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Review: Impermanence

  • Dance
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
A male dancer holds aloft a woman in a C-formation against a purple backdrop with a ray of white light
Photograph: Supplied/Pedro Greig

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

No global palaver can prevent Sydney Dance Company from leaping to our rescue with its latest lithe work

Originally due to premiere four days before the first lockdown in 2020, Sydney Dance Company’s (SDC) latest work Impermanence was initially inspired by the Notre Dame blaze and the devastating Australian bushfires of 2019. It took on new depth and nuance in the wake of the show’s postponement during the unfolding crisis, opening almost one year later with a added poignancy.

The study of the intersecting beauty and tragedy of the ephemeral nature of life was reworked during lockdown by SDC’s artistic director Rafael Bonachela in collaboration with composer Bryce Dessner, a founding member of iconic American rock band The National. They reflected on the new reality of living through social distancing, taking it from a 40 minute piece into a full-length work at one hour.

If the idea of Dessner and Bonachela creating art together is intriguing. Dessner is a Grammy Award-winning composer whose wide-ranging work includes delivering the soundtrack to Leonardo DiCaprio film The Revenant, and orchestrations on the latest Paul Simon and Bon Iver albums. Bonachela has choreographed to Dessner’s music before, in the celebrated 2015 production Frame of Mind.

This time around, SDC are joined by the Australian String Quartet live onstage, and the result is moving and powerful, at-once capturing transience and fragility then strength and passion of the work. Positioned at the rear right hand of the stage, the quartet deliver Dessner’s unflinching and energetic score with aplomb. At times they are a compelling focus point, without ever taking our eyes fully from the movement of the dancers.

Bonachela’s exquisite choreography fuses modern ballet, yoga and contemporary movement as performed with the impressive athleticism and fierce grace of the company. Demonstrating an entrancing fluidity, at times the full company is on stage. Seventeen dancers cling to, glide past or mirror one another. They break into solo, duos and smaller groups as the movements explore an interconnected existence and the desire to catch each-other when we fall. These moments elevate the piece through feelings of fracture and independence. We witness being alone while even in a crowd, and then the shared experience of life and its familiar challenges. There’s a mesmeric quality to repeated movement, and to the muted earthy tones of Aleisa Elbert’s genderless costuming.

The visceral nature of the score, and the raw unwavering energy of Bonachela’s choreography is held in balance by abstract stage design that moves between a wall that is raised slowly throughout the performance, a window and then an open horizon. The lighting palette by Damien Cooper starts the show in a half light, then expertly deploys shadow and silhouette. Vibrant hues of cool blues and purple give way to hazy orange and red, harking back to the original idea of fire.

The final movement is performed against an indigo backdrop speckled with golden, glittering. It almost feels like we are taking a space-walk amongst shooting stars. Set to the deeply emotive and beautiful melancholy of composer, singer and visual artist Anohni’s track ‘Another World’. The music underscores a gradual slowing of the dancers, entwining their bodies around each-other. This stunning creative collaboration and its tender exposure of the things we hold dear in our most vulnerable moments is a spectacular return to the stage for the SDC and a balm for those that have missed the vibrancy and intimacy of live performance. 

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Written by
Emily Nicol


Opening hours:
Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Sat 2pm
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