There is a moment in Sydney Dance Company’s new show, Impermanence, one of the headline acts in this year’s Adelaide Festival, when the entire company is on stage – incredibly powerful bodies perfectly still in demi plie except for slight shakes of the head. I can only imagine how much control it takes to execute this so well, and this unnerving moment, conjures a visual metaphor, that even when we perceive stability, there is always that shake of instability, that lurks, that threatens.
Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela explained to the audience before the curtains opened, that the inspiration for Impermanence was the burning down of the Paris Notre Dame Cathedral; and then came the Australian bushfires, and then the global Covid lockdown. What we once took for granted was actually impermanent. As the theme of the 2021 Adelaide Writers’ Week implied, we are living on unstable ground, and the challenge for artistic visionaries is to make sense of the world we live in, to rethink our relationship with our planet, to rethink our relationships with each other.
Bonachela has taken this idea of instability and impermanence and created a contemporary masterpiece that resonates deeply with the emotional and psychological states of mind of 2021 audiences. He makes sense of our fragilities, our longing for belonging, our desire to make meaning of our uncertainties and to reflect on our impermanence through choreography that has dancers working in grid like patterns, and then in perfect synchronicity changing direction. There is movement that reminds one of Pina Bausch as dancers unexpectedly fling themselves onto the floor, and this entropy dissolves into lyrically mesmerizing duets, trios and smaller group work. Meditative and contemplative are words that come to mind to capture the contrast between these and the busily frantic whole company movements. It is as if to say, while we are busy filling our lives with impermanence, the only thing that matters in the end are the deep relationships we form.
The music composed by Bryce Dessner from the indie rock band, The National and performed live by The Australian String Quartet is deliberately minimalist, yet full of human emotion. There are the Reichian arpeggios and percussive staccato which dissolve into elegantly sweeping flourishes. This is music that gives the choreographers a rich palette of sounds and rhythms to explore. And then, almost unexpectedly the show finishes with the hauntingly beautiful Another World by Anohni (formerly known as Antony and the Johnsons)
I need another world
This one’s nearly gone
Still have too many dreams
Never seen the light
And when Anohni’s haunting voice sings,
I’m gonna miss the sea
I’m gonna miss the snow
you can feel the auditorium collectively heave as the raw emotions that we lived through in 2020, and indeed, still continue to endure, become a stark reminder. Nothing is permanent.
The audience collectively appreciates just how important art and beauty are in our unstable world. We remember just how much we missed the beauty and truth of live performance.
David Fleischer’s stark set and Damien Cooper’s equally evocatively stark lighting serve to contrast the richness of music and movement. For most of the time the lights work with silhouettes, shadows, and shades of blue and white. This makes the reddy-orange glow of fire and the ashen grey aftermath with flickering embers and ash grey particles an incredibly powerful contrasting image.
Impermanence is a definitive work for 2021. It captures the sensibilities and fragilities of our age beautifully, hauntingly. The dancing, the music, the staging, the lights are extraordinary.
The prolonged standing ovation says that the Sydney Dance Company’s new show, speaks right to the heart of an audience still fragile and broken by the impermanence we are going through at the moment.
Adelaide Festival Review By Bob Becker