Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Dance Company have collaborated on an online project called Cuatro (four, in Spanish), which is a series of four films, featuring a different musician and dancer in each.

The four episodes of the project have been produced and directed by Pedro Greig (who works regularly with SDC as a photographer) and choreographed by SDC Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela, and deal with the impact of isolation and distancing.

The musicians and dancers didn’t meet. Instead they liaised with Bonachela and Greig through online discussions, shared music digitally, and then recorded their piece separately with Greig at the SDC’s studios in Ultimo.

Charmene Yap filming Cuatro 1. Photograph courtesy of Sydney Dance Company

The episodes, which are less than five minutes each, intercut footage of the musician and the dancer, with the camera moving in for close-up shots. The first – which is available from today – features Charmene Yap dancing to the Präludium first movement from Heinz Holliger’s Sonata for solo oboe, performed by SSO Principal Oboe, Diana Doherty.

The next three episodes will be released on successive Fridays. Cuatro 2, available from June 12, features Davide Di Giovanni dancing to Paganini’s Op. 1: No 11 Caprice in C, from the 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, performed by SSO Concertmaster Andrew Haveron. Cuatro 3, released on June 19, sees Juliette Barton performing to the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No 1 in G major, BMV 1007, performed by SSO Principal Cello Umberto Clerici. Finally, Cuatro 4, available from June 26, features Chloe Leong dancing to Debussy’s Syrinx performed by SSO Associate Principal Flute Emma Sholl. All four episodes will be available online until the end of July.

Greig has created a different setting for each piece: a white box for Yap and Doherty, a space lined with soft white drapes for Di Giovanni and Haveron, a black box with panels of translucent, reflective tiles for Barton and Clerici, and a hazy white cloudscape for Leong and Sholl.

Juliette Barton and Pedro Greig filming Cuatro 3. Photograph courtesy of Sydney Dance Company

Bonachela said: “I am absolutely delighted that, in collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, we have been able to create such a beautiful series of films during this time of lockdown and restrictions. It has been very challenging and frustrating for all performing artists to not be able to perform; this has been an uplifting and joyful experience as four exceptional dancers from Sydney Dance Company and four virtuosic musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra have come together, separately, to make this new work, a creative response to the emotional impact of the global pandemic.”

Diana Doherty and Charmene Yap spoke to Limelight about creating Cuatro 1.

Diana Doherty, Principal Oboe, Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Diana Doherty. Photograph courtesy of Sydney Dance Company

Did you know from the start which dancer you would be working with?

I was introduced to Charmene Yap at our first online video meeting. I still haven’t physically met her but I feel like I know her! We have been in contact online throughout the process and it’s been a lovely connection. I’m really looking forward to when we finally can meet. It will be hard not to hug her!

How did the creative process unfold?

When I first heard about the idea for Cuatro, I was very excited and thought about repertoire that would suit the collaboration. I put together a list of pieces that I thought might work, with links to recordings and some explanation around the mood of each one. This was then shared with Rafael Bonachela so that he could have a listen, make a choice, and start developing ideas around choreography. I was very keen to suggest the Holliger, and thrilled that Rafael chose it. I think we saw the same potential in the expressive elements and the voice of the music.

Why did that piece of music seem so well suited to the project?

Holliger’s Sonata for solo oboe has a real searching, yearning quality that resonated with me personally. It seemed to reflect so well the uncertainty that I’m sure many of us have felt in isolation, that questioning, anxious feeling that comes over us in waves. This may not be the same experience for everyone, but when the shutdown came around, I would have rational moments where I managed to think intellectually about everything, but then I would be overcome with emotion unexpectedly in a way that was also physical. For me, the first movement of Holliger’s work has all that. It doesn’t really resolve or answer all the questions, but it ends on a suspended harmonic that seems to suggest some hope.

When you recorded the music at the SDC studios, were just you and Pedro Greig present?

There was a sound technician, Guy Harding, who was also present, and great. Both he and Pedro were so calm and patient, and it had been a long day for them!

What was your response to the finished film?

My response was that I wished I was Charmene! She moves like I can only dream of moving – such incredible fluidity and softness while, at the same time, with such strength. I was mesmerised by her. On the other hand, it’s always very difficult to see oneself on camera, so I won’t say more about that!

How have you coped with COVID-19 and not being able to perform live with the SSO?

I’ve tried to make the most of the opportunity to grow in other ways. With my partner Alexandre Oguey, Principal Cor Anglais with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, we have worked together on arrangements that we can play together, and that has been very rewarding. In a way, it has been a blessing to have the time and space to be a bit creative in different ways, to choose what I wish to work on and direct my own process a bit, which is slightly harder to do when you are part of a larger group. But, there is nothing like being part of a Brahms, Beethoven or Mahler symphony and I really miss that. I miss my colleagues, and the buzz that only comes with live performance.

Charmene Yap, dancer, Sydney Dance Company

Charmene Yap filming Cuatro 1. Photograph courtesy of Sydney Dance Company

Did you discuss with Rafael and Pedro which musician you would be paired with or did they suggest Diana straight up?

Rafael had been listening to different pieces of music, one of them being Holliger’s beautiful Sonata for solo oboe. After listening to it, he suggested Diana and I to be paired up. I love the sound of the oboe so it was great to be partnered with Diana. I had never met her prior to this project. The first time we met was online in a video conference.

How did the creative process unfold?

After Rafael had decided on the music, he asked me to re-visit an old solo that I had done many years ago which he felt had the flavour of the music. This was a work I had done in 2015 and surprisingly, I was able to recall the movement in my body quite easily. We used this material as basis for the choreography. Diana had supplied a video recording of her playing the first movement of Holliger’s Sonata for solo oboe in her home. From this, we started to piece together the movement and ideas to the music. The music has an emotional intensity to it which was what drove the ideas and movement.

How did you respond to the music?

When I first heard the music, I was drawn to the mystery and intensity of it. For me, it was important to try to embody the nuanced texture of Holliger’s work and the quality of the oboe’s sound in my movement.

How long did you and Rafael spend creating the choreography?

It was quite a short period of a few sessions over a week or, so all done online. I’d show Rafael what I could manage in my small dining room – which was actually quite suitable as I did end up dancing inside a box that was just a little bigger than my space at home!

How would you describe the piece that emerged?

The piece that emerged is a fluid play of movement that follows the fluctuations of the music. It’s a combination of an emotional human response and a more virtuosic expression of being confined during COVID-19.

Did you dance it all in one take or was it filmed in different sections?

With Pedro Greig, director and producer of Cuatro, we did a mixture of several different takes: filming it all in one go, filming different sections at a time, and filming individual shots where details could be picked up on camera.

What was your response to the finished film?

I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, but I find watching yourself on film can be quite disconcerting! It takes me a couple of viewings to see past this and see the film for how others may experience it with fresh eyes. In saying that, I think the finished film, with all four parts, is incredibly beautiful and I loved seeing how all the elements had come together. The film takes you on a journey and is visually spectacular.

How have you coped with COVID-19 and not being able to perform live with Sydney Dance Company?

This period of coping with COVID-19 and being in isolation has been an interesting time of challenges and self-discoveries for me. I’ve been lucky that I can continue working in some way – I’ve shifted to teaching a few online classes to the public as well as the company dancers. When this opportunity came up to be creative and perform on camera with amazing collaborators, I was really excited to be invited to be a part of it. I had, in fact, officially stopped dancing full-time and moved into the Rehearsal Associate role with Sydney Dance Company in September 2019, so this project was a lovely surprise. Performing live is definitely a different thing to performing for the camera, so hopefully one day soon, live performance will return and people will support the arts as it’s such a unique thing to share and experience.

Each episode of Cuatro will be released on both companies’ social platforms and websites and will be available until the end of July

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