Performing Arts: Dance
March 10, 2017
The Sydney Dance Company has been a staple of Joyce Theater seasons since 1997. Under current director Rafael Bonachela, the company continues to attract cutting edge dancers and choreographers, bringing quality contemporary dance to New York City, with a different feel from other frequent visitors. Go see them!

Three New York premieres were presented on opening night, each with its own idiosyncrasies but all with certain signature contemporary dance characteristics: electronic scores, dark, moody lighting, and plenty of intense, spine rippling, body-morphing movement. In Wildebeest, my favorite piece of the evening, choreographed by Gabrielle Nankivell to a sound design by her frequent collaborator Luke Smiles, the dancers morphed from animal to human to unknown creature to machine, with the sounds of stormy weather that bleed into an electronic soundcape.

Wearing silky tops and shorts in shades of brown by Fiona Holley, the dancers’ arms, hands, and feet, were often truncated, twitchy, and distorted. Snapping head movements and locked stares led to predatory encounters and separations. Eventually the movement gave way to mechanized precision in distinct, synchronized groupings, taking us from the untamed wild to the “progress” of controlled, synchronized repetitive motion. One duet where the dancers stood one behind the other while sharply moving their arms in different yet complimentary geometric patterns and angles, made a relentlessly coordinated physical attack into a challenge to the notion of human error in an ultimately mechanized world.

Watching Jacopo Godani’s Raw Models, it was easy to trace his lineage back to early William Forsythe, with whom he danced in the 1990s. It was less easy to see that the work is “the result of a war declared against our alter egos, the ones that live inside our minds but do not reflect our real core… and shaped by everyone else’s principles and ideas,” according to his program note. But the dancers looked fierce, preening, wildly slicing, cabrioling, collapsing and then freezing in a hyperextended poses over forced arches, with the flamenco intensity in the hands, a favorite trope of extreme ballet. They also created their own eco-sysem, but one with a less obvious evolution, to another electronic score by 48 Nord, costumed in the now classic/contemporary gear: black shorts, mesh tops, sheer black legs and socks designed by Godani.

I’m conflicted about Bonachela’s work Frame of Mind, a work that simultaneously fascinated and irked me: a stage with maroon curtains as a backdrop walled off a world where dancers walked in and out, and around each other, danced duets and at times in mass groups, always with an extreme energy that cried for release, and often did. The score by Bryce David Dressner went from an abrasive sound, to movie soundtrack, sound to eerie vocals reminiscent of Meredith Monk. In one duet danced on a lit pathway, there was a push and pull where she continually fell backwards and was lifted up and tossed in different direction by her partner.

Again the program notes revealed a complexity in the choreographer’s thought process, his ideas about art as intrinsically subjective, and thoughts on life as a sensory, emotional experience. In my frame of mind, I felt a bit left out of the emotional part, wishing for the acute physicality to be accompanied by a more emotionally engaging (rather than draining) experience, through its complex, lengthy, and admirable structure.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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