Dance, itself, can be described as impermanent. The body moves a particular way in space and then it moves on. Each unique moment flickers away as soon as the next one appears.  

Sydney Dance Company’s newest work, Impermanence, is especially ephemeral. The non-stop hour of dancing swells and resides with an ever-changing kinetic force. It’s hard to keep up, as so much happens in very short spaces of time. One amazing physical interaction finishes and immediately something else equally intriguing replaces it.  

Choreographer (and SDC artistic director) Rafael Bonachela is no stranger to such intricate and continuously moving physicality. His forte is in complex, large group sequences and Impermanence is one of his best works for the company. There’s barely a lull in the 60 minutes and the movement textures continually change and morph in endless array.  

What begins as a slowly rising curtain and the vison of only feet, then legs, striding in tight lines, crescendos to bodies falling out of formation or backwards, setting off chain reactions of different, less linear movements. A metronomic marching equilibrium regains, only to slip back into fast-paced, sinewy sequences that are extraordinary for their unpredictable timing.

In both large and small formations, tightly wound tension pulses through the bodies for long stretches of time and then spirals to release. They contract and release, wind and unwind. It's thrilling and exhausting in equal measure.   

Bonachela is also a choreographer who uses strong, layered music to drive the ebbs and flows of his sequences. Here Bryce Dessner’s score powerfully calls the shots. Not that the music completely dictates the dance – the music/dance relationship is quite symbiotic, but the music has a drive that’s impossible to ignore. The push-pull of the human force field synchs with the deep tones and changing cadences of Dessner’s score. 

The Australian String Quartet perform live upstage in a corner – very visible but not distracting – and give Dessner’s music the notice that is deserves. Wearing loose fitting white garments, the quartet blends in with the minimal setting. Their presence is known, but they never pull attention from the dancers.

When the final scene segues to vocals by Anohni “I need another world. This one’s nearly gone,” the dancers embrace each other before a curvaceous male solo closes the show. It is a softer slowing down – a contrast to most of what has come before. This human vulnerability only reveals itself towards the end. It brings the choreographic complexity back to a more emotional, sensuous ending by summoning the humanity and fragility at play. 

It’s hard to single out dancers, as all 16 are superb and democratically kitted out in muted tones of briefs and loose t-shirts and crop tops. Aleisa Jelbart’s costumes are fleshy and barely there, but not risqué.

David Fleischer’s set is equally sparce, with a backdrop often exposing only a horizontal strip of light (lighting design by Damien Cooper) or a projection of delicately falling gold stars. Like the other visual design elements, there is a minimalism and a simplicity to the setting that’s cool yet not too aloof.   

Overall, the design supports rather than overwhelms the dancing in Impermanence, allowing for appreciation of the phenomenal human bodies in all their moving glory. 

Event details

Sydney Dance Company presents

Choreographer Rafael Bonachela

Venue: Playhouse Theatre | Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 6 – 10 September 2022
Tickets: $45 – $100

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