Sydney Dance Company finding light in the darkness
Stephen A Russell speaks with Sydney Dance Company artistic director Rafael Bonachela about his latest creation, Lux Tenebris.
In the furthest reaches of space, there is both unimaginable darkness and the incandescent light of new stars being born or giving up their last breath. This was playing on the mind of Sydney Dance Company (SDC) artistic director Rafael Bonachela when he sat down with long-time collaborator, composer Nick Wales, to create their latest explosive piece of work, Lux Tenebris, the Latin term for ‘Light and Darkness’.
Pluto may have been downgraded, but now a new planet has been discovered at the furthest edges of our solar system, one that may, perhaps, be able to sustain life. This ginormous game of celestial chess was folded into the piece, which embraces how we perceive light and darkness in our lives.
Bonachela, in a smart white shirt, is sitting at a Parisian-style street table outside Spring Street’s The European restaurant on a gloriously sunny Melbourne morning, looking out towards a park where people are soaking up the last rays of a dying summer.
“Light makes us happy,” he says. “It does change the way that we see things. But it’s not always the case that light is positive and darkness is negative. Darkness is the sea, it’s quietness, it’s peaceful, and light can also be used to torture. It gave us this really great world to play with.”
Lux Tenebris will be staged at the Southbank Theatre in a two-hander with Cacti, a wildly popular work originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater 2 by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman. The fun and frenetic piece, accompanied by an on-stage string quartet and featuring giant Scrabble tiles as well as the spiky green flora, is a fitting counterbalance to the intensity of Bonachela’s new movement, with the two pieces coupled under the banner CounterMove.
At the project’s inception, Bonachela handed Nick Wales a list cascading with his wildest thoughts untamed. “I wanted it to be visceral, mysterious, intriguing, to feel like you never knew what was around the corner. To be edgy and intense and I wanted it to have contrast,” he says. One of the fragments that sparked was the line, “it feels like a dark place but with a space for light and beauty.”
Bonachela wanted the music to be fiercely electronic, marrying the atmospheric work with Benjamin Cisterne’s intense lighting and stage design as well as the ever-shifting form of SDC’s incredible dancers. While it may seem like a departure for some, Lux Tenebris harks back to Bonachela’s output before settling into his celebrated stewardship of SDC and is something of a response to a friendly challenge from fellow choreographer Jacopo Godani.
“Jacopo had seen a lot of my work in Europe and asked, ‘Do you remember those works you made that were so fucking in your face?’ so he kind of pushed me in that direction. ‘Yeah, I do, and I’ve missed that world.’”
Working with Wales is now second nature to Bonachela, and he’s enjoying the ease with which he can disagree. “He really understands who I am. There’s a real honesty. There was a section he was working on which at first I was like, ‘maybe it will grow on me,’ but I wasn’t quite sure. But one night I was like, ‘Nick, that’s like National Geographic, I hate it.’ He’d been working on it for weeks. Everything else was fucking cool, but this was just so world music.”
Collaboration is in Bonachela’s DNA. He presented the finished score to his dancers first in a darkened room, then one flooded with natural light, asking them each time to react in any way, long before working on movement.
“They responded with the most incredible poems, prose, short stories, memories, drawings and some dancers just drew. That became the journey for everybody.”
Really proud of how Lux Tenebris turned out, Bonachela hopes Melbourne audiences will be indulgent and brave enough to go on this journey with him.
“There are so many voices out there. People should be exposed to things that will inspire and challenge them, and I want to do that with our audiences. I don’t want to spoon feed them into always having the same experience, because that would be stale and boring – for me, for them, for the dancers, for everyone.”
Lux Tenebris, Southbank Theatre, Melbourne, May 25 - June 4, 2016. southbanktheatre.com.au/countermove
(Image - Sydney Dance Compony in Lux Tenebris. Photo Dance Charmene Yap and Todd Sutherland. Photo Peter Grieg)