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Sydney Dance Company's latest work is masterclass in the marvels of contemporary dance

Matt Ravier

Welcome to the 18th guest blog post of Time Out Sydney's 52 Weeks of #SydCulture 2017 challenge! May's culture selector is Mathieu Ravier: manager of Programming at the Australian Museum, board-member of Sydney Film Festival, and founder of The Festivalists (behind Jurassic Lounge and the Possible Worlds Film Festival, among other things). Every Tuesday of May, Matt will be telling us what he loved the week before. Think of it as your recommendations for this week, from someone who sees a helluva lot of arts and culture. Over to him.

Rafael Bonachela introduces every Sydney Dance Company performance in person. The artistic director stands not on the stage but with the audience. He speaks about the work informally, smiling excitedly like a friend who wants to show you something he’s made, proud and nervous at the same time. We could be in his living room. Our front row seats – a belated Christmas present from my partner Stephen – means we’re close enough to see the unfeigned excitement in his eyes. When contemporary dance can sometimes be perceived as elitist, cryptic or intimidating, these delightful intros remind us it’s more often accessible, intimate and fun. They remind us of how personal these creations can be, and the active role that we – the audience – can play in bringing them to life.

Sydney Dance Company perform 'Full Moon', Roslyn Packer Theatre
Photograph: Pedro Greig

Orb is made up of two world premieres, ‘Full Moon’, by Taiwanese choreographer Cheng Tsung-Lung, and ‘Ocho’, by Bonachela himself.

Full Moon is short on narrative but long on technique and dexterity. The dancers perform in flowy costumes and their frenetic syncopated movements remind me of the automatons in the monumental astrological clocks that can be found in medieval cathedrals across Europe. The Chinese and Taiwanese stories referenced in the work are hard to make out, at least to the uninitiated, but it hardly matters. When the curtain comes down, what stays with me is the resonant and evocative music, which I learn was composed by Lim Giong, a frequent collaborator of two of my favourite Asian filmmakers, Jia Zhang-Ke and Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

Holly Doyle in 'Full Moon'
Photograph: Pedro Greig

The second work has all the trademarks of a Bonachela work: percussive electronic score, strobe lights, sexy, athletic choreography like a futuristic wet dream. It plays like West Side Story if West Side Story had been set in the brutalist landscape of London’s South Bank a few years from now and directed by Larry Clark or Gus Van Sant. Eight dancers slowly emerge out of a glassed cavity in a gigantic concrete monument, glistening with sweat, wearing something halfway between streetwear and nothing at all.

There’s something incredibly sensual and contemporary in the mix of ennui, lust and aggression which animates these impressive solos. And something a little soulless too, which perfectly matches the zeitgeist. And just when you’re about to dismiss the superficial spectacle as a showy, sexy guilty pleasure, a song by Aboriginal singer Rrawun Maymuru cuts through the noise, giving the dancers a sudden sense of purpose and the work a soulful, spiritual dimension that’s positively redemptive.

Nelson Earl (front) in 'Ocho'
Photograph: Pedro Greig

I always leave a good dance performance with a new awareness of my own body. While we could never hope to replicate the grace, athleticism and precision of the SDC’s 16 dancers, we leave the Roslyn Packer Theatre a little lighter, a little nimbler, a little more present in our bodies, and aware, for a moment, of the limitless connections between our imagination and our limbs. It’s a fleeting feeling that draws me back to contemporary dance, again and again.

Check out our hit list of the best theatre in Sydney this month – then read more about our 52 Weeks of #SydCulture challenge, and let us know what you're seeing/loving on Instagram via the hashtag #SydCulture.

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