Australian Dance Reviews

Sydney Dance Company in Rafael Bonachela’s intimate ‘Somos’

Sydney Dance Company in Rafael Bonachela's 'Somos'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Sydney Dance Company in Rafael Bonachela's 'Somos'. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Neilson Studio, Sydney Dance Company.
1 November 2023.

Sydney Dance Company debuted Rafael Bonachela’s new work Somos in the Neilson Studio Theatre at the Sydney Dance Company home base in early November. Somos, meaning ‘we are’ in Spanish is a work that Bonachela “always knew” he would create. It centres around his homeland, drawing from many elements of his childhood including the music, movement, sights, smells and unique way of being. Somos is an immersion into Spanish culture, one in which the company headed to Madrid for two weeks as a part of the creative process, bringing this experience to the work in a powerful way.

The intimacy of the Neilson Studio space lends itself to a truly unique viewing experience. For a company that is usually seen on a more traditional proscenium arch, this was certainly a distinctive choice to place this work, reflecting the intimate nature of the solos, duos and trios created around Spanish cultural expression. The stage was a rectangle placed in the centre, with two rows of chairs around the four sides of the stage for a performance in the round, the work commencing with transparent strips of red material screening the space. This interesting design by Kelsey Lee enhanced the work in its intimacy, giving a creative platform to stage movement, with layering and unique opportunities for altered perspectives. The nature of the choreography meant that no matter where you were sitting, it felt like you were viewing the front. The rectangle shape of the stage gave depth and perspective to the moments when the group was dancing around the edges of the space, and allowed for Lee’s design and the lighting (Damien Cooper) to enhance, draw back, play with enveloping or isolating the dancers in the space, bringing to life Bonachela’s vision. Costumes, also by Lee, were various textures such as mesh, lace, leather, tight/flowing contrasts, all individual looks for the dancers.

The work began with the whole company in the space, moving into various solos, duos and trios. The athleticism of each dancer really shone, and their ability to connect with each other was striking. The first duo between Naiara de Matos and Piran Scott was incredible, capturing the passion that resonates with the relational concepts of Spanish culture. Emily Seymour was also exceptionally strong in her two duets, having a presence on stage and open nature that is truly captivating. There was some nice group work that moved around the stage and worked at various angles for the benefits of all sides, using percussion and rhythm to build the atmosphere and enhance the soundtrack, mixed and edited by Nick Wales, with five music artists specifically chosen by Bonachela to create and enhance his contemporary homage to Spanish culture.

Whilst each section was quite intricate, with some very interesting partner work, lifts, connections and originality, the one thing that seemed absent was a finale to the crescendo that had been building, something that all the underlying tension never quite got to. A whole group culmination of the work, something to release and finalise what had been experienced over the course of the work. This was missing, and it left the work feeling incomplete, and not quite finished, as if the arc of direction had been lost amidst the creative process of creating a smorgasboard of intimate moments.

That aside, Somos is a wonderful experience, the viewing of which is a near-tangible encounter. The opportunity to witness an intimate work with dancers whose athleticism and authentic approach drew us in, taking us right to the atmos and breath of Spain. It is exquisite that Bonachela has chosen to create a work that showcases the place of his youth, and brings to the theatre a work for audiences to emprise his love of home. Do not miss the opportunity to share in something very special. With limited seating in the space, this season is sure to sell out.

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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