Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney
May 15, 2018

The name ab [intra] means “from within” in Latin, and Rafael Bonachela’s new work does indeed sweep you into its own dazzling, taut, beautiful, almost otherworldly place – so much so that there are times you realise you have almost forgotten to breathe. At one point I heard someone behind me start to cry very quietly, for this is dance that burrows deep within you, triggering all kinds of emotions.

Janessa Dufty and Izzac Carroll. Photograph © Pedro Greig

ab [intra] is the first full-length work that Bonachela has choreographed in six years. Made with the dancers of the company, who undertook a series of intense improvisations at the start of the rehearsal process, it has an extraordinary power, speaking about relationships, yearning, connections, anguish and trust, exploring the power we have to draw others to us and also to push them away, about longing to fit in yet struggling with loneliness and despair.

Writing in the theatre program, Bonachela describes ab [intra] as “an energy transfer between the internal and external. For me it is more than the external expression of internal concepts, in this dance sphere it is a representation of energy – an energy derived from the interaction of these two facets of our world,” he says.

As the first dark note of music sounds, the curtain rises slowly on a stage full of misty, blue light. Set and costume designer David Fleischer has created a fascinating, minimal space with a high slatted ceiling which opens and closes, and also rises and falls. There is also a dark backdrop along the back wall, which moves up and down. Dancers appear through the misty light from the side of the stage, and also walk along the very front of it in what becomes a kind of motif, as they watch what is happening, fall down on their back and lie there before moving on again.

Charmene Yap and Davide Di Giovanni. Photograph © Pedro Greig

The dancers wear a muted palette of nude, white, black, gold and mustard outfits. In later scenes they all wear black trousers before other colours appear again. Meanwhile, Damien Cooper’s stunning lighting changes from blue to a darker, violet hue, lighting dancers in different groupings. At one point, as they all stand along the back wall, they are hit by a vivid light, which highlights them in an eerie fashion, as Nelson Earl steps forward to conjure an unforgettable solo.

Bonachela uses new music by Nick Wales and a cello concerto by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks, which speak to each other beautifully, with starker sounds swelling to soaring melodic strains of cello and orchestra as the work ebbs and flows. Running approximately 70 minutes, Bonachela interweaves some superlative duos, with trios, a couple of devastating solos, and uplifting pieces of unison work. The movement is frequently highly athletic yet always poetic and moving. The dancers flick and push each other into backrolls, balance on heads, lie on their backs and arch their legs, move each other around in surprising, complex lifts, flip each other around their own bodies in unexpected fashion, hold each other horizontally, and interweave arms and legs in touching, tender ways.

Moments of tight unison flash like jewels as the dancers leap into the air, swivel their hips, flick their legs, and let their arms scissor and fly. There are also some moments of gentle slow-motion where everything takes on a more otherworldly quality.

Nelson Earl. Photograph © Pedro Greig

Bonachela has created moments for all 16 dancers and as you have come to expect from Sydney Dance Company, it is all sensationally danced, but a few sections are particularly riveting. Janessa Dufty and Izzac Carroll, in very simple flesh coloured outfits, perform a stunning duo early in the piece, which is very focused on the ground. Charmene Yap and Davide Di Giovanni deliver a dazzling, lengthy duo about complex connections so full of emotional push and pull that it had the opening night audience cheering, while Nelson Earl – his pale blue eyes gleaming – breaks hearts with an anguished solo. The work ends with a solo by Ariella Casu that somehow sums up all that has gone before.

Audiences will all find different ways to connect with what Bonachela and his dancers have delivered, but few will find it hard to watch without their emotions twisting and turning. A dazzling, electrifying, heartfelt work. Highly recommended.

ab [intra] plays at Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre until May 26, Arts Centre Melbourne, May 30 – June 2, and then a regional tour taking in the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory



Sign up to the Limelight newsletter