Review: Bonachela Dance Company in The Land of Yes and The Land of No at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Soutbank Centre

Performance: 25 & 26 Sep 09
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 28 September 2009

Bonachela Dance Company 'The Land of Yes and the Land of No' 25-26 Sep, Queen Elizabeth Hall, SBC. Photo: Ione Saizar

For those of us who complain about an hour-long journey into work, spare a thought for Rafael Bonachela. He’s now commuting between two hemispheres, linking his new day job as the Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company with continuing to run his eponymous Dance Company here in Europe. And commuting is a relevant link into this review since The Land of Yes and the Land of No is a dance work that references the commands we all receive from the signs and symbols that control our own everyday movement; and whichever way you travel, there will be plenty of stop signs.

I freely confess to having been unimpressed by Bonachela’s last work (Square Map of Q4), which I saw, in the same theatre, just over 18 months ago, but this new work is a horse of an altogether different colour. Working closely with his composer, the double-bass virtuoso, Ezio Bosso, and his other artistic collaborators, Bonachela has created a series of dance chapters for his six dancers – in just about every combination thereof – which take his particular dance language onto a new level of excellence. Each movement seems impulsive but strategically and holistically connected. Bodies are shot through with a dynamic current, twisting, stretching, reaching and sometimes teetering on the brink of lost momentum without succumbing to it. Each chapter began with dancers walking onto the stage, often up steps from the side, like athletes entering the field of play – an effective comparison for all this elite athleticism.

Some of the segments worked less well and occasionally the dynamic, kinetic linearity was replaced by a more pedestrian interlude, or by a momentary interruption to the flow. But there were five chapters of significant worth: especially the two spell-binding duets which ended each half, both danced by the incomparable Amy Hollingsworth, respectively with Cameron McMillan and Paul Zivkovich; a stunning solo for Zivkovich to the only vocal work in Bosso’s excellent score, with dramatic changes of pace and especially elegant feet; a twisting examination of movement responses in a trio for the other cast members (Fiona Jopp, Lisa Welham and Renaud Wiser) and finally an ensemble dance in which dancers, one-by-one or in couples, temporarily dropped out of the movement and then picked it up again as others stopped. This segment articulated the symbolic basis of the work more than any other.

Each element of the design worked well. Theo Clinkard’s shimmering, all-white costumes were individualised for each dancer and helped to enable the movement flow and simple purity of the design intent; Alan Macdonald’s set resembled the incomplete side of a timber-framed house, lined with fluorescent lighting tubes, which when turned on/off in varying combinations created patterns of movement to frame or complement the choreography.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable and attention-commanding production. Bonachela has already made two acclaimed works on his new company in Australia and, on this evidence back here, he’s clearly relishing this dual life on opposite sides of the globe.

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