When Rafael Bonachela, Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company, first heard Peteris Vasks’ Cello Concerto No 2, written for Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta, he knew immediately that he wanted to use it for his latest work ab [intra] – even though he admits that he was slightly terrified about doing it justice.

He also knew that he wanted to commission Australian composer Nick Wales, with whom he collaborates regularly, to write some new music in response to the Vasks. “I work a lot with classical music – such as the concerto for cello and strings by [Bulgarian composer] Dobrinka Tabakova that I used for Anima – and  also more hardcore, underground sounds with Nick Wales. Those are the two musical worlds that I really conenct with,” says Bonachela. “For this work I knew I wanted to bring those two worlds that I’ve been playing with [together].  I wanted it to feel like you enter this world and you come out the other end but you never feel like this is Peteris Vasks and this is Nick Wales; it all feels like it’s one work.”

ab [intra], Sydney Dance CompanySydney Dance Company’s ab [intra]. Photo © Pedro Greig

Bonachela worked closely with the dancers to devise ab [intra] – his first full-length work since 2 One Another and Project Rameau with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 2012. “The dancers and I have built this trust, this way of working together, and every so often I want to make a work which is very much about them.”

“This work is called ab [intra], meaning ‘from within’, so it’s a way of describing that the work is coming from within the group, from us, from the dancers, from me, from my relationship with them, from their relationship with me. They’re not onstage representing anyone else but themselves, which is always a very beautiful, honest and palpable thing. Like all of my work [it’s about] the purity of movement and dance. It is abstract. There is no narrative, there’s no signposted story that’s going to tell you what to think, what to feel. But it’s full of stories in a way. Everything you see comes from a real place, that’s why I believe when people connect with my works, it’s at an emotional level,” he says.

Bonanchela is a long-time fan of the music of Vasks, a Latvian composer. He first came across Vasks’ Cello Concerto 2 when he heard a recording of a live performance by Sol Gabetta and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. “It’s a huge, beautiful, powerful but pure and delicate piece of music, which always really drives me as a choregrapher, when music has all of this really emotive content that I can draw from. It is so powerful it was a bit like ‘oh my God, can I deal with this?’ I have so much respect for the music that I’m always like ‘am I up for it?’” admits Bonachela. “But then I was like, ‘yes! I’m doing it.’ But I also wanted Nick to be inspired by it.”

For his part Wales found the Vasks “a nice contrast to what I do, very classical, quite romantic in a way, and so I thought that I should complement it in a way but also cross it and balance it with something a little less romantic.”

“The first person I got into the studio was Julian Thompson from the ACO. The Vasks is a cello concerto so the first port of call was cello so I wrote a little suite of initial ideas and got Julian in to record them and they formed the beginning of the work. A lot of choices were made with the Vasks in mind, so we are using a simliar musical language, although differently, just to try to make the transitions more seamless,” says Wales, who also worked in the studio with percussionist Bree van Reyk, violinists Veronique Serret and Imogen Jones (whose band name is Lupa J), singer Jack Colwell, and a young composer he has been mentoring called Dane Yates.

“This is my my ninth work with Raf so we have developed a langauge I suppose, a trust and a knowledge of what each of us does. But we also push each other in different directions,” says Wales. “The past few works I’ve done have been quite dark and very electronic, quite aggressive sometimes, beautiful as well but they have had a real darkness. For this work I was really informed by the name which means ‘from within’. I used that as a catylst to bring a lot more softness. There is still darkness at times and it still gets quite electronic but there is a lot more softness than in the past, to take the audience on a different journey.”

Sydney Dance Company’s ab [intra] is at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney, May 14 – 26 before touring nationally.