Sydney Dance Company, Impermanence
Feb 17, 2021
A few weeks ago an opportunity to review Sydney Dance Company’s world premiere of Impermanence dropped into the classikON inbox… I was excited of course, who wouldn’t want to attend the opening night of a word class dance company? but I was reluctant, for a couple of reasons; firstly, classikON has a pretty clear vision – to bring to the spotlight music and musicians taking artistic risks – music, not dance, ‘let’s stick to our knitting, Pepe…’ ; secondly, I don’t know a lot about dance, love it sure, but could I write about it? Hmmm. So I read a bit more of the program and quickly noted it included a new composition by American contemporary composer Bryce Dessner who, in addition to being a founding member of the rock band The National, is known for his independent work as a composer of orchestral, chamber, and vocal compositions (he’s been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, enough said). Reading on, I saw that this was a co-commission between SDC and the Australian String Quartet who would be performing this new work live on stage with the dancers… OK, you got me, I’m in – after all, classikON is a big supporter of artistic exploration and innovative cross-genre collaborations with other art forms. But there was still the little problem of my not knowing a lot about dance, so I recruited my delightful niece, a dance scholar in a previous life, to accompany me. We frocked up and headed off to the the Roslyn Packer Theatre for an evening out and I must say every one of our expectations was met, and then some…
Impermanence, we were assured, would be ‘a visceral and thrilling exploration of the juxtaposition of beauty and devastation’. Originally set to premiere in March 2020 as part of a triple-bill but was postponed due to the pandemic. Bonachela and Dessner used the remaining months of 2020 to turn Impermanence into a full-length work. Interestingly the Sydney Dance Company and the Australian String Quartet last worked together on Bonachela’s Frame of Mind in 2018 with music also composed by Dessner. Bonachela said, “It’s been so wonderful to work with Bryce Dessner on this exciting new piece. It was initially inspired by the impact of the Notre Dame blaze and the Australian bush fires of 2019, exploring the transience and fragility of existence. After what the world has been through this year, its return is even more poignant. To have Bryce’s score performed live on stage by the Australian String Quartet will be incredible for both our audience and the dancers. There is nothing more powerful than dance performed to live music.”
After seeing this performance I must humbly agree…
The vibe created on stage between Dessner’s emotionally powerful score and the dramatic choreography was one of equal partnership between musician and dancer. Canonic dance lines, where one person starts a theme which others pick up and continue, were mirrored in the quartet parts as was the use of light and shade and the constant ebb and flow of both visual and aural aspects of the work.
The athleticism of the dancers reflected the often frenetic repetitive drive of the music which ASQ delivered with passion and energy, to the point where, at times, my attention was actually on the strings rather than the dancers. It was obvious that the musicians were integral to the performance and the music itself shaped the choreographic use of space and movement, from heartrending harmonics and sonorous cello drones to thrumming staccato and rapid sections of repeated semiquaver bowings.
The visual impact of the simple earthy, muted costumes and stark staging with very occasional (yet extremely effective) use of light flashes and neon-bright strips ensured our attention was kept on the performers as they took the audience on a journey from ‘Before’ to ‘Another World’ by way of 12 vignettes evoking such themes as ‘Shards’, ‘Alarms’ and ‘Pulsing’ as well as ‘Impermanence’ the work’s namesake. In his program notes Bonachela says that in creating this work he and Dressner reflected on how easily things fall apart, and the fragility and impermanence of human life, the planet and human relationships. He says for him, “the music raises questions like ‘What do we hold dear?’, ‘How do we make every moment count?’ and, ‘From devastation, what is the pathway through energy and urgency to peace and radiance?'”.
The music alone is worth hearing live in concert and Bonachela’s choreography adds a whole other dimension to these collaborative contemplations of humanity for our times.
16 – 27 February, 2021
Roslyn Packer Theatre
Walsh Bay, NSW
10 March – 14 August, 2021
Sydney Dance Company
Choreographer: Rafael Bonachela
Composer: Bryce Dessner
Music Features: Another World by Anohni
Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper
Stage Designer: David Fleischer
Costume Designer: Aleisa Jelbart
Australian String Quartet:
Dale Barltrop – Violin I
Francesca Hiew – Violin II
Christopher Cartlidge – Viola (Guest)*
Michael Dahlenburg – Cello
(photo credits – Pedro Greig)