Australian Dance Reviews

Up close and personal: Sydney Dance Company in ‘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 at Sydney Dance Company, Sydney.
1 November 2023.

The world premiere and opening night of Somos – which translates to “we are” in Spanish – was an intimate work choreographed by Sydney Dance Company Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela and performed by Sydney Dance Company artists in the Neilson Studio. Composed of multiple pieces flowing from group work, to solos, duos and trios, each with its own significance paid homage to Bonachela’s cultural roots. 

Up close and personal, Bonachela’s signature style and boundary-pushing concepts, invited the audience into a transformative setting creating only inches of distance between the viewer and performer. Initially, the rectangular reflective stage – outlined by a single row of lights – was enclosed by a red transparent panelled curtain creating textured focus, curiosity and desire to get a clearer view of the dancers as they moved in silence within their own realm, as audience members took their seats. 

The opening number was accompanied by velvety vocals – almost haunting – with an electric linear undercurrent that evolved into a deep base and beat which dictated the pace and movement of the first group. As they moved into the second piece, new dancers were introduced, along with more youthful vocals that evolved, suggesting a passage of time. Shortly thereafter, the curtain was lifted and the divide between the audience and performer dissolved and there ‘we are’ all together, as ‘we are’, absorbing and observing the dancers’ formidable artistry and breathtaking physicality up close with every breath. 

As the group of dancers dissolved, we were introduced to two beautifully paired artists: Naiara de Matos and Piran Scott, whose physical differences defied and embraced gravity combined with a deep and intense focus which drew the viewer further into the space.

Another standout piece was the trio that soon followed. The dancers (Riley Fitzgerald, Luke Hayward and Dean Elliott) seamlessly melted and moulded, constantly moving in and out, towards and away from one another – as if magnetised by karmic ties – separating for mere seconds at a time. The linking, looping and circular movements offered a fluidity that matched the subtle pendulum pulse of the music.

Contrasted by rhythmic beats, the next piece – composed of five dancers – was cleverly choreographed. Embracing vocals resembling traditional flamenco and the sentiment of sorrow, in contrast, was fused with a contemporary soundscape and mix which drove the grounded yet dynamic and distorted movement. 

The 12 songs from five iconic Hispanic artists (Rosalía, Silvia Pérez Cruz, Buika, Chavela Vargas and Estrella Morente) featured in Somos hold deep significance for Bonachala and his early years. These were mixed with raw hums and chatter direct from the streets of Madrid which were captured and edited by Nick Wales to create an authentic and sonic experience. 

The transitions were seamless, and cleverly fused with Damien Cooper’s lighting design. In the section impeccably performed by Jesse Scales, his effortless vision revolved around a single diffused spotlight allowing Scales to deservingly immerse herself completely in the movement and space before enclosing the space once again with panelled-down lights, resembling the opening transparent curtain. 

Kelsey Lee’s costume design offered sensual and layered textures with a fusion of mesh, lace and leather. Whilst the detail didn’t shy away from objectification, each was individually created, with a bespoke vision for each dancer to embrace the idea of identity, and if there was a place for self-expression, it was here in Somos

Bonachela has the unique ability to transform soulful poesía, into moving sculptures through human movement and artistic collaboration. There was a powerful and refreshing moment nearing the end, where the performers sat on the edge of the stage in darkness, in silence and stillness – inches away from the audience. It was a collective moment of connectedness. 

It was a privilege to once again experience Sydney Dance Company doing what they do best. If you are looking for a cultural and artistic night out, elevate your evening with BAR BOCA, a pop-up tapas bar at Sydney Dance Company serving up the ultimate Spanish experience during the season of Somos.

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.

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