Sydney Dance Company, Lux Tenebris
Photograph: Peter Greig

The Sydney Dance Companyโ€™s Rafael Bonachela steers his ensemble through darkness and light to arrive at the otherworldly shores of Lux Tenebris

For the last few years, Melbourne audiences have had the privilege of watching the Sydney Dance Company perform their boundary-pushing work as part of their annual national tour. In 2015, artistic director Rafael Bonachela presented a double bill which paired Quintett, a work by American dance legend William Forsythe, with Frame of Mind, brand new piece by Bonachela. 

In his latest double bill, CounterMove, Bonachela was determined to create an even more powerful contrast between an existing piece – this time Dutch choreographer Alexander Ekman’s funny and playful Cacti – and something dangerous and dramatic. 

“I had a hunger to start from the very beginning where there’s nothing on the page,” says Bonachela. “I had a real instinct and a feeling about how I wanted the work to sound. So the first thing I did was to write down words that reflected how I perceived that work. Visceral, unexpected, sudden, mysterious, contrasting. I wrote, ‘It feels like a place that’s mostly dark, but with a space for light and beauty’.” 

Bonachela tasked long-time music collaborator Nick Wales to respond to his vision in the studio. While Wales began melding elements of electronic and classical music (along with field recordings of Pluto’s atmosphere, Korean monks and the sound of beehives), Bonachela drew inspiration from space exploration. “We keep discovering all these worlds,” he says. “It took me into the idea of people who exist in this space that feels most dark…the idea of light and darkness.” 

When it came to choreographing the piece, Bonachela knew he needed to take his dancers into deeper, unfamiliar places. ”I said to the dancers, ‘we’re going to listen to the music twice. Once we’re going to make the room very dark, and the next time we’re going to let the sun come through the windows. I want you to respond to the music in terms of whatever comes to your head. The dancers came up with these incredible responses – drawings, prose, poetry, short stories, random words. They took their own journey and that became a map that helped me to draw from them. Everything has come from a place of discovery within them, that I have shaped into the work.” 

Eventually, this became Lux Tenebris, which translates from Latin to ‘Light and Darkness’. Wales’ juddering, percussive soundscape pairs intimately with complex lighting design by Benjamin Cisterne, while the 16-strong ensemble move through intense flashes of movement and smooth, intimate duets. “People couldn’t believe the energy of it,” says Bonachela. “If I can make a few people feel shivers down their spine, and feel like they’ve taken a journey into an unknown place, then that’s a wonderful thing for me.”

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