De Novo

Lynne Lancaster

Sydney Dance Company’s latest production is a riveting triple bill choreographed by Rafael Bonachela, Larissa McGowan and Alexander Ekman.
De Novo

De Novo, the Sydney Dance Company’s latest production, is a riveting triple bill showcasing some absolutely superb, sizzling dancing. Technically the dancers are magnificent throughout, and they are in excellent form.

It opens with the world premiere of Rafael Bonachela’s Emergence; an astonishing treat. Bonachela’s choreography demands laser sharp legs, a very fluid body and a long stretched line. Plotless, this new work is ‘about’ collaboration and the emergence of the new. It is perhaps a tiny bit reminiscent of Wayne McGregor in style; also detectable is the Murphy ‘walk’.

The dancers seem boneless yet angular at times and full of seamless bravura; the work itself is full of stretch and sizzle with fluid, flowing line as well as seemingly angular, robotic movements. There are some very difficult complicated lifts and partnering. Small shining solos are contrasted with ensemble work for the whole company in a writhing mass. There is also a terrific featured male pas deux, intimate and delicate.

The music by Nick Wales and Sara Blasko incorporates vocals by Blasko and beeps, hums, throbs and pulses. Benjamin Cisterne’s extraordinary lighting is superb. Sometimes only part of the stage is lit; at other we see a corridor of light. In some sections the lighting is rippling and reflective, at others it is like opening or closing venetian blinds. Glorious. Dion Lee’s costumes are most unusual – in the first section the dancers appear to wear (over skin coloured tops) half a jacket that at times entwine. Charmain Yap has an extraordinary sharp opening solo in a barely there white outfit.  

The short middle work was Fanatic by Larissa McGowan, as seen in the Spring Dance season last year. It is a biting, witty satire on the cross pollination of Alien and Predator fans; a punchy, tightly choreographed piece (precision timing is crucial) which includes darkly acerbic voiceovers of some of the iconic lines from the films as well as a throbbing helicopter arrival sound effect. A vivid splash of bold red lighting was used for the films’ violence (and be aware: strobe lighting is also used). Natalie Allen in the Sigourney Weaver/Ellen Ripley role is amazing and Thomas Bradley and Chris Aubrey are terrific too. The audience absolutely loved it.

Cacti by Alexander Ekman (created for Nederlands Dance Theatre in 2010 and an instant hit) was given its Australian premiere as the final part of the bill. It is a thought-provoking crowd pleaser about the philosophy of art; how we observe and feel the need to analyse creative works. It is also – like Emergence – about the collaboration between musicians and dancers. Some of it is possibly reminiscent of Matthew Bourne in style.

The first half of the work features tightly choreographed percussive rhythms, with the dancers emerging from behind small, white, raised platforms. There are lots of slaps, complex beats, sound s effects and poses in frozen tableaux, and a terrific featured pas de deux towards the end where the dancers wittily comment (their thoughts in voiceover) about the audience, their performing relationships, and the work they are in. And yes, there are prickly cacti and lots of visual in-jokes as the dancers push, carry and dance around their individual, various-sized succulents.

The four terrific musicians are dressed in elegant orchestral black and the dancers in skin coloured tops with loose-fitting black trousers and tights caps, giving them a martial arts look. The work deconstructs modern dance and can mean everything or nothing.    

Taken as a whole, De Novo is a riveting, witty program that successfully blends biting social commentary with superb dancing. A marvellous chance to see some striking, original, contemporary dance showcasing some of Australia’s hottest talents.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5


Sydney Dance Company present

De Novo

Running time: Two hours 10 mins (approx) including one interval


Emergence (world premiere)

Choreography: Rafael Bonachela

Music: Nick Wales and Sara Blasko

Costume Design: Dion Lee

Stage and Lighting: Benjamin Cisterne

Dance Director: Amy Hollinsgsworth

Cast: The Company



Choreography: Larissa McGowan

Concept: Larissa McGowan, Sam Haren, Steve Mayhew

Dramaturg: Steve Mayhew

Lighting: Benjamin Cisterne

Dance Director: Amy Hollingsworth

Performed by Natalie Allen, Thomas Bradley and Chris Aubrey



Choreography and Costumes: Alexander Ekman

Stage Design: Alexander Ekman and Thomas Visser

Lighting Design: Thomas Visser

Lyrics: Spencer Theberge

Repetitor: Nina Bokay

Cast: The Company

Musicians: Veronique Serret, James Eccles, Geoffrey Gartner and Mirabai Peart


Sydney Theatre

1 – 23 March

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.