Artistic Dream Team
SYDNEY: When singer-songwriter Katie Noonan first collaborated with Sydney Dance Company on Landforms in 2011, she gave artistic director Rafael Bonachela some music by Benjamin Britten. Two years later, Les Illuminations is born. By Garrett Bithell.
Singer-songwriter Katie Noonan, Rafael Bonachela and his Sydney Dance Company, members of the Sydney Symphony, composer Benjamin Britten, fashion designer Toni Maticevski, and lighting designer Benjamin Cisterne: if there is such a thing as the ultimate artistic dream team, this gang would come pretty close.
Created in celebration of Benjamin Britten’s centenary, Les Illuminations stands apart as a boutique Sydney Dance Company production, in which artistic director Bonachela focuses on a smaller ensemble of dancers, exploring the frisson between them via series of contemporary duets. The work takes its name from Britten’s romantic song cycle, written with dedications to his life partner, tenor Peter Pears, in the late 1930s, and inspired by the poetry of Frenchman Arthur Rimbaud.
Performed live on stage by much-loved Australian vocalist Katie Noonan alongside 12 of Sydney’s finest string musicians from the Sydney Symphony, the sensuality of both the music and movement will be amplified by the intimate surrounds of The Studio at the Opera House.
“I just saw the first full run with the dancers and it’s amazing,” Noonan tells SX. “Just beautiful. Raf has beautifully realised the themes within the poetry and the stories behind not only Rimbaud, but also Britten and where he was in his life at the time. It’s gorgeous.”
Britten wrote Les Illuminations around the outbreak of World War, before he left England for America to avoid the tension between his well-known pacifism and an increasingly bellicose Europe.
“He had just started his love affair with Peter Pears, who went on to become his life-long partner,” Noonan says.“You can hear that love and admiration and understanding so deeply. One of the pieces is dedicated to Peter, ‘Being Beauteous’, which is probably my favourite piece. And Raf has choreographed the most divine duet between dancers Charmene Yap and Cass Mortimer Eipper – it’s this delicious, romantic, very sensuous love affair on stage.”
Noonan came to Bonachela with the idea that would become Les Illuminations during her first collaboration with Sydney Dance Company in Landforms in 2011. For that production, however, she was in a shallow orchestra pit and couldn’t see the dancers as she was singing. But Les Illuminations is very different. “I’ve got the best view in the house,” she laughs.“I’m literally right next to the cello in the bosom of the orchestra, and then right in front of me, like a meter away, will be the dancers! So I’m very excited.”
But with a very high tessitura, different tempi changes and multiple changes of meter, it’s a tough piece to sing. “It’s not easy,” Noonan admits.“And of course it changes slightly every night. For example there’s one bit where I’ve got this crazy high note, and I hold it, and some nights I might hold it a little longer, and the dancers have movements that go to that.”
But despite the technical difficulty, the music is very accessible for an audience. “It’s musician’s music because it’s difficult and it’s nice to sink your teeth into,” Noonan says.“But it’s still inclusive and accessible. It’s not Schnittke!”
[Pictured] Sydney Dance Company’s Les Illuminations, with Katie Noonan. Photo: Ellis Parrinder
Les Illuminations, The Studio at Sydney Opera House, eight shows in total from August 28 – 31, two shows per evening 7pm and 8.15pm. Bookings at www.sydneyoperahouse.com.au