Review: Sydney Dance Company – 6 Breaths /LANDforms at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

Performance: 1 -3 Dec 2011
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 5 December 2011

'6 Breaths' Sydney Dance Company Photo: Wendell Theodoro

I first encountered the work of Rafael Bonachela shortly before his winning the inaugural Place Prize would launch the jobbing choreographer and guest artist of his former company, Rambert, into full-time artistic directorship of a company made in his own image. At that time, his pieces displayed a dazzling formal logic, all scissor-like extensions and vertiginous balances that were a gift to the Rambert dancers in showcasing their flawless techniques and strong bodies. Thrilling though those early pure dance pieces were, however, it’s been a pleasure to watch Bonachela’s work mature into something softer, subtler and more expressive.

6 Breaths, the opening piece in this double-bill for Sydney Dance Company, is built on Bonachela’s physical trademarks, but in a way that sometimes calls to mind the fluidity of Trisha Brown. Those long-limbed extensions are still there, but now there’s a little less stretch and a little more swing to the execution, a little more breeze to the exacting arrangements in space. The six breaths of the title refer to emotional states that can be characterised by acts of breathing and that accompany key points in life, from the first to the last. We see the dancers emerge onto the stage from foetal positions, taking a first breath; contracting as with heaving sobs in moments of distress; and tender duets in which the dancers melt into one another as if whispering to a lover.

Running through the piece is a gestural phrase centred on the torso, the emotional as well as the physical centre of the body. 6 Breaths is visually stunning and performed with exquisite precision by the whole company, with Andrew Cranford in particular standing out for his long lines and rock-solid balance. Ezio Bosso’s delicate neoclassical score complements the work perfectly.

LANDforms, also scored by Bosso and inspired by the Australian landscape rather than states of being is perhaps a little more formal than the emotionally resonant first piece. At almost an hour in length it would make a perfectly satisfying stand alone work, and here it suffers somewhat by juxtaposition with 6 Breaths – as the piece unfolds there’s a growing sense of familiarity. The gestural phrases, the ensemble arrangements, the intimate duets are all beautifully composed and beautifully executed; but ninety minutes of Bosso and Bonachela starts to feel like too much of a good thing.

That said, I would happily watch either work again, perhaps just not in a back-to-back sitting. There are moments of breathtaking beauty in both pieces; and more than that, moments that communicate raw emotion, that draw the viewer into the thinking, feeling inner life of the piece rather than resting on its surface. A work by Bonachela was always going to be a visual feast; it’s great that over the years his choreography has developed into something that satisfies the mind and the heart as well as the eyes.

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