A stunning, stimulating double bill from Sydney Dance Company.
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Sydney Dance Company, Lux Tenebris. Dancers Nelson Earl, Holly Doyle, Fiona Jopp, David Mack; Photo by Peter Greig.

Cacti by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman, is a humorous piece featuring quirky choreography, with an intriguing use of body percussion from the 16 dancers, and a live string quartet. The sound track combines sections of recorded critical writing about dance, with classical and improvised music. 

Cacti is entertaining, and the dancers and the musicians are superb throughout.

Although Ekman’s piece is light-hearted and engagingly anti-intellectual, Cacti investigates the relationships that can exist between word-based language and the physical and visual language of dance.

Cacti can also be understood as presenting an important question, that is, what sort of meanings can be read into dance? Can the complex languages of dance find space, within a culture so dominated by word-based language, to mean anything beyond providing a visual and physical form of entertainment?

A strong response comes in Lux Tenebris, which translates from the Latin as light in darkness, the work in the second half of the program. An extraordinary, rigorous and demanding work, Lux Tenebris is choreographed by Sydney Dance Company Artistic Director, Rafael Bonachela. The work is performed to a powerful sampled sound score created by Nick Wales which draws on diverse sound samples recorded from real world sources including Pluto’s atmosphere, monks in Seoul, beehives, and fireworks. The dance and sound are perfectly complemented by a stunning lighting design from Benjamin Cisterne.

Lux Tenebris starts in darkness with short, fragmented images full of chiaroscuro that recall the work of Goya. These single fragments of images gradually speed up until they become flashes and flows of darkness and of energy, interconnectivity across space and time, between cultures and countries.

The dancing is astonishing. All the dancers are at their absolute peak, physically and emotionally, totally committed to the work and empowered by this daring, edgy piece of choreography. To have dancers all performing at this level requires an exceptional rehearsal director and Chris Aubrey has brought everyone to peak physicality for this season, which, in itself, is an extraordinary achievement.

Lux Tenebris resonates on physical and kinaesthetic levels that are moving and profound. The dance language is highly articulate, referencing creators of dance such as Stephen Petronio, Elizabeth Streb, and William Forsythe. These references are intercut, interconnected, and, in the physicality of the partnering sequences, interspersed with original and innovative dance language.

The resonances that each audience member experiences in response to this piece will vary. For me, the ‘light in darkness’ that this piece evokes is the importance of the presence of art in our lives, in particular the presence of all these artists working together at the height of their powers, creating through the full richness of the physical, spatial and visual poetry that the language of dance can be, the sense that life can be about so much more than mere material existence.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5


Sydney Dance Company
Roslyn Packer Theatre
Walsh Bay, Sydney
26 Feb -12 March


Choreography and Costume Design: Alexander Ekman
Lighting Design: Tom Vissier
String Quartet: Ewan Foster, Geoffrey Gartner, Thibaud Pavllovic-Hobb, Lucy Warren
Collective Improvisers and Composers of the music for first part of Cacti-
Tinta Schmidt von Altenstadt, David Marks, Saskia Viersen, Artur Trajko, Jan Pieter Koch

Lux Tenebris

Choreographer: Rafael Bonachela
Composer: Nick Wales
Stage and Lighting Designer: Benjamin Cisterne
Costume Designer: Aleisa Jelbart
Rehearsal Director: Chris Aubrey

Katie Lavers
About the Author
Dr. Katie Lavers is a writer, director, producer and researcher based in Sydney.