Perhaps it was the stars aligning, muses Sydney Dance Company Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela, admitting that it was pure luck that led the two works in the Company’s new double bill to share similar themes.

Orb, as it is called, features a pair of world premieres by Bonachela and Taiwanese choreographer Cheng Tsung-lung. “It is the first time in its 47-year history that a choreographer from Asia is creating a work on the Company,” says Bonachela.

Sydney Dance Company Artistic Director Rafael BonachelaSydney Dance Company Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela. Photo © Pedro Greig

Cheng is Artistic Director of Cloud Gate 2, the youth arm of the internationally renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, formed to showcase talented young dancers in original works by innovative young choreographers.

He grew up in Taipei where his family owned a slipper factory. Hawking slippers on the sidewalks was part of his childhood and adolescence. The dynamics of street-life would later become a source of inspiration for his choreography – though in his new work for SDC, he looks instead to the heavens.

Bonachela had been on the lookout for a while for someone to collaborate with from the Asian region, given its proximity to Australia, and came across Cheng’s work. “I know of Cloud Gate, of course, and he used to dance with them so I was like ‘bingo!’. I contacted him and he sent me some more stuff and it was like ‘wow!’ I thought the Company would look really beautiful doing his work, and it would be a different [dance] language for us and for our audiences. I didn’t ask him what his work would be at that point.”

Bonachela had already decided that his own new piece would be called Ocho, meaning ‘eight’ in Spanish. “I have been here for eight years and I decided to use eight dancers,” he explains. “I liked the fact that the word ‘ocho’ has two circles with the ‘O’ at either end of it. And if you put the number 8 on its side, it’s the sign for infinity, so that also comes into play.”

Choreographically, Bonachela is playing with the idea of the solo performer. “It’s not just eight solos, it’s not structured in that way, but the idea of the virtuosic solo is a very powerful one in it,” he says.

As the launch of the 2017 season approached, Bonachela tentatively asked Cheng if he had any ideas yet for his piece. “I know how hard it is for a choreographer who doesn’t know the dancers and hasn’t been to a place, but he said, ‘no, that’s fine. It’s called Full Moon. It’s about the relationship that we humans have with the moon and what that represents in different cultures.’ So, it was a very beautiful coincidence that both works have a sphere and circles in them – though in very different ways,” says Bonachela.

Equally fortuitously, Cheng wanted to work with between eight and ten dancers, and didn’t mind about the gender mix, so Bonachela has divided the 16 dancers into two equal groups. “It’s the first time in eight years that I’m working with eight dancers. We don’t have many works that don’t have everybody. I think that is nice to break the pattern,” he says.

For Ocho, Bonachela is employing a hypnotic electronic score by Nick Wales, which includes a track by Indigenous performer Rrawun Maymuru, who comes from Arnhem Land. “He is singing a very beautiful song that connects to the idea of the infinite, called Nyapillilngu which translates to ‘Spirit Lady’. It is used with the permission of [elders] and it is about the Spirit Lady who comes when the soul of a person who has died crosses from our world into the infinite Milky Way,” says Bonachela.

Speaking to Limelight early in rehearsals, Bonachela is considering having none of the dancers touch for the first 20 minutes of the work. “I am really drawn to duets, it’s one of my things. But in Lux Tenebris [in 2016] there was one section that was all solos and I felt that my language and choreography got to somewhere really exciting and I wanted to follow that thread,” he says. “Then when the dancers finally come together, having been deprived of touch and connection for so long, I hope it will be a very powerful moment.”

Orb plays at Arts Centre Melbourne May 17 – 20, and Canberra Theatre Centre May 25 – 27. Read Limelight‘s review of the Sydney performance here.