exhilarating in its frenzy. There are intricately constructed lines, almost mathematical in their precision that seem to magically dissipate into exquisite solo work. The dance is beautifully complemented by Damien Cooper’s lighting design. Using five overhead spotlights to keep the number 5 theme going, Cooper also makes really good use of horizontal side lighting that works so well with dance.
Sydney Dance Company, performed at the Dunstan Playhouse, lived up to the very high standards that dance lovers have come to expect from this innovative and edgy ensemble. The 50th Anniversary Triple Bill was a triple treat.
Theatre Review By Bob Becker