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Ab (Intra) dance review (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney)

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After a decade running the Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela’s new full-length work finally proves how much more he is than a master showman and frenzied crowd controller.

ab [Intra] – Latin apparently for from within – began with his 15 dancers in the studio scribbling their thoughts, feelings and ideas on yellow Post-it notes. An unpromising start perhaps, but Bonachela was right to trust these dancers, some here new to the SDC, for their collaborative capacity and individual emotional candour.

The 70-minute work leaps between his characteristically kinetic group work and a series of trios, duets and solos which pull at the heart, sporting an inventive beauty and complexity of human relations I’ve rarely seen before in this choreographer. His last full-length work, 2 One Another, back in 2012, was a spectacle much celebrated but, despite its name, had intimate moments for me  more quirky than insightful or engaging.

As with 2 One Another, frequent collaborator, composer Nick Wales again offers Bonachela a richly varied musical palette, here driving the movement with a pulsating score alternating electronica and high impact percussion with quieter introspections, single piano and string textures. Matching Bonachela’s long love of the cello, Wales’ score also incorporates two soulful movements from the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks.

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And this modern classicalism finds echo in the choreography. The longest duet, between newcomer Davide Di Giovanni and Janessa Dufty, charts a relationship never resting, tumbling from grounded negotiations to balletic aerial possibility.

Another newcomer Izzac Carroll partners with SDC stalwart Charmaine Yap in a beautiful display of interconnected athleticism. Other groupings, notably the trios, express an edgy competition or possession, the dancers then often peeling away to new territory.

Designer David Fleischer dresses them in nothing but black ballet wear, either naked above waist or in flesh-coloured tops. His space is open to the off-stage sides, maximising the canvas of action. Its a raw industrial aesthetic, finely evoked in Damien Cooper’s diffused, smoky lighting from on high.

Midway though, the dancers are lined like automatons at the back, downlit as though in cells. Dancer Nelson Earl moves alone in front, perfectly articulating a character lost and uselessly aggressive, tossed across the stage by forces beyond.

And then we’re back to the dynamic group work, with gestures robotic and strutting, with sideways kicks across the stage, much like an AFL team in perfect mechanical precision.

In a longer work like this, the alternating sequences of groups with trios and duets becomes a predictable structure and rhythm, but Bonachela and his creative team work successfully to keep us on board.

It’s a captivating journey and should do well touring soon to Melbourne, Darwin, Perth, Canberra and regional centres in three states.  Considering it started with a pile of Post-It notes, someone somewhere must have had faith that ab [Intra] would be fit for the road.

On the eve of the SDC’s 50thanniversary, when next year his contract is up for renewal, Rafael Bonachela certainly shows he’s up to the job.

For all city performance details click here. Main image of Nelson Earl by Pedro Greig

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