Dance review: ab [intra]

An emotionally resonant work of connection and dissolution.

ab [intra], meaning ‘from within’ in Latin is a startlingly emotional contemporary dance work from the world-renowned Sydney Dance Company. It would be no exaggeration to say the audience was drawn to the edge of their seats by the sum of this work, with its near-perfect formation, weightless balances and dramatic audio-visual effects. But by far the most sublime aspect of the performance was the almost mechanical precision of the dancers and their delivery of one of the most technically complex choreographies I have witnessed in years. 

The lighting emulated the visual effect of chiaroscuro, with starkly contrasting areas of light and dark. Central to the drama was a moving shadow on the stage, like blinds or the opening and closing of a sunroof. It heightened the claustrophobia and intimacy of the piece. The dancers seemed to be at once upon a distant plain, at times a jumble of bodies swaying and falling into one another, at other times notably tender and connected. The tension between severance/ connection and isolation/ closeness was a recurrent device in the work, shown most beautifully through the dance duos.

Unsurprisingly, choreographer Rafael Bonachela mentions in his program notes that the choreography developed from improvisations, where he asked dancers to ‘be in the moment’ with each other, using these physical and emotional instincts and cues and translating them into writing. These written excerpts became a kind of score, or script for the dance and demonstrates the interdisciplinary prowess of the company.

ab [intra] was a supreme example of how dancers can evoke awe through their individual technical perfection, yet also create something more than the sum of their parts. The piece seemed to radiate with vastness. The calibre of dancing was so advanced, that when they danced in unison it appeared nothing short of perfect, like automata. 

The contours of the dancers were highly visible with skin-tight costuming; reminding us that they are athletes as well as artists. Some of the lifts and balances were thrilling, effectively acrobatics. The nude-coloured attire (designed by costume and production designer, David Fleischer) was swapped for black for a pas de deux reminiscent of the Black Swan section of Swan Lake, enhancing the dark passionate drama of the piece. This duo (Chloe Leong and Davide Di Giovanni) move in and out of each other’s orbit with easy mastery; levering, leaning and fusing into each other.

The effect of these moments of connection, against other moments of dissolution (solitary dancers walking around the periphery of the stage) was overwhelming and commanded the audience’s concentration. It was like finding oneself in the middle of a wind tunnel; pulled inwards towards to the synchronic impact of movement and music.

I was reminded of Anaïs Nin’s writings on love, that when the romantic, sentimental register of two bodies and souls connecting enters a work, it is universally felt. It is the part of a work, especially dance – the most embodied of art forms – that touches an audience. The beauty of this piece also lies in the diverse expressions of this connection, not just male/female, as is conventionally portrayed in pas de deux. The piece seemed to be gesturing towards the universality of affection, the fact that, as Nin once wrote, love reduces the complexity of being’.

Read: Dance review: Manifesto

The music, by Nick Wales, underscored the changing landscape of tumult and clemency in the work, with electronica, strings, and percussion. A piece for cello by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks added warmth and tenderness to the pas des deux. 

Sydney Dance Company have reinstated their reputation as a technically excellent and visionary contemporary dance company. Their following season promises even more visual and emotive gems, with Resound, a triple–bill featuring Ocho and Summer. The performances are a collaboration between Rafael Bonachela and, amongst other artists, Indigenous singer, Rrawun Maymuru, out-there fashion company Romance Was Born, and the Australian String Quartet. It also includes a brand new piece by emerging choreographer, Stephanie Lake. Dates are: 28 October – 5 November 2022. Book early to experience SDC’s summer of delights. 

ab [intra]
Sydney Dance Company
Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney
Choreography: Rafael Bonachela 
Music: Nick Wales 
Lighting: Damien Cooper 
Costume and production design: David Fleischer 

ab [intra] was performed from 2-11 June 2022.

Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish and Celtic heritage. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada by Southerly Journal, LA Review of Books, Honey Literary Journal, Right Now, Delving Into Dance and more.