Sydney Dance Company’s 2 One Another

This article was first published on Onya Magazine on 26th November 2012


My dance career started and ended when I was about ten. Passionate attempts at tap, jazz and contemporary were made, but my lack of co-ordination and general dancing ability kept me quite comfortably positioned in the back row.

With this in mind, it’s little surprise that I watched the dancers in Rafael Bonachela’s 2 One Another in a mixture of awe, amazement and a little bit of jealousy. The production from the Sydney Dance Company features seventeen of the best dancers and it’s easy to see why – their suppleness, technical skill and grace is astounding.

The opening is understated and it took a minute to work out exactly what was happening. The ensemble fills the stage, no lights or distractions, and move from one sharp movement to the other, slowly, making shapes and angles with their bodies. Then, unexpectedly, there’s a blinding flash of light and the enormous digital backdrop comes to life, illuminating the stage.

A clear strength of the production is the lighting and set design, particularly the huge screen that provides the backdrop for the performance. Tony Assness and Benjamin Cisterne’s clever lighting and digital screen add power and drama to the choreography, but not so much as to overpower the movement of the dancers. Flashes of light like lightening add mood and power to a strong and sharp dance from the male ensemble members, while varying projections including twinkling stars and a deep red sunset-like image help set the tone for the slower pieces.

2 One Another is inspired by Bonachela’s fascination with human interaction, “the individual reacting and being stimulated by others and the group”. The production references this with dancers by themselves, in pairs, in trios, fives and as an ensemble. Yet apart from this physical interaction, I fail to really catch the story or message 2 One Another aims to convey, except for a few glimpses. These are moments of great storytelling through dance, two different duos where human interaction is explored and shared intimately with the audience. The dancers are intertwined, exploring each other like new lovers, always touching. Dressed in the second costume of the performance, changed from the initial androgenous teal and neon mesh cut-out outfits, they are draped over each other like the vibrant red draped leotards they wear. While technically the dance was impressive, I couldn’t help wish the story were as evocative throughout the whole performance as it was in these moments.

The stage itself is large and white, a design decision Bonachela admits as potentially risky. Should the dancers not fill the space, the vast white surface would swallow them up. He need not worry and the bold decision certainly pays off. When illuminated, it looks amazing, casting a spotlight on the incredible physique, strength and grace of the dancers. The use of space is brilliant particularly when the whole ensemble is on stage. At one point, the ensemble are staggered across the stage before one by one they start walking, picking up others along the way until a perfect straight line is formed. Moments like these are unexpected and spectacular.

Composer Nick Wales and Adam Luston provide the music for the performance, the choreography and sound so perfectly fitted together it almost seems as if it’s forcibly making the bodies of the dancers move to its beat. A unique element to 2 One Another is the inclusion of local Sydney poet Samuel Webster’s prose, created collaboratively with the company, interspersed into the music. Also littered throughout the programme, the phrases are compelling, but I feel they are a little lost on stage.

It’s clear from 2 One Another why the Sydney Dance Company has the reputation it does – the choreography is modern and sharp yet executed by the dancers with grace. There are standout performers, particularly Andrew Crawford, Charmene Yap, Chen Wen and Natalie Allen, but as a collective ensemble, each dancer holds their own. The music, lighting, costumes and set design amplify the drama of the production, but importantly don’t overshadow the dancers.

Overall it’s an impressive performance but despite the strength of each element involved in its collaborative effort, as a whole it doesn’t quite come together as I had hoped and I can’t help but leave with the feeling something was missing, that I didn’t quite get the fundamental story that 2 One Another was about, save for a few momentary glimpses. Perhaps these glimpses are so intimate because they are intensified by the other times when you’re not so easily drawn in. Although Bonachela emphasises dance doesn’t have to be about anything, to me every movement should be an expression of a feeling and emotion. This in itself should be enough to create a story.

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