REVIEW | AB [intra]

photo credits @pedrogreig

It’s Intense and Pulsating

Sydney Dance Company

Reviewed by Sarah Navin

After a lengthy, robust applause from an audience on their feet, and easily a dozen cast bows, a man behind me in the Roslyn Packer Theatre exclaims ‘I needed that, a cultural cleanse’. The post-pandemic lockdown audience is deprived of dance and hungry for a fix of Rafael Bonachela. Sydney Dance Company has made a long-awaited return to the world stage after a three-year hiatus, taking AB [intra] to audiences in France and now – back to its home ‘crowd’ in the harbour city.

First created in 2018, Ab [intra] fuses the angular and distorted, with sweeping lines, intimate pas de deux and moments of suspension, with breezy lifts. The start of the work has strong individuality. Dancers are scattered across the stage – some seemingly trapped within their own sphere, other’s limbs’ wildly flail, while they change direction sharply, or stride purposefully into a slide – feet skidding across the floor.

It is however, the partnerwork throughout the piece that is Bonachela’s true mastery. He says the dancers became just as much a part of the creative process, inviting them to improvise phrases and lean into interactions using their ‘instincts and impulses’. Duos and trios explore push and pull energy, weight transfers, and shapes that showcase both athleticism and intentional awkwardness in equal parts.

The program tells us that what makes Bonachela’s style ‘unmistakable’, is the combination of energy and muscle strength, and emotional sensitivity. That rings most true in Jacopo Grabar and Emily Seymour‘s mesmerising partnerwork towards the beginning of the performance. Dressed in David Fleischer‘s flesh-coloured costuming that looks like a second skin, the pair intertwine in continuous, rolling, erotic movements – pushing the limits of the human form through power, precision, and passion.

The electronic music drives the movement, with strong accents of Cello and rhythmic strings and piano. The original score by Nick Wales, featuring Klatbutne by Peteris Vasks, sometimes builds with percussion and drums in powerful moments of unison, and then grinds to a halt. Damien Cooper‘s lighting design creates dimly lit spooky silhouettes, accentuates shoulders with direct downlights and flashes bright white to startle the audience.

Don’t be fooled, it’s not relaxing viewing in any sense – it’s intense and pulsating. Interactions between dancers can be uncomfortable – with unwanted advances and brawl-like combats. Dean Elliott‘s body distorts in his evocative solo nearing the end of the work, where his limps cripple in front of us – painting a lonesome, tortured figure. Meanwhile, I’m convinced Jesse Scales is made of rubber, with the way she bounces off the floor and is twisted into different lifts at lightning speed.

Ab [intra], in Latin means ‘from within’ and ‘an exploration of our primal instincts, our impulses and our visceral responses’. That explains why the work has moments of great beauty and great pain, tenderness, and violence – perhaps a mirror on the good and the bad in human nature. The dancers seem to expertly devour complex choreography and meaning – as easy as Weet-Bix for breakfast. Their skill and strength are unparalleled – and the thought-provoking visual tapestry of Ab [intra] will linger long after you leave the theatre.

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