Forever and Ever dance review (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney)

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Antony Hamilton’s new work is like some frenzied techno party, with fantastical costumes, lasers and colour flashes, dancers forged into fractured robots – it all makes you wonder what they’re on. And it makes the first in this Sydney Dance Company double bill, a revival of Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind, seem almost classical, even lyrical.

Composer Julian Hamilton, from The Presets, came to his brother Antony with just a few “acid lines” to choose from, one waving synth line with an added drum beat  to be repeated endlessly, a pulse to drive a rave.

Forever & Ever starts though in silence with the diminutive, shaven headed Jesse Scales dancing each limb in isolation, setting the choreographic signature. She’s like some hypnotic pixie.

Then terrifying figures advance in tight formation, one lot dressed in black monk robes and cowls, gesticulating with long cones for hands, the other in white robes with jet black masks carrying lights shining to the ground.

Our pixie is thrown gently around the tallest, Izzac Carroll, until this Darth Vader clone joins others escaping their robes …revealing street cred dudes in caps and monster puff jackets or red tracksuits.

Paula Levis’ astonishing costumes are stripped further to bright yellow tops and geometric patterns, making vivid the ensemble dancing, and finally into just black strips and tribal markings.

Hamilton’s choreography seems to spin from chaos to control with the ensemble sometimes united, even enforced, but then disassociating into individual distraction. The movement is mechanical and neurotic and, as the pulse beats on, technology envelops all.

Indeed, the technology of the theatre helps makes Forever a thrilling theatrical experience, notably in Benjamin Cisterne’s deep colour flashes and handheld lights, under a vast shaft heading loft-wards , forever.  The tight lines of dancers, facing and turning in different directions, is compelling, and when they advance towards us holding green lasers.

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Yet beyond dance party seduction, Hamilton’s work is without a human, certainly empathetic touch, and his defiantly mindless, mechanical concept finally does struggle to hold us. A penultimate scene fractures into looking like an over-tired impro class with everyone trying to do their own zany dancing. Yet as the dancers strip yet more, by end Hamilton wins his applause.

By contrast, the first dance in this double bill, Frame of Mindwhen premiered in 2015was for Bonachella his then most emotionally engaging work ever for Sydney Dance. It won that year two Helpmann Awards and has since travelled across Australia, the USA, Germany, Chile and Columbia.

Like Hamilton with his pulse, Bonachela’s starting point, as usual, is the music. But in this case, it’s a moving Yiddish-inspired work for strings by New York composer (of The National fame) Bryce Dessner.  It was written as a musical evocation of home and flight and is performed live just below stage by the Australian String Quartet, based in Adelaide.

Bonachela, not normally one for articulating meaning in his choreography, does make clear Frame of Mind was born from his own experience, like the music, of wanting to be in two places at once. This conflict, being lead by different forces, this mix of lyrical sentiment and the drive to go, is apparent. Urgency and frustrations at the failures of human communication are in the various duets, trios and groups in Frame of Mind

Designer Ralph Myers brings a heightened naturalism, enhancing these choreographic details, with his tall, realistic, blotched warehouse walls and long window. His angled set thrusts the dancers to the fore of the stage and our attention. Lighting man Benjamin Cisterne, at times beautifully through that window, variously shadows and spotlights further detail.

Within that set restriction and focus, Bonachela’s dancers have a welcome opportunity in pairs and smaller groupings to bring emotional character to their movement. And Bonachela this time melds these ingredients well into a smooth  totality.

Two duets are stand outs. he irrepressible Charmene Yap and Bernard Knaurer and beautifully yield and run from each other, and even more is at stake between Holly Doyle and the imposing Izzac Carroll. Todd Sutherland does a fine erotic solo, retiring from this tug of war. As different individual dancers emerge to lead the group, Bonachela delivers full ensemble dancing which is electric.

Nelsen Earl is striking as one individual who remains dispossessed; Frame of Mind ends with impact as he scrambles to look outside that window.

Until October 27 (Photos by Pedro Greig)

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