Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney.
2 June 2022.
It was curious to see what Sydney Dance Company would showcase after a couple of years of interruption and turmoil. The company’s decision to re-perform ab [intra], a work that it launched in 2018, seems to suggest that the company was suffering a loss of creative energy and confidence. Contemporary dance is concerned with the shock of the new and the immediate issues of the day. So for Sydney Dance Company to perform one of its classics from its repertoire rather than unveiling a post-pandemic original work was cause for concern.
But surprisingly this reviewer found that the 2022 version was quite different to the initial offering. It was a fitting work that captured the times with its themes of isolation, loneliness and a longing to reconnect with others. Ab [intra] translates to “from within”, and Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela always stresses the importance of the dance that emerges from the creative practice of the company’s dancers. And just as the company’s personnel changed, the performance itself seemed to develop in its own ways… or perhaps our memories played tricks on us all.
Ab [intra] is, according to Bonachela, is the story of the feelings that emerge from “awkward encounters”. On re-watching the broad ensemble pieces, it was eerily prophetic where they were dancing in unison with social distancing and a sense of isolation. Rather than moving together, they danced as if alienated and directed by some alien force.
The pas de deux (highlighted in 2018 by Charmene Yap) captures both the lyricism of Bonachela’s work and the awkwardness of many intimate relationships. As dancers remain in constant contact twisting through the air and on the ground, ab [intra] is a story about the absolute primacy of intimate human contact and group formations. And just like the dancing, the continued push/pull of physical attraction and repulsion.
The beauty of the performance was the interplay between external desires that isolated, froze, and shadowed the dancers into orderly stiff rows and movements that were visually pleasing as an organising principle, but sucked the life out of the stage. In contrast, when the internal desires drove the performers to entangle each other in awkward clusters and formations, the chaos seemed to enliven the dancers and remove the shadows from the stage.
In this version of ab [intra] Chloe Leong’s performance was a standout whereby she combined sinuous fluidity with a pressing emotional urgency, especially in her partner work with Davide di Giovanni. Also striking was Jesse Scales’s performance and her sensitivity to the more internal and headstrong requirements of the choreography.
Damien Cooper’s stark and minimalist lighting design captured the dramatic movement from the external isolation to intimate longing with little distraction. Nick Wales’s score complimented the capacity to alternate between isolation and connection, with his alternating classical and electronica providing an able counterpoint to the internal/external interplay of the work.
After its sellout season in Paris, it seemed that Sydney Dance Company was simply resting on its laurels, slowly getting back to normal by re-staging a popular piece. It’s surprising how external events have highlighted the themes explored in ab [intra], but these events have forced a reinterpretation or re-valuing of the work.
The post-pandemic ab [intra] has highlighted how the pandemic forced on us a whole raft of awkward encounters, some we have dealt with better than others. This new viewing shows how we can make sense of these encounters by listening to our internal desires and the need for intimacy and connection. Ab [intra] is a moving and vibrant work that on re-staging has encouraged the viewers to reflect deeper into the story emerging from our internal worlds.
By Elizabeth Ashley of Dance Informa.