Sydney Dance Company: Ascent

Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
March 25, 2024

Ascent, from Sydney Dance Company is an evening of contrasts and the chance to view contemporary dance ideas from the other side of the world. There is classic contemporary dance, a work of conceptual dance/art and a breakdance-inspired close, all invested with Antipodean energy and commitment.

Each piece is characterised by eclectic imaginative choices both in concept and design. Rafael Bonachela’s I Am-ness ticks all the boxes. It features four superb dancers (Naira De Matos, Riley Fitzgerald, Chloe Young and Piran Scott) interpreting his organic choreography where touch seems to initiate moves and bodies linked and separated in fluid harmony.

Rafael Bonachela’s I Am-ness
Photo Pedro Grieg

The music, Pēteris Vasks’ luminous Lonely Angel, meditation for violin and strings sets the mood while occasional robust leaps and rolls ring the changes. There was unity and balance of soft and strong as dancers share lifting and weight-bearing in the neutral space of bare stage with sharp lighting. It was a beautiful introduction to the talents of the dancers and director.

The Shell, A Ghost, The Host & The Lyrebird is a rambling title for a similarly loosely packaged work from Marina Mascarell who acknowledges also the collaboration of her nine dancers.

The curtains open on a stage covered in nautical rigging and sails in a variety of artistic interpretations by designers Lauren Brincat and Leah Giblin. Sailing ships are embedded in Australia’s colonial history and the score, by Nick Wales, with its inclusion of native bird song, notably the lyrebird, adds more threads as dancers weave their narratives through the ropes, using them in all manner of ways.

Sydney Dance Company
in Marina Mascarell’s The Shell, A Ghost, The Host & The Lyrebird
Photo Pedro Grieg

In this otherworldly environment the dancers seem to improvise, playing with the toolbox of ideas offered by the setting and gazing around in wonderment as though they’d landed on Prospero’s magic island, full of sounds and sweet airs. The configuration of the ropes and patchwork sails is endlessly diverting as each dancer finds a unique story to tell coming together briefly toward the end in rhythmic unison.

Forever & Ever by Anthony Hamilton, featuring the full company, took the second half of the programme. The ideas and fun come thick and fast. The score is by his brother Julian Hamilton, with the wild, fast changing costumes and lighting by Paula Lewis and Ben Cisterne respectively.

The introduction features a lone female dancer, sort of warming up, sort of showing off and giving a brilliant display. Ever so often she stops and gives the audience a quizzical look, then, just as quickly, dismisses us and carries on. In the best tradition of hip-hop you need the heavies, and they come in chunky hoods and cloaks, either black or white. Cone shaped gloves create interesting sculptural lines and patterns. Slowly the figures disrobe section by section and thus liberated, the dancers get down to action.

Sydney Dance Company in Forever & Ever by Anthony Hamilton
Photo Pedro Greig

The work runs 35minutes and tight ensemble work with changes in lighting and costume hold attention successfully. It was tightly disciplined, in high energy dance and shifting patterns.

The closing section is slower and quieter giving a little more interaction and expression. A good contrast, but the breakdance blast I expected as a finale never came. Rather, a heavy coat lowers from the flies, drops neatly over one of the dancers, and that is it. A little disappointing, but a minor gripe in an evening of great dance.

Artistic Director, Rafael Bonachela, was given a warm welcome for his onstage speech which bridged the set change between the first two works. He noted that it is thirteen years since the company last performed in the UK. I hope we don’t have to wait that long for the its next visit.

Ascent by Sydney Dance Company is at the Royal Opera House, London to March 28, 2024.