When London-based, Spanish choreographer Rafael Bonachela scored a choreographic commission with Sydney Dance Company in early 2008, he never imagined he would be artistic director of the company by year’s end. His own recently formed company, Bonachela Dance Company, was making headway in the UK, with plenty of projects in the pipelines. But that didn’t deter Bonachela from moving to the other side of the globe and taking up the helm at SDC.

Rafael BonachelaThe job of artistic director of SDC, Australia’s largest contemporary dance company, is no small task, especially at this pivotal time in the company’s history. After 30 years under the directorship of one of Australia’s best loved choreographers, Graham Murphy, and then the tragic loss of his successor, Tanja Liedtke in 2007, SDC was in a time of transition and mourning. Bonachela was a fresh start for a company moving in new, uncharted directions.

Bonachela is a self-proclaimed “movement junkie” whose pure movement compositions are packed chock-full of intricate and continually morphing patterns. His abstract, often frenetic, yet highly sensuous aesthetic was not the obvious choice to succeed the lyrical and often narrative based work of the very-popular Murphy, but so far he’s proving a success. Audiences are embracing the challenging work that both he and his guest choreographers have so far offered them. SDC ticket sales are up. The company recently toured Bonachela’s we unfold to regional NSW as well performed in Venice and Shanghai. There’s a brand new double bill opening in Sydney in October and then we unfold will come to Melbourne and Brisbane in November.

It’s been a whirlwind, but one that Bonachela has whole-heartedly embraced. He’s excited to be in the position to not only create a new collection of repertoire for SDC that will be adaptable for touring, but also to commission Australian and international choreographers who excite him. He invited Berlin-based, Australian choreographer Adam Linder to join him in the New Creations double bill that SDC premiered early this year. Israeli Emmanuel Gat will share the program with Bonachela in the upcoming premiere of New Creations 2. This strategic coupling is all part of Bonachela’s plan to build a living repertory of works by both guest choreographers and Bonachela that the SDC can perform regularly and tour on demand. He hopes to develop more mixed bill programs - a shift away from Murphy’s programming of mainly evening-length works that were co-created by Murphy and Janet Vernon.

“New Creations was quite different for audiences in Sydney. Adam [Linder]’s work was very different to mine. The program oversold its target of ticket sales. It was a triumph because I achieved a program that I wanted. [It was] a program that was daring - that was going to cause a lot of dialogue; that was going to get people talking about how ugly it was. I didn’t choose it for that. I chose it because I believe that Adam Linder is an artist that I have to support because I like his work very much. He’s working with (contemporary choreographer) Meg Stuart, so he’s on that planet. So it’s really conceptually based – about altered states of being. It was very hard-core embodying of movement - about religious sects, orgasms, tripping on acid. It was about how to alter states of consciousness through otherness.”

“If we are talking about [SDC] turning the page…the page was turned in March 2010. And a lot of people felt that. Even the people that didn’t get it or had never seen anything like that….they were the ones that were coming again and again and liking it more and more. It’s not beautiful to the eye or easy to chew… I am just here to do a job and I have to be honest with myself first. I know it’s a balance that I have to find. Audiences need to grow in numbers, but I need them to grow intellectually also. It’s not just about more ticket sales, but about [audiences] seeing different things.”

Bonachela will keep commissioning works that, like Linder’s, confront audiences and don’t fit into normative notions of dance or beauty. Some may describe them as controversial, or not popular enough, but Bonachela wants to present contemporary dance that will challenge audiences and dancers alike. He wants to inspire people to see and feel dance in new ways. And while he acknowledges that he is moving SDC in the direction of a repertory company, he stresses to add that this is new repertoire, not material that has already been created for other dance companies. He emphasized, “I am not going to be buying greatest hits. I want to make those hits!”

Along for the ride are his 17 dancers, many of them new to SDC, but already familiar with Bonachela. He has been particular about finding dancers who understand his aesthetic and are willing to embrace his artistic choices. A handful of them, including Amy Hollingsworth, Fiona Jopp and Cameron McMillan, have danced extensively with Bonachela in Europe. Others like Emily Amisano and Lachlan Bell won him over with their versatility, virtuosity and adaptability.

In preparation for we unfold’s regional NSW tour this past May, the company restaged the full-length work in only 13 days with seven new dancers who had never danced it before. It had originally premiered in March 2009 and was Bonachela’s first choreography for SDC as artistic director.
{xtypo_quote_right} I am a choreographer that likes other choreographers’ work. I feel totally inspired by seeing the group of dancers that I have chosen being pushed in ways and learning from other people and then ultimately for audiences to sit in a theatre and not just see my work.{/xtypo_quote_right}
“I have an entirely new company of people that are really committed and focused and just a pleasure to work with. Different dancers have brought something different to [we unfold]. Those that have the history of dancing my work in London have brought maturity to it.”

“I was watching [the company] perform in Wagga Wagga and I had this feeling of joy and being so proud. The company looks so amazing together. They are such a cohesive ensemble of people.”

“One of the things that I am now able to do is, not hugely rework things, but I have been able to play with things and let things grow. That’s a great feeling for a choreographer. The [dancers] that have been there for [my first] year know me more and I know how to communicate with them and how to get things out of them. The ones that are new are there because they really want to be there. They know what the company is about.”

Taking on the role of artistic director has not only given Bonachela the freedom to recruit his dance dream team, but he has also acquired the infrastructure to revisit and, if needed, rework his choreographies. He will be able to group them with different works in SDC’s steadily building collection of repertoire to make programs best suited to particular audiences. He anticipates expanding both regional and international touring as more dances are created on the company.

There’s no question that Bonachela will always have many things on the go at once. He’s not just a “movement junkie” – he’s also an energy junkie – enthusiastically jumping between his multiple duties as resident choreographer, artistic guardian of SDC, and major Australian arts figure. The upcoming Melbourne and Sydney tours of we unfold will come hot on the heels of the New Creations premiere – but Bonachela is not phased. On the contrary, he’s excited to embrace so much artistic activity and diversity.

He said, “I was in a rep[ertory] company (Rambert Dance Company). At times we had 10 works in the life of the company that would shift. I enjoyed it immensely. I am a choreographer that likes other choreographers’ work. I feel totally inspired by seeing the group of dancers that I have chosen being pushed in ways and learning from other people and then ultimately for audiences to sit in a theatre and not just see my work. There will always be somebody that will be Australian and also somebody who has never been in this country [on the SDC programs]. This is a key thing – that contemporary dance is a rich ecology.”

Sydney Dance Company presents
we unfold
Rafael Bonachela

the Arts Centre, the Playhouse
Dates: 9-13 November 2010
Times: Tuesday - Saturday 8pm, Wednesday 1pm Matinee, Saturday 4 pm Matinee
Tickets: $40 - 70
Bookings: theartscentre.com.au | Ticketmaster 1 200 182 183 | the Arts Centre Box Office and Ticketmaster outlets

Queensland Performing Arts Centre, the Playhouse
Dates: 17 - 27 November, 2010
Tickets: $30 - $60
Bookings: www.qpac.com.au

Visit: sydneydancecompany.com

Image credits:-
Top Right &
Cover - Rafael Bonachela
Photos - Ione Saizar

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