Sydney Dance Company’s hour-long program at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 2 One Another, was packed with movement, light, and abstract forms. The piece opened with the full company of 16 onstage, 13 tightly arranged in a bowling-pin formation, two seated on the diagonal downstage, and one standing alone upstage right. Silence preceded Nick Wales’ voluminous score, and within it, the dancers moved as one, lightly probing the space: 16 heads turned, 16 shoulders lowered, and a chorus of gestural movements softly succeeded. When the music did begin with a droning note, a whisper subtly introduced a few passages of text, which had been written by collaborator Samuel Webster. The words themselves were difficult to make out, but the human voice seemed to establish the presence of the bodies onstage and their intention to communicate something.
Artistic Director and choreographer Rafael Bonachela’s movement soon quickened, building in layers, now accompanied by a moving backdrop of LED lights designed by Benjamin Cisterne. An ever-shifting balance was struck between detailed partnering work and a thread of unison along which the piece flowed and pulsed. Associations between individual dancers were abruptly broken by this tide of unison, and dancers alternated between the two choreographic layers, as if plugged into some highly mathematical design.
The lighting, a major component of the equation, gave rise to all sorts of ideas in my own imagination. At one moment, a tiny point of light was a steadily shining star; vertical bars of light flickering across the backdrop alternately became rain and barcodes, sound waves materialized, an old TV searched for reception. Another flashing shape was an airplane, slowly crossing the sky–here, two women partnered in a warming spotlight at center stage; their movements were sensual but also stoically separate, as if the other were more of a beloved object than an individual.
The work progressed as a growing amalgam of collaborative elements, each beautifully abstract yet still in conversation with everything else. About halfway through the work, the dancers came all the way downstage to sit on the edge, forming a long line, swathed in red light. After exiting and reentering, they gradually shed their grey, form-fitting, sheer leotards for red ones overlaid with luxuriously draped folds. The score took a turn towards the Baroque, elegance and warmth infused the remaining choreography, which featured several strong, acrobatic solos as well as a group section in unison and a final pas de deux. Throughout, the dancing was exceptionally clean and the dancers’ intentions were clear, eliminating any want of narrative. Rather, the work established a world into which its various elements and processes, as Bonachela wrote in his program notes, were “absorbed into the whole,” leaving me with the impression of something brilliantly fleeting and meaningful, yet not requiring explanation.